Alberta freezes bureaucrats' wages

The Alberta government will freeze the 6,500 salaries of senior bureaucrats as part of a fiscal plan to tighten spending, Premier Ed Stelmach revealed in a televised address.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach gives a televised address on Wednesday. ((Government of Alberta))

The Alberta government will freeze the 6,500 salaries of senior bureaucrats as part of a fiscal plan to tighten spending, Premier Ed Stelmach revealed in a televised address.

To achieve savings of $22 million, salaries for 4,400 managers in all departments as well as 2,100 senior staff earning up to $400,000 annually will be frozen for two years.

"And we will be asking the entire public sector to share in this effort. For a short while, we must all share in the goal of putting jobs before raises," Stelmach said in the video, which cost $134,000 to produce and broadcast.

Tom Olsen, a spokesman for the premier, said the announcement does not mean the government plans to legislate wage rollbacks for teachers, nurses and other public-sector workers.

Stelmach did not mention the MLAs wages which have been temporarily frozen for one year.

Shortly after almost sweeping the March 2008 election, Stelmach and his cabinet voted themselves a salary increase of more than 30 per cent, as well as a pay hike for committee work by backbench MLAs.

The premier earns $213,450, while ministers take home about $184,000.

Goal of eliminating deficit in 3 years

Stelmach hit the airwaves Wednesday evening in a bid to reassure Albertans that his Progressive Conservative government has a solid economic recovery plan amid a rising deficit and plummeting energy revenues.

The premier outlined a general four-point plan to get the province — currently forecasting a record $6.9-billion deficit this fiscal year — back into a surplus position in three years, without raising taxes.

"You cannot tax your way out of a recession. That would only hurt the fragile recovery that's starting to emerge."

Much of Stelmach's speech, called "The Way Forward," focused on feel-good messages about the province's strengths and a future where Alberta's "potential is undiminished." It included shots of a more casually dressed premier walking on his farm with a dog.

Province re-issuing bonds

Stelmach repeated that money saved "during the good years" and invested in the $17-billion Sustainability Fund would be used to cover the province's revenue shortfall.

The provincial government is bringing back Alberta Capital Bonds this fall that will allow investors to know which hospitals and schools the money is going to build, the premier said.

First issued in 1987, the proceeds paid for capital projects and offset budget deficits. By the time the program was terminated in 1997 — when the bonds were known as Alberta Savings Certificates — the province had raised $5.7 billion.

Stelmach alluded to a government panel's review of the province's overall competitiveness in the energy sector, expected to be done by the end of the year, but did not talk about specifics for the oil and gas industry.

Opinion poll showed plunging support

The 17-minute taped presentation comes as a recent poll indicates Stelmach's popularity is plunging.

Support for Stelmach's Conservatives stood at 64 per cent among decided voters around the time of his last TV address in 2007. That has now dropped to 34 per cent, according to the survey released on Tuesday by Return On Insight (ROI).

Almost six in 10 Albertans said they disapproved of Stelmach's performance as a leader.

"Even in the days when Ralph Klein was instituting massive cuts and there was a lot of animosity, his numbers went up, but they are nowhere near the disapproval numbers that Stelmach has right now," said pollster Bruce Cameron on Wednesday.

With files from The Canadian Press