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Rachel Notley's government must review high salaries at agencies, critics say

Critics say the new government of premier-designate Rachel Notley should immediately rein in extraordinary salaries at Alberta’s publicly funded agencies and expose them to scrutiny through the province’s so-called sunshine list.

Agriculture Financial Service Corp. President paid $670,000 a year

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is calling on the new government to review the salaries at agencies, commissions and boards. (CBC)

Critics say the new government of premier-designate Rachel Notley should immediately rein in extraordinary salaries at Alberta's publicly funded agencies and expose them to scrutiny through the province's so-called sunshine list.

Based on tips from the public, CBC News examined salaries at two arm's length agencies: the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) and Alberta Innovates.

The AFSC gives loans to farmers and small businesses, and also manages the province's crop insurance. Alberta Innovates promotes and conducts research through four branches.

Annual reports show:

  • AFSC paid President Brad Klak a total, including salary and benefits, of $670,000 in 2013-14 — more than triple the salary of Alberta's premier;
  • Klak's compensation jumped from $573,000 in 2011-12 to $671,000 in 2012-13, an increase of nearly $100,000;
  • Seven AFSC executives were paid between $237,000 and $384,000 in 2013-14;
  • The CEOs of Alberta Innovates' four branches received between $338,000 and $479,000 in total compensation;
  • Six executives at the Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions branch received total compensation of between $154,000 and $242,000;
  • Seven executives at the Technology Futures branch of Alberta Innovates were paid a total of between $272,000 and $364,000.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the salaries reveal a "total disconnect" between the reality of Alberta's taxpayers — many struggling to make mortgage and vehicle payments due to the oilpatch downturn — and the boards of these government agencies.

Brad Klak, president of the Agriculture Financial Services Corp. is paid total compensation of $670,000 a year. (Agriculture Financial Services Corporation)
"We are hoping that the premier will do something about it," Jean said. "We have certainly talked about it for a long time and how bad it is."

Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Paige MacPherson said the salaries at Alberta Innovates are "completely out of touch with most of the rest of Albertans' salaries. But also we have to ask the question, what is the point behind these high salaries?

"Who are the people who are making these salaries at Alberta Innovates competing with?" she said. "What was the point of paying them these very, very high salaries?"

Agencies exempted from sunshine list

The New Democrat government did not respond to interview requests from CBC News. But the party's recent campaign platform promised to extend the government's so-called sunshine list to include salaries at the province's agencies, boards and commissions.

Former premier Alison Redford's government introduced the sunshine list in January 2014. It details the compensation given to all government employees who make more than $102,100 annually.

But the list specifically excluded the salaries of employees at government-funded agencies, boards and commissions, including the AFSC and Alberta Innovates. Both agencies, however, list the salaries of senior executives in their annual reports, which are online.

Former premier Jim Prentice began a review of Alberta's boards, agencies, and commissions in September 2014, but announced in January they would continue to be exempt from the sunshine list.

MacPherson called the exemption "completely unreasonable.

"Boards, agencies, commissions, publicly funded entities should all be on the sunshine list," she said.

"We are the shareholders here," she said. "Show us where we are investing our money. Show us where this money is going."

Jean calls for end to cronyism

Jean called on the NDP to end the cronyism and patronage long associated with agencies, boards and commissions.

The six public members of the AFSC board include former Tory MLA George Groeneveld, a Tory party worker from Olds-Didsbury, and two others who have donated to the party.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Paige MacPherson says salaries at agencies, commissions and boards need to be part of the government’s sunshine list. (Canadian Taxpayers Federation)
Senior AFSC manager Jim Kiss was a Tory ministerial executive assistant for 14 years before becoming a deputy chief of staff.

"(The Notley government) should make sure the boards are not stacked with Tories, Wildrosers, or NDPers," Jean said. "They should be stacked with people who are actually getting the job done in the best interest of taxpayers."

Through freedom of information, CBC News obtained expenses claimed by some Alberta Innovates executives.

One receipt from the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel details a lavish meal for former Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures CEO Gary Albach and board members Stephen Lougheed — son of Peter Lougheed — Tom Corr, Amit Monga and Ken McKinnon. Also in attendance were unidentified board members of the Alberta Enterprise Corp., a venture-capital fund owned by the Alberta government.  

Receipts for expensive meals, wine

The receipt shows the meal started with martinis and single-malt Scotch. During the meal of bison, prime rib and halibut, the board members enjoyed nearly $450 worth of wine, including two cabernets at $140 a bottle.

"Have you ever ordered a $140 bottle of wine?"  Jean asked.

"But they think they can get away with doing this kind of stuff on the backs of taxpayers that are working so hard for their money and (the board members), bluntly, have no respect or regard for them at all," he said.  

Receipts from Alberta Innovates

 

Click here to see the documents

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