Opposition parties strangely quiet as Alberta Finance Minister stops the ABC Sector gravy train

Posted on February 26, 2017, 1:30 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci considers a reporter’s question during Friday’s news conference (screenshot). Below: Alberta Workers Compensation Board CEO Guy Kerr and Alberta Energy Regulator CEO Jim Ellis.

Being a conservative in opposition apparently turns what your Mama taught you on its head: If you can’t say anything bad, don’t say anything at all!

That would be one explanation for the spooky silence from Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition and the usual suspects on the right about Finance Minister Joe Ceci’s announcement Friday he was pulling the plug on millions in pay and perks for executives at 23 Alberta agencies, boards and commissions – part of the so-called ABC Sector.

You’d think this would have pleased the opposition. After all, just three weeks ago they were screaming that the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley must freeze the pay of front-line nurses, health care workers, teachers and civil servants who will be negotiating new collective agreements this year.

Back then, in an official statement, the Wildrose Party called a mediator’s recommendation of raises ranging for 29 cents to 88 cents an hour for 14,000 health care aides and licensed practical nurses represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees “a slap in the face to struggling Albertans.”

Some of those health care workers are currently being paid less than $20 an hour. Freezing their salaries for 2016 as the Wildrosers demanded would have saved the provincial treasury about $8 million.

By contrast, on Friday, the cuts made to the sometimes outrageous pay and perks of only about 270 ABC Sector executives – a hangover from the days when the ABCs served in part as a lush pasture for old Tory warhorses – will save taxpayers roughly double that.

Now, it would be entirely consistent for the Opposition to say, “good step, but not far enough.” Or even, “it was about time they stopped the gravy train!” Instead? Pretty much crickets.

There was nary a quote from the PCs (who are responsible for most of the executive pay rates to which Mr. Ceci took his axe), the Wildrosers (who are after all the Official Opposition) or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Canada’s self-described and routinely quoted tax watchdog) in any mainstream media report I noticed.

In fact, the only mention of the Progressive Conservatives in any of the media coverage seemed to be Mr. Ceci’s mild comment that “for far too long, the previous government allowed CEO salaries to balloon beyond reasonable levels at our agencies, boards and commissions despite recommendations by the Auditor General to rein them in.”

“Instead, they sat by while some executives got big raises,” Mr. Ceci observed during his news conference. “I’m here to say that those days of standing by are over.”

As for the Opposition, “Wildrose voiced no objections,” was all an official of that party told me, a kind of backhanded approval in itself. The PCs appear to have been completely silent.

The CTF did better. “This is a good baby step,” CTF Alberta spokesperson Paige MacPherson responded to my query. “If the government is willing to address compensation to reduce spending, it makes sense to start at the top. … At the same time, Minister Ceci would not commit to pushing for wage freezes in labour negotiations.” That said, it sure didn’t sound like they were working the phones to the media, which will always take a call from the CTF.

Regardless, although Ms. MacPherson is right when she says the sum is small in the great scheme of things, the symbolism is powerful – and related, it is said here, to the mysterious unwillingness of the so-called conservative Opposition to give the NDP credit for doing something right.

Indeed, I imagine there are some in the Opposition who would have liked things left just as they were in the hope conservatives some day return to government and Alberta can get back to being run the way the PCs did for nearly 44 years.

For his part, Mr. Ceci subtly demonstrated that taxpayers get value for the money they spend on the civil service compared to the private sector and corporatized groups like some Tory-built ABCs.

By bringing ABC executive salaries into line with much lower paid top civil servants with similar responsibilities, the NDP has also struck a blow against the old Tory spoils system in which ordinary taxpayers footed the bill for a comfortable semi-retirement for superannuated Conservative loyalists.

This is not to say, of course, that all ABC executives were Tory hacks, or didn’t do important work. But even where their work was important, and they did it well, Mr. Ceci has struck a blow against the pervasive and self-serving myth on the right that huge, anti-social salaries must be paid to executives in public service in order to get the best people.

“We’re not concerned about that,” Mr. Ceci said in response to a predictable question from a reporter during Friday’s news conference. Salaries have been benchmarked with those of people holding similar jobs in other governments and organizations, he noted, and “the benchmarks show they’re being fairly compensated relative to people in similar positions.”

Certainly, about half the impacted ABC executives will see cuts to their base pay – although only after a two-year transition period – and a few will lose literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual pay if they stick around.

Alberta Workers Compensation Board CEO Guy Kerr will see his pay shrink from almost $900,000 a year to just under $400,000. Alberta Energy Regulator CEO Jim Ellis’s pay will fall from more than $720,000 a year to about $400,000.

As for the taxpayer bankrolled golf club memberships, housing allowances, “retention bonuses,” “market modifiers” and “performance bonuses” – they’ll all be gone. Severance pay will be capped at one year.

Mr. Ceci was excruciatingly polite about this. He effusively praised the work done by the impacted executives. He said their reaction to his news was “respectful, understanding, appreciative.”

The government’s extensive review of the ABC Sector continues. In the first phase last year, 26 agencies were amalgamated or eliminated. There are more than 300 ABCs in all.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: Opposition parties strangely quiet as Alberta Finance Minister stops the ABC Sector gravy train

  1. Ron

    February 26th, 2017

    When he wasn’t singing Irish Eyes for the gipper, our old crooner Brian was known to say this about his cronies: “there’s no whore like an old whore.” He would know.

    Reply
  2. Val

    February 26th, 2017

    sounds like good move but not set in stone, considering 2 years delay, during which PC or WR can gain the provincial governance and simply roll back acts of previous government.
    another annoying thing, apologetic approach to competitiveness in performance of public and private enterprises where it is not avoidable. it could be acceptable if there are competition but there is not. for example – first my banking was with Canada Trust and i remember this experience as a great one. then TD took the Canada Trust over and everything went down. ok, i looked into option to move to ATB. my thought was, if i should pay for services, with ATB at least something from my money will go back into provincial budget. my research didn’t show me how ATB governed, what does with profit but very clearly showed me – there nothing even close to competition with private banks. indeed pretty obvious, ATB is shy to be competive to them albeit has better position to do so.

    Reply
    • Phillip Liesemer

      February 27th, 2017

      There is no 2 year delay. The changes will take effect gradually over the next two years as each contract expires, which is a logical way to do things. It lowers the chance for getting sued or claiming unfairness if the new wage comes as part of a new contract as opposed to simply unilaterally changing an existing contract. It also shows the government acting in good faith for those it will be forced to change, giving them plenty of time to make other job arrangements or adjust to their new income. For those with contracts not coming up for renewal within two years, such as Kerr, it will automatically kick in on March 16, 2019. The election is May 31, 2019, so it will all have taken effect prior to the election. Of course a new government can change things, which is kind of the point of elections, but it would be the same as if the changes all took place today.

      Reply
  3. Maryinga

    February 26th, 2017

    I’d say this is a post all of us committed to open, transparent and affordable public expenditures should share widely. By now everyone should know what fiscal conservatives are often ‘conserving’: To wit, their own pork barrels.

    That the public still continues to fall for lower taxes, and cuts to people who actually do something for their money…while remaining in the dark about how much of these taxes we moan about, goes to appointed board members, shames us all.

    We also need some research and transparent reporting about exactly what these fellows DO to earn those big bucks. What is Guy Kerr’s job description, how many hours does he put in, how efficiently is the Worker’s Compensation board working these days? Are injured workers happy? Getting the compensation they deserve? Kerr certainly seems to be doing okay….but what about the public he’s supposed to serve???

    Why is it okay to complain about education and health workers….easy to cut their menial salaries and feel virtuous about doing it, but dangerous to break the silence around fat salaries at the top? Why don’t more of us know what these ABC cats are doing, and who it is they are doing it for? Vital public information our media should provide, since apparently our TAX dollars pay their salaries. Who and what has dumbed us down into having to bash the men and women who educate our children, and care for our grandparents, while giving corporate welfare a pass?? Sounds like the Herald has had a hand in it…biased news if not fake.

    Those of us who know better need to do what we can to make sure nobodies buying it.

    Reply
    • Adrian

      February 28th, 2017

      Here’s a few salaries to start the discussion off, Many of these are in line with what a position that high should be making… but there are a few that are ridiculous! I’m sure the most ridiculous ones aren’t included in this list.
      https://www.alberta.ca/salary-disclosure-table.cfm

      Reply
  4. David

    February 26th, 2017

    I am not familiar with ABC meaning something other than ‘anybody but conservative. But it seems to mean something else. What?

    Reply
    • Ryan H

      February 26th, 2017

      “Agencies, Boards and Commissions”

      Reply
    • Clayton

      February 26th, 2017

      agencies, boards and commissions

      Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      February 26th, 2017

      Agencies, Boards & Commissions… think Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission, the Alberta Energy Regulator, and dozens of others, large & small.

      Reply
    • Dave McCormick

      February 26th, 2017

      It was at the top of the article. It’s short for “Agencies, Boards and Commissions”.

      Reply
    • mike

      February 26th, 2017

      The Government of Alberta is affiliated with a number of agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) that advise ministries and provide support for particular areas.
      (had to look it up myself)
      i am sure that i was taught to state the full title in the first instance with the abbreviation in brackets
      and then use the abbreviation there after

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        February 27th, 2017

        As pointed out by Dave McCormack, the explanation was right at the top of the article. You note that you were “taught to state the full title in the first instance with the abbreviation in brackets and then use the abbreviation thereafter.” Very good. Be my guest. But at the risk of being snotty, I was taught about this stuff on the copy desk at the Globe and Mail, where the view in those days was that we don’t insult our readers by explaining the obvious, as in “Alberta Health Services (AHS).” It was the general consensus that if someone couldn’t figure out that the initials for Alberta Health Services were AHS, they should be judiciously and immediately weeded from the Globe’s quality readership. Alas, judging from the contents of its website, today the Globe apparently no longer has a copy desk and certainly no longer has a quality readership. Here at AlbertaPolitics.ca the Golden Age of the Globe Copy Desk continues, including the proscriptions on “due to,” “the last year,” and comparisons between more than two things. All typographical errors will be corrected after the bulldog edition appears on the streets. DJC

        Reply
    • Ken

      February 26th, 2017

      A = Agencies B = Boards C = Commissions

      Reply
    • Ward

      February 26th, 2017

      Agencies, boards and commissions.

      Reply
    • Maria

      February 26th, 2017

      ABC in this context means agencies, boards and commissions.

      Reply
    • Phillip Liesemer

      February 27th, 2017

      Agencies, Boards and Commissions.

      Reply
    • Ryan H

      February 27th, 2017

      Heh, moderation delays can cause some unintended pile-ons.
      Bet you’re feeling informed now!

      Reply
  5. Sassy

    February 26th, 2017

    This is such fabulous news – THIS is what a good NDP government is about. I hope the next round of the agencies, boards, and commissions review is able to eliminate over half of them. The government should have in-house experts and competent, strategic thinkers who can perform much of the planning done by the ABC arms-length bodies. This is, of course, assuming the NDP has been quietly “culling the herd”. The PCs tended to fill department civil servant executive positions with their incompetent yes-men and women. The “who you know, not what you know” sycophants are not just feeding at the ABC troughs.

    Reply
    • Val

      February 27th, 2017

      you meant like present group of “competent, in house strategic thinkers” of which only 5 albertans and 11 from elsewhere?

      Reply
    • Sassy

      February 27th, 2017

      Just to clarify, I’m talking about the PC politicization of the Alberta public service. A quick tally from the Staff Directory shows approximately 20 deputy ministers, 100 assistant deputy ministers, 100 executive directors, and 400 directors. How many of those were promoted or parachuted in because of connections? Decades of those types of choices and you don’t have the best and the brightest in leadership positions, never mind people who are experts in their fields who would be able to give a government impartial, sound advice.

      Reply
      • Val

        February 28th, 2017

        i see, you’re right about the competence is the key.
        but Rachel Notley seems on same path, conservatives tramped before her.
        at least from what can be seen, all appointees MUST have NDP experience on their resume to qualify. i guess could be that’s why so many “imported” advisers. due to lack of homegrown base.
        direction to “green paradise” very much resembles those of BC and Ontario, quite equal to proportion of folks from these locations, involved in making present policies in Alberta.
        so, is that’s a competence based selection or same old politics based favoritism only painted in orange color?

        Reply
  6. February 26th, 2017

    ABC, in the context of this article, refers to (Alberta) agencies, boards and commissions.

    Reply
  7. Farmer B

    February 27th, 2017

    I have 2 thoughts, first and foremost it appears a reduction in compensation is long overdue, not sure why some of these positions require such a large salary. Secondly, in the grand scheme of things this will make very little difference. What will it save 2 or 3 million? With the size of Alberta’s deficit it like trying to put out a forest fire with a water bottle. A 5% cut in wages across the board would save about 1 billion. But the NDP are opposed to even a wage freeze for unionized employees. Their belief appears to be that money grows on trees. For those that will accuse me of being a heartless right winger, I have 2 kids that work for the Alberta government, so I do have skin in the game so to speak.

    Reply
    • Casc_m

      March 10th, 2017

      Freezing union $8 million, cutting ABC perks $16 million. Higher savings, fewer people affected and in a less devastating manner. Prices will continue to rise so flattened wages loose ground.

      Reply
  8. Brett

    February 28th, 2017

    Long overdue. This was Conservative Alberta’s ‘senate’ so to speak.

    Overpaid havens for political hacks, has beens, rewards for towing the party line, party fundraisers,etc.

    Long overdue…would like to see even more cuts/eliminations.

    Reply

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