Alberta Politics
Thomas Dang, one of the NDP members of the Alberta Legislature’s Member Services Committee (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Symbolic MLA pay cut set stage for attack on public services – so why did the NDP support it?

Posted on August 07, 2019, 2:26 pm
7 mins

Like neoliberals everywhere, Alberta’s Conservatives overrate the virtues of big business and undervalue those of democracy. This is not exactly news.

This was a clear message yesterday from the vote of the Legislature’s Member Services Committee to cut MLA salaries by 5 per cent, and twice that for the premier’s pay. The vote illustrated nicely the United Conservative Party’s contempt for the work of the Legislature, which in the case of its own MLAs may be quite justified as they rubber-stamp tax cuts for billionaires and foreign corporations.

Heather Sweet, NDP MLA on the Member Services Committee (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The pay cut also provided a convenient distraction from the twin embarrassments of the ongoing investigation into internal UCP corruption by the Office of the Election Commissioner and the judicial ruling that granted an injunction to a union seeking to block the government’s effort to use legislation to break a legal contract.

But why did NDP MLAs like Thomas Dang who sit on the Member Services Committee vote in favour of this policy and the damaging symbolic point it makes?

Nicole Goehring, NDP MLA on the Member Services Committee (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I mention Mr. Dang because he obviously spoke the truth when he told the committee that cutting “the pay of politicians a few hundred dollars a month to give them licence to screw over the working people of Alberta is frankly ridiculous.” This is true even though committee chair and Speaker Nathan Cooper ruled plain speaking in terms every Albertan can understand to be “unparliamentary.”

Of course, there should be no surprise about Premier Jason Kenney going ahead with his campaign promises to cut the salaries of Alberta’s MLAs while pouring billions into “job creating” tax breaks for foreign fossil fuel corporations and local billionaires.

Member Services Committee Chair Nathan Cooper (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The pay cuts are purely symbolic. They won’t save much money, and MLA compensation in this province was probably set about right to reflect the work and responsibilities of elected members. Mainstream economics, in addition, teach us the tax giveaways won’t create many jobs, certainly not as many as would a similar investment in public services. The gains will mostly be used by corporations to buy back shares. In Premier Kenney’s United Conservative Party, however, ideology always trumps factual analysis.

When the premier inevitably says “promise made, promise kept,” though, who are we to argue with him? Albertans undeniably voted for this, no matter how damaging it turns out to be.

But why is the NDP lining up with what is obviously intended as a symbolic gesture to justify slashing the pay of Alberta’s public employees as part of a more general policy of gutting public services?

This is a question worth pondering for those of us who voted for the NDP to protect our public services during what was obviously going to be a conservative government dogmatic in its commitment to austerity and extreme market fundamentalism. We’re certainly entitled to ask it. After all, our votes, especially in the city of Edmonton, saved the NDP as a viable party in the Legislature.

Of course, Mr. Dang made this point in the deliberations of this committee, when he identified the obvious motivation of the UCP for implementing the MLA pay cut. But so what? From the perspective of practical politics, what is important, and what will be remembered, is that the vote of the committee was unanimous. In addition to Mr. Dang, the MLA for Edmonton-South, the committee includes NDP MLAs Jasvir Deol, Edmonton-Meadows; Nicole Goehring, Edmonton-Castle Downs; and Heather Sweet, Edmonton-Manning.

According to Global News, “Opposition NDP members on the committee voted for the cut as the right thing to do, given Alberta’s struggling oil and gas-based economy,” which is a strange position to take for a party that just weeks ago was arguing with some justification that the economy was on the mend thanks to its stewardship.

Even if that position made sense, and even if political necessity drove it, the timing is terrible given Mr. Dang’s accurate assessment of the UCP’s motivation. But does anyone seriously believe that how NDP committee members voted yesterday will be a serious issue in the 2023 general election?

The NDP did their friends and supporters no favour with this vote.

Libraries next in line for hit as UCP channels Doug Ford

Author Margaret Atwood on the Calgary Herald picket line, circa 2000 (Photo: Calgary Herald striker).

It looks like the UCP is about to cut public library funding. Now there’s a shocker! Mr. Kenney, who boasts he completes his bromantic partner Doug Ford’s sentences for him, is ripping pages out of the Doug Ford playbook.

Mr. Ford, as readers will probably have forgotten, has a hate on for public libraries, presumably in part because Margaret Atwood, the famous author, once bested him in public debate about this topic.

In Mr. Kenney’s case, conniver that he is, he’s holding back on the real bad news until after the federal election so as not to upset federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s applecart, at least not enough to be implicated in its rollover. In the meantime, he’ll hold onto at least half the money.

Rural Alberta, where Mr. Kenney’s most loyal supporters live, is likely to be hardest hit, as so often seems to happen to rural supporters of neoliberal demagogues.

6 Comments to: Symbolic MLA pay cut set stage for attack on public services – so why did the NDP support it?

  1. pogo

    August 7th, 2019

    So! The top guy takes a cut and all the underlings take a cut. Why did they opt for a raise for foreign shareholders and CEO’s via a tax cut for the largest among us? I’m in pain in my brain! So! Given I am a snapshot in time? I’ll prefer this one, thank you very much! https://youtu.be/ovPUFPkaE_A

    Reply
    • Kang

      August 10th, 2019

      POGO: why did the NDP vote for this right wing canard which legitimizes UCP cuts to anything worth while? One might as well ask why the chicken crossed the road. Perhaps the explanation is both simple and rather unkind: the NDP just wants to fit in and be liked. I’ll see your Tragically Hip and raise you one Cyndi Lauper:
      https://youtu.be/PIb6AZdTr-A

      Reply
  2. Tom

    August 8th, 2019

    I have three observations.

    1. Either way, this is a no-win situation for the NDP. They’ll just have to live to fight another day.

    2. If the UCP is trying to downplay their Halloween budget in advance of Andrew Scheer’s electoral push, they’re doing a good job of building up the suspense. In a slasher movie, it’s the build-up that really scares everybody.

    3. There seem to be a lot of moving parts in everything Jason Kenney does. He’s an inveterate schemer, even when he doesn’t have to be–as in the UCP leadership campaign–and that could be a problem. We’ll see in future how being too clever by half works out for him–even in Alberts with its herd-like ways and supine press.

    Reply
  3. Political Ranger

    August 8th, 2019

    “The NDP did their friends and supporters no favour …”

    Seems to be a common theme lately.

    Reply
  4. Dave

    August 8th, 2019

    The NDP probably supported it because it is truly popular, unlike the cuts that will probably follow it. Kenney will find out about the later part soon enough if he goes down that path, much like Doug Ford is now to his regret. Are the two inexorably linked? Well, only in the minds of Conservatives.

    Is the public going to care or cut the Conservatives some slack when they close their hospitals, reduce staffing in schools or cut back libraries that Kenney in crew took a pay cut? Nope, probably not. So go ahead Mr. Kenney, cut your pay some more if you want – you’ve earned it!

    Reply
  5. Jerrymacgp

    August 9th, 2019

    The NDP probably supported it because they essentially had no choice; that’s the essential problem with politicians setting their own compensation. Had they voted against, they would have been tarred as greedy; had they abstained, as chicken.

    There are a few potential approaches to politicians’ compensation that could,hav integrity. One is an independent panel, like we do for judges; another, which is common at the municipal level, is for changes to political compensation to take effect after the next election.

    But, my preferred option is more radical: pay them nothing—or some token amount, like a toonie a year—as base salary. Instead, set up a salary replacement model, wherein whatever loss in income they suffer by leaving their previous (non-political) job behind is replaced, dollar for dollar. Retirees would be allowed to continue receiving their pensions, if any, including public pensions like CPP & OAS. For the self-employed, like lawyers & physicians, there would have to be some safeguards to prevent them torquing up their incomes before running for office; using tax years prior to their first action taken to become a candidate—like running for a nomination—would probably suffice. Out of pocket expenses for travel, meals & accommodations while on Legislature business would be reimbursed under terms, conditions & amounts identical to those for unionized public servants. But, in my view, no person should be advantaged by holding elected public office, nor should they be disadvantaged.

    Reply

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