Committee hasn't met since 2008

But 21 MLAs still paid $1,000 a month

Alberta opposition members are calling on the Redford government to kill an all-party committee that never meets to spare the province the embarrassment of being singled out nationally for wasting taxpayer dollars.

But some of the 21 MLAS who have been paid $1,000 a month to be part of the committee that hasn't met since 2008 say they work hard for the money on other committees and it is up to voters to decide if they deserve their paycheques.

"All I know is I seem to be working from morning to night every day and I go home and continue working," said Conservative MLA Genia Leskiw, who represent BonnyvilleCold Lake.

Leskiw noted she works on other committees for which she receives no reimbursement, but couldn't say what the standing committee on privileges and elections, standing orders and printing actually does. Leskiw declined to comment on whether she would keep the $12,000 in annual salary for being named to a committee that hasn't met in more than three years.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation issued the committee a Teddy Award Wednesday for wasting taxpayer's money. It noted for the year ending March 31, the committee cost taxpayers $261,000 while accomplishing little or nothing.

Scott Hennig, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said it has been several years since an Alberta government won the award, but it usually goes to recipients that make you "shake your head and cry a little."

"It's the ones that are the most ridiculous that tend to win," he said.

The MLA committee received attention not only for the fact that it was is a horrific waste of money, costing taxpayers nearly $1 million since it last met, but because it involved about one quarter of all the province's MLAs and is one of the longest-standing committees, Hennig said.

But Little Bow Conservative MLA Barry McFarland said he doesn't believe his committee pay is an issue with voters in his riding.

"At the end of the day, there's public disclosure and they see I made $123,000 . . . and they think I have earned it," he said.

Leskiw conceded voters have a right to question the value of the committee and noted a retired judge appointed to review MLA compensation is expected to make recommendations to the government later this year.

"Having the review of it, I think, is a good idea," she said. "We'll see what happens."

But Liberal MLA Kent Hehr called on deputy premier Doug Horner to fold the committee now and spare MLAs further embarrassment.

"This issue makes us all look bad, Mr. Deputy Premier," Hehr noted in the legislature. "Can we have some sort of situation in place to end this practice that would stop making us look this bad."

Horner said the committees falls under the authority of the all-party member services committee, headed by Speaker Ken Kowalski, and invited Hehr to put forward a motion in that committee or the Legislative Assembly.

Opposition MLAs say they have complained in the past that they are locked into receiving the stipend, but some, like Liberal David Swann, said they donated it to charity or their party.

Swann said he believes MLAs should be paid for work they do - not work they don't do.

NDP MLA Rachel Notley, who also sits on the committee, said she has tried several times to refer matters to the committee, but has not been successful because the Conservative government majority voted the motions down. She said the key job of the committee is to hold government and opposition MLAs accountable to a certain standard of behaviour.

"I have probably done quite a bit of work to try to make the committee do some work and ultimately the fact it hasn't is the function of the government not wanting to be held accountable - because that's the role of the committee," she said.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 8 2012
Byline: Darcy Henton

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