So Alberta’s august premier wants us all to tighten our belts a little more. To prove he’s serious, he rented an hour of airtime to bore the province with while announcing his government was imposing a two year wage freeze on senior bureaucrats. He also used the airtime to ask public sector employees across the board to agree to a similar cap.
The next day, to demonstrate those on the front line aren’t the only ones feeling the pain, the farmer from Lamont County has taken a 15 per cent cut in his allowance. He has also asked his caucus colleagues to take a 10 per cent cut.
There are always plenty of road apples to step on in the political arena. This time round, Mr. Ed is up past his ankles in a particularly green pile. And the premier scraped them together all on his own.
Just after last year’s provincial election, Ed and the rest of the barnyard, of course, of course, gave themselves a hefty raise in allowance. Not in pay, mind you, but allowance. For the premier, the hike amounted to some 34 per cent, netting him $81,000 in allowance on top of his $132,000 wage. That little fact was conveniently blipped over in the rush to show solidarity with the average worker. Not that there is any solidarity to be had, given that the average worker earns significantly less than the $200,000 annually the premier takes in. Heck, most Albertans earn less than the premier gets in allowance. Even if he takes a 15 per cent cut, his allowance will still be in the $69,000 range. Someone earning $17-an-hour has to work two years to earn as much as the premier would get in reduced allowance.
Maybe Stelmach is trying to repeat history. After all, he was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. That was the year Ralph Klein’s version of the Conservative party painted the province red, cutting a deep swatch through the public sector, significantly undermining the province’s ability to provide social programs. Despite promises the wage freeze and rollbacks would protect jobs, reality differed. It took more than a decade to get back on track.
The difference this time round is that Ed’s not the winning horse Klein was then. Stelmach does not have that same Homer Simpson factor – that gregarious, strangely likable beer-swilling back slapping loutishness – Albertans voted for time and again in previous races. Some of those same public sector employees have long memories.
If the Premier truly is serious about showing he understands what it means to put it all on the line, he should roll his allowance back the full 34 per cent extra he got in 2008 and then take a 15 per cent cut in addition. Then he can impose a wage freeze and roll backs just before going to election.
That way his job is as much in peril as anyone else’s.
Because those road apples he’s standing on now? They’re slippery.