Times Associate Editor
Bitter divisions stemming from the NDP's controversial decision to dole out sizable raises at a time when unemployment and wage cuts are on the rise in Strathmore and province-wide, prompted reconsideration of the issue and proved the Opposition effective against a majority government.
Seven NDP officials serving on the 11-member Standing Committee on Legislative Offices, recently exercised their majority vote by giving the thumbs up on a 7.25 per cent pay raise for all senior independent officers of the legislature. The committee furthermore approved funding for a jaunt to Boston to attend the 2015 COGEL Conference on Government Ethics. However, the approved motion was met with outcry from opposition members, forcing the issue back before the committee later this week.
"This is a perfect example of how opposition is supposed to work, when the government rams through a huge pay increase for senior bureaucrats at an entirely inappropriate time and did so in a closed, non-public meeting without any notice to the opposition," said Strathmore-Brooks Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who does not serve on the committee.
"Our members on the committee did not need a directive of the leaders' office to know that at a time when Albertans are losing jobs or taking pay cuts to stay afloat and small businesses are hurting, it's inappropriate to give government employees that kind of a raise. The NDP government seems to be disconnected from the reality where folks in the private sector are left to blow in the wind but that government employees are entirely shielded from the circumstances we find ourselves in. I don't think that's fair."
A Calgary and Area Labour Market report for April to June, released by the Alberta government, revealed an increase in the unemployment rate to 5.6 per cent; up 0.6 per cent from the previous quarter. According to the report, Calgary's unemployment rate is predicted to climb steadily to 6.2 per cent in two years' time. While statistics are unavailable in Strathmore, over 360 local residents visited the McBride Career Group last month.
"We're seeing a lot more people in our office ... and people are frustrated," said Michelle Fox-Salim, project manager with McBride Career Group.
"They're used to a certain salary and unfortunately they're not going to get what they were making in oil and gas for the jobs they are looking for now."
During the 2015 Municipal Census, 259 residents were able to work but unemployed. The struggle was reflected across the province, where the number of unemployed citizens increased by 14,300 people for a total of 138,200 in the second quarter.
Taking into consideration the province's economic situation and concerns raised by members of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservatives, who make up the remaining four seats on the committee, NDP MLA and Chair of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices Denise Wollard announced, on Sept. 24, that the issue will be brought back before the committee.
While Wollard was unavailable for comment at press time, she issued a statement addressing the situation.
"With regard to the compensation of Officers of Legislature, in consideration of the challenges facing Alberta families and our economy and concerns validly raised by the Opposition, and despite what has been the standard practice of this committee about compensation since 2008, I will be calling this committee back together in the coming week to reconsider this decision. Regarding the 2015 COGEL Conference on Government Ethics, we believe it is important that Albertans are represented and we think that one or two people will attend, not more."
The committee will reconsider their decision later this week.