By Joe Ceci, Alberta Minister of Finance
After nearly four months of spring session, Alberta’s legislature rose last week after a very busy session. From climate change to payday lending to a review of municipal governance, our government introduced a number of important pieces of legislations that will improve the everyday lives of Albertans.
While one of the key points in this legislative session was when I introduced Budget 2016 – the Alberta Jobs Plan, I also had the great honour of bringing forward legislation designed to ensure transparency and accountability when it comes to the compensation for the province’s top executives. Over the past decade, compensation levels between provincial agencies and the broader public sector have diverged, often quite significantly. The result is that we now have a system of compensation that has virtually no accountability to taxpayers. This is something most Albertans find unacceptable, as does our government.
Bill 19, Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions Compensation Act, is a critical step forward to ensure taxpayer dollars are being prudently spent.
At the moment, compensation at provincial agencies is all over the map. This has become apparent as a result of another initiative taken by our government, which is the extension of the “sunshine list” to include all public agency employees whose salaries exceed $125,000.
Bill 19 will directly address the issue of consistency and fairness in compensation levels at provincial agencies in two important ways. First, the bill authorizes government to collect compensation information from provincial agencies, including employment contracts for executives. Until now, much of this has been done in secret. Our changes will ensure public oversight and accountability for how taxpayer dollars are spent. Second, it allows government to develop regulations for establishing consistent compensation frameworks, including salary ranges, for executives and board members.
Initially, this will focus on agencies whose executives have base salaries over $200,000 per year, excluding post-secondary institutions at this time.
This legislation reflects our government’s focus on rebalancing the compensation for provincial agencies to make it fairer to taxpayers. Similar action has already been taken in other provinces, including British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. To be frank, this change is long overdue, and in many ways, we are simply catching up to best practices in other jurisdictions.
With Bill 19 having come into force on May 27, our next steps will involve working with an independent compensation consulting firm to develop standardized compensation frameworks. We will also work closely with affected agencies to determine how to effectively implement the compensation frameworks. Albertans are invited to submit comments on government’s proposed compensation philosophy and policy guidelines by visiting alberta.ca/abc-compensation.aspx.
Ultimately, this legislation is about achieving a balance between attracting diverse and highly skilled leaders to our agencies, while also ensuring we remain prudent with public dollars.
This is just one of a number of important steps our government has taken to ensure responsible fiscal management. In this past year, we have also consolidated or dissolved 26 agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs), saving taxpayers $33 million over three years, while also asking ABCs to freeze salaries for non-bargaining employees, effective April 1, 2016 for two years. This followed a similar freeze already in place for MLAs, Cabinet, and political staff, and for all 3,000 management and non-union employees within the Alberta Public Service.
We know that we must compensate people fairly for the hard work they do. But there needs to be accountability, transparency and fairness. Albertans expect nothing less from their government and we are committed to delivering that.