EDMONTON – The Alberta government acknowledged Monday that it broke its promise to freeze salaries for top managers and has instead given them seven per cent raises.
That will boost salaries for top civil servants to more than $300,000 a year by 2016.
Government spokeswoman Jessica Jacobs-Mino said while the government promised in 2013 to freeze salaries for three years, things changed this spring when the government struck a deal with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
That deal provides an $1,850 lump-sum payment and a 6.75 per cent salary increase over three years.
Jacobs-Mino said the government’s standard practice has been to give the same deal to managers as that given to unionized staff.
“We’re looking at treating all public servants fairly here,” said Jacobs-Mino. “It’s crass politics to try to pit one level of public servant against another.
“We value them all.”
The government was not legally bound to boost the salaries of senior managers, but “it’s consistent with what we’ve done in the past,” she said.
The union represents rank-and-file employees from prison guards to social workers. It ratified a new contract last month after more than a year of bitter debate with and court action against the province.
Under former premier Alison Redford, the government stripped the union of its right to arbitration and passed a law imposing an austere wage deal to help balance the budget.
That law was put on hold by a judge and ultimately rendered moot when a negotiated deal was reached.
To show it was serious in keeping salaries lean, the province also announced in February 2013 that it would freeze the salaries of all top managers.
“Our government is leading by example,” Finance Minister Doug Horner said in a news release at the time.
But the Opposition Wildrose party on Monday revealed documents showing that cabinet quietly approved the senior manager pay increases last week.
No government news release was issued.
The deal also increases pay for leaders of foreign trade offices, including former MLA and one time Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Gary Mar.
The latest government annual report shows Albertans paid more than $560,000 in pay and benefits last year for Mar’s work in Hong Kong as Alberta’s trade representative.
Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson said the decision puts to rest any notion that the culture of entitlement that has plagued the Tory government was all Redford’s fault.
“It’s just the blatant dishonesty,” said Anderson.
“How many times do they think they can just flat out lie to Albertans about what they’re going to do, and that Albertans are just going to forget about it?”
AUPE president Guy Smith said the decision is ironic given that “the same people who sat across the bargaining table from us, who tried to legislate wage freezes and strip us of our right to arbitration … have now taken the same wage deal they fought to keep from their own front-line staff.”
The PC party is currently in a leadership race. A vote for a new leader and premier is in September.
Candidate Jim Prentice, a former Calgary MP and federal cabinet minister, said he’ll reinstate the freeze should he become premier.
“I do not support lifting a legislated wage freeze for government management after just over one year, without a comprehensive review of government appointments,” Prentice said in a news release.
Candidate Thomas Lukaszuk said he would push forward with his review of executive salaries with an eye to moving them down.
“Government could clearly have said no (to the seven per cent hike). It’s not a negotiated deal,” said Lukaszuk, who left the Alberta cabinet to run for the leadership.
Ric McIver, another candidate who also left the cabinet to run, said he is “very disappointed” by the wage hike.
“When you make a promise, you keep it,” said McIver.
Fighting a culture of entitlement is a central plank in the platforms of all three candidates.
Redford was found to have used untold amounts of government money to finance activities to benefit herself and her inner circle. She resigned in March ahead of a caucus and party revolt over her spending.
NDP critic Deron Biolous said the deal illustrates the inherent pay imbalance under the Tories.
“This is truly a tale of two Albertas, with one set of rules for PC insiders and another for middle-class families,” said Bilous in a statement.