‘Eye-popping’: UCP criticized for premier’s staff salaries totalling $2.9M

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UCP criticized for premier’s staff salaries totalling $2.9M
WATCH ABOVE: The UCP is being criticized following the release of a Medicine Hat News article outlining the salaries of the premier's office staff. While those numbers have been public knowledge since 2019, even a UCP MLA is speaking out about the high salaries in a time when thousands of Albertans have lost their jobs. Chris Chacon reports. – May 17, 2020

Tax experts are sounding the alarm over the amount Alberta’s government spends on the salaries for 19 government employees who work for Premier Jason Kenney’s office.

Publicly posted contracts for 19 employees in the premier’s office show their salaries add up to over $2.9 million in taxpayer dollars each year, with their salaries ranging from over $224,000 annually at the high end for both the premier’s principal secretary and his chief of staff, and several employees including the premier’s special assistant and tour manager each making just over $114,000 at the low end of the scale.

Global News reviewed the contracts and the listed biweekly salaries were multiplied by 26 to convert them to annual costs.

“Some of these salaries, some of these are really eye-popping salaries. And quite frankly they’re out of touch with realities facing Alberta,” Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said.

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Terrazzano said Sunday that he believes the UCP, which campaigned on a platform of fiscal management, should be taking a look at its own expenditures.

Click to play video: 'Premier Jason Kenney defends budget while appearing on 630 CHED'
Premier Jason Kenney defends budget while appearing on 630 CHED

“We’ve heard many times (from) the premier — who has rightly talked about the need for spending restraint,” Terranzzano said. “The premier’s office is the one place where he has total control over the budget, so he needs to be finding some savings there.”

The salaries are posted publicly by the current government, as part of the Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act.

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While they have been posted online since the UCP government came into power in 2019, the salaries were highlighted this week when the Medicine Hat News published an article questioning the hefty price tag.

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Alberta political scientist Duane Bratt said Sunday that the paper has become known for publishing stories taking fire at the UCP.

“The Medicine Hat News has seemed to become the major news organization seeming to oppose the UCP government, which is a very small paper in a very conservative part of the province,” he said.

UCP MLA Drew Barnes, who represents the Cypress-Medicine Hat riding, said Sunday that he is “disappointed” in the numbers.

“Let’s look for value. Every decision, for hard-earned tax dollars, let’s look to get that money to where it’ll do the most good,” Barnes said.

Barnes suggested the UCP could be trimming away positions that aren’t needed.

“The number one thing I’ve heard for all these years (as an MLA) is trim middle management, help promote front-line workers, help push our tax resources to our front line, paying those people more and making sure there’s adequate numbers of those and look for the cuts in the middle management and above.

Bratt agreed that the high salaries go against many of the actions the UCP has taken since taking office.

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“This government has sustained on attack on the public sector,” Bratt said. “We saw this in the MacKinnon report, that compared to other provinces, our teachers are overpaid, our public sector workers are overpaid, our professors are overpaid, our doctors are overpaid, our nurses are overpaid,”

“Then, you see these numbers of the politically-appointed staff in the premier’s office.”

Terrazzano said that the reexamining of the staffer salaries comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created an especially bad situation for the financial state of many Albertans.

“We have a number of political staffers who are earning more money than the premier. So we need to see some cuts there for sure. And we also just need to remember this doesn’t look good to the many Albertans who have lost their jobs,” Terrazzano said.

According to Stats Canada, Alberta saw a drop in employment in March of 117,000 jobs, amounting to a five per cent loss of workforce. In April, the province lost another 190,000 jobs, another four-point-two per cent drop. 

“We’re all struggling right now. Because of COVID-19, the health pandemic, the economic shutdown. But we’ve been going through tough times for years before this. Albertans, families, businesses, have been tightening their belts for years,” Terrazzano said.

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“We need to see more restraint coming from the premier’s office, especially given the realities happening in Alberta right now.”

The UCP said Sunday that there were 30 people who had been appointed to Premier Rachel Notley’s office between 2015 and 2019, and that in total, the UCP are paying their premier and ministerial staff 21 per cent less.

Christine Myatt, press secretary for the premier’s office, said in an email that: “There are a number of position titles that they had that we do not, yet the function of these positions is largely the same.

“While position titles and task organization may vary from administration to administration, the same functions are necessary to ensure the proper operation of the office,” Myatt said.

The NDP said Sunday that they no longer had access to the previous contracts for its employees while it was in government.

The UCP provided a list of 30 employees it said worked for Notley, but not all of their salaries were listed on the government’s salary and severance disclosure list. The threshold for salary disclosure 2018 was $108,784.

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