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Alberta MLAs get down to work -- sort of -- tomorrow

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It’s great work if you can find it!

The first session of the 28th Legislature of Alberta opens tomorrow and will sit for … hold onto your hats, people … all of six days.

In their defence, sort of, that's about all Premier Alison Redford and the rest of the Legislature's 87 MLAs are going to need anyway, because they only plan to deal with one piece of legislation, something called, appropriately enough, Bill 1.

Bill 1 is … well, actually, Bill 1 is a secret. You'll find out what it’s about tomorrow at the same time as the rest of us.

Presumably some people know what Bill 1 is about already, because the government has had to print up a Throne Speech and copies of the bill. The general assumption among the Alberta punditocracy is that it won't be anything all that earthshaking -- because the Redford Government intends to save the earthshaking stuff for the fall sitting, which will be a little longer.

You never know with Alberta Tory majority governments, though, and a lot of us will worry that they're going to ban the right to assemble in groups larger than three, especially if the purpose is collective bargaining, or outlaw the clanging of pots and pans or other forms of free expression in the streets, historically a sign a government has completely lost control of the population, or whatever, until we actually see what's in Bill 1 later today.

Most likely, the professional pundits have informed us, Bill 1 will be a law to require the Workers' Compensation Board to cover firefighters and police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a laudable enough goal, of course, but why just first responders? Why not, indeed, a serious shakeup of the whole appalling WCB, with its private-insurance mentality and meat-grinder approach to compensating injured and traumatized workers? Well, don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Meantime, speaking of compensation, if not for workers, Progressive Conservative House Leader Dave Hancock announced yesterday that the government will accept almost all of retired Supreme Court Justice Jack Major's largely sensible MLA pay recommendations -- except his suggestion of a $335,000 annual salary for the premier, which almost caused a province-wide meltdown when it was first proposed during the campaign leading up to the April 23 general election.

Politically speaking, Redford had no option but to turn it down under those trying circumstances and to leave it turned down now. How big her salary will be -- like the topic of Bill 1 -- remains a mystery for the moment. Probably bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a house.

Acceptance of the rest of Judge Major's report means MLAs will be paid a base salary of $134,000 with the possibility of getting up to $67,000 more depending on the additional responsibilities they are assigned. Like the rest of us, the MLAs will now pay taxes on the full amount -- which means that the rest of us will be paying more, too, because we’ll have to pay their federal taxes. But as Hancock observed, almost certainly accurately, that seemed to be what Albertans wanted, so that's what we’ll get.

Work remains to be done on their pensions, which by the sound of it will be proper defined benefit plans, which will set a good example for the private sector and cause the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to issue hundreds of news releases. The job also includes, as they say, other competitive benefits -- including the ability to expense almost everything, including car washes.

Unlike the rest of us, the MLAs will only have to actually show up for work six days between now and roughly when the snow starts to fly -- or so Alberta's oral tradition of record-keeping says. Good luck finding any official reference to the length of this sitting on the Legislature's website, or in the public prints. Still, those naturally inclined to work hard will find worthwhile things to do. Indeed, we can count on an enthusiastic and bombastic performance for a while from the new Wildrose Opposition.

That's why it’s great work if you can get it -- which only 87 Albertans can.

Meanwhile, the odds makers were having fun yesterday calculating who is most likely to be named Speaker of the House now that Ken Kowalski has retired.

Since we last discussed the topic in this space, Yellowhead MLA Robin Campbell dropped out to be named to cabinet as aboriginal relations minister and Red Deer-North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, deprived of her Ed Stelmach-era cabinet post, joined the race.

Previously mentioned candidates still in the race are the creamy-voiced Edmonton-Mill Creek PC MLA Gene Zwozdesky, a former health minister and professional crooner with the demonstrated ability to sooth the savage breasts of angry politicians, Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, who would dearly love the excuse to no longer have to sit as a member of Liberal Leader Raj Sherman's dysfunctional caucus, and Wayne Cao, PC MLA for Calgary-Fort who served as Deputy Speaker under Kowalski.

Although Blakeman was the favourite of this blog's readership, as readers can see from the poll at right, the smart money favours Zwozdesky to win the secret ballot vote today. It's said here, however, that no one should count out the sunny and likeable Cao.

The Speaker election is scheduled to take place at 1:30 p.m. The Speech from the Throne with its associated pomp and circumstance is scheduled for 3 p.m.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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