Robson Fletcher / Metro file photoAlberta Premier Jim Prentice is seen in this file photo.

The government payroll got lighter Thursday after Premier Jim Prentice announced a five-per cent cut to cabinet wages, with MLAs and possibly government workers next in line.
Following a meeting, Prentice said his cabinet agreed to cut their pay and he will ask MLAs to take the same hit next week, while continuing to suggest public servants will have to sacrifice.
“I think this is the kind of leadership that Albertans expect from their elected officials in these challenging times,” he said.
Prentice said if all MLAs agreed to the cut it would save about $600,000. He said personally it would mean he would make $10,887 less next year and ministers would see $10,050 less on their paycheques.
If MLAs agree to cut, when it goes to their member services committee, it will cost them $6,700 per year.
Prentice said discussions with provincial unions are ongoing, but he believes Albertans will want to see the pain shared.
“They expect people who work for the government, whether we’re elected or whether they’re employees to share part of that burden,” he said.
Calgary-Currie MLA Christine Cusanelli, who is not in the Prentice cabinet, said she had no issues with taking a pay cut.
“We’re going to be facing very difficult times ahead,” she said shortly after the premier’s announcement Thursday.
“Everybody in every sector is going to feel the crunch and we need to be prepared to show that we are actual leaders who will make a sacrifice.”
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith said the premier sacrificing part of his salary has no impact on his members’ willingness to sacrifice theirs.
“For us it makes no difference; we have a collective agreement that we signed with the Government of Alberta,” he said. “We expect the government to honour that collective agreement.”
Smith said Prentice’s pledge was purely based on optics and wage rollbacks for his members wouldn’t come close to solving the province’s financial crisis, which is being driven by a rapid decline in the price of oil.
“I think Premier Prentice believes this is going to put more pressure on us to capitulate and it doesn’t,” Smith said.
Oil prices have plunged from more than US$100 a barrel last summer to less than $50 a barrel today, siphoning billions of dollars from the treasury.
Alberta teachers said the province should look elsewhere to plug the province’s financial holes.
“All of this has been groundwork to try to point the finger at public-sector workers,” said Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. “We’ve got trouble in the province, we’ve got an issue with our finances. Rather than deal with taxes, we’re going to start with employees first.”
Asked if his organization would ever consider a wage cut, Ramsankar replied, “The flat answer is no. Teachers have had three years of (zero per cent raises).”
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, lashed out at Prentice on social media.
“Prentice (is) setting up for (an) attack on public sector wages, even though MLAs have enjoyed far bigger wages and increases than front-line workers,” he wrote.
The opposition Wildrose, meanwhile, chalked up Thursday’s move as being nothing more than “window dressing” and leader Heather Forsyth called instead for a rollback of eight per cent to bring wages back to levels seen prior to raise approved in the fall of 2012.