News / Calgary

Wildrose candidate's pay hike for work as student president dubbed 'hypocritical'

A Wildrose candidate is coming under fire after his student-council executive hastily approved a raise package that appears to make him the highest paid student president in Alberta.

Jason Nixon, a candidate in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, has served as president of the Athabasca University Students' Union (AUSU) for nearly two years. Minutes from the group's April 21 meeting indicate voting members unanimously approved pulling $16,913 from a surplus budget account and adding it to their executive wages.

The move will bring Nixon's annual honorarium to $49,851.23, according to the meeting's agenda.

Reached Thursday, however, the candidate insisted he played no part in the sub-committee that reviewed the compensation and abstained from an email vote ratification, a measure typically reserved for urgent business.

"I never asked for a raise and I don't care if I have one or not," said Nixon. He added that he's been on leave for weeks.

Asked if he would accept the pay bump if his bid for MLA was unsuccessful, Nixon responded, "I haven't even really thought about it to be quite honest, as this was all happening at the same time as the election was starting."

He did say the decision to pull the funds from the surplus account was one-time only and done expeditiously to avoid potential conflicts with annual students' union elections in early April.

"Basically, when this was going through council, they don't even know who the executives were going to be," he said.

But the pay hike didn't pass the smell test for opposing parties also vying for the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre seat.

"For a party that says it's going to set an example, they should probably look more closely at the one they already set — it's pretty hypocritical in our view," said Mike Storeshaw, spokesperson for the Progressive Conservatives, who are offering up Tammy Cote as a candidate.

Storeshaw added, "He (Nixon) never said no. He's perfectly happy to continue going along with this until someone looked into it."

Also running in the riding is independent Joe Anglin. The outspoken incumbent couldn't be reached Thursday, but did appear to target Nixon with a tweet Monday.

"WRP blast PCs for entitlements, yet WRP candidate votes himself a 33 (per cent) pay hike with student funds!" he wrote.

The student-run newspaper at Athabasca, known as The Voice Magazine, was first to raise questions about the pay bump, but an original article on the matter called "It's All About the Benjamins" was pulled off the web after concerns were raised.

Karl Low, the publication's managing editor and former students' union president, told Metro Wednesday he stands behind the piece but had been informed by a current member of the students' union that a "legal threat" had been made about the article.

He said the publication was in a particularly sticky spot, given that its funding is provided by the students' union and there are currently ongoing talks of replacing him and his part-time writing staff with a single "writer-in-residence."

In his original piece, Low didn't refrain from offering his opinions on the raises. He outlined data suggesting executive pay has skyrocketed in recent years, up from a little under $22,000 for president in 2012.

"But he (Nixon) thinks members should be concerned that The Voice Magazine is taking up too much of the AUSU budget," Low wrote. "Perhaps he's worried that there won't be room for further raises to himself if The Voice is still paying students' money back to students and writers."

Nixon said that while he wasn't in the role in 2012, the student executive position for Athabasca used to be part-time and that might explain the recent pay hikes.

A Metro analysis of student executive wages found that Nixon is due to earn more than his counterparts at SAIT (where executives are paid $39,498), the University of Calgary ($38,481), Mount Royal University ($36,750), Grant MacEwan ($36,705) and the University of Alberta ($35,947).

The Athabasca pay also exceeds that for executives at large schools outside of the province. For example, student representatives with the University of British Columbia Vancouver Campus Alma Mater Society, which represents nearly 40,000 students, earn $27,500 annually plus a $5,000 bonus for meeting certain targets.

But Nixon said because Athabasca focuses on distance learning, he represents a larger student contingent of roughly 44,000 and works in the role 12 months a year, instead of the typical nine worked by many of his peers.

"There's not a die-down during the summer months," he said. "That was the argument that the compensation committee came up with. They came up with it on their own, I have never put that forward."

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