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Track John

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is pension.

Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest (New Brunswick)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 56.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act December 10th, 2013

moved that Bill C-518, an act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to start the debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-518. Quite simply, this bill would penalize crooked, law-breaking politicians who fleece taxpayers by taking away their pensions.

I was the national director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation when the scandal surrounding former senator Lavigne unfolded. Like many Canadians, I was appalled at the details of the case. He quite literally stole money from taxpayers. He was ordered to repay tens of thousands of dollars for improper travel expenses. He used publicly funded staff to do his own personal chores. He was convicted in a court of law for breach of trust and fraud. Yet, while that man currently sits in prison, he is still collecting a taxpayer-sponsored pension because of a loophole.

Mr. Lavigne technically resigned as a senator before he was kicked out. According to the rules, when senators resign they get to hold on to their pension. Only when senators are forced out of office for breaking the law, or are otherwise disqualified, will they lose their pension. However, if they quit before they have the chance to get fired, they will be paid a parliamentary pension. That is exactly what Mr. Lavigne did. He fleeced taxpayers while in office and now he fleeces them still.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation calculates that former senator Lavigne is receiving $67,000 per year from his publicly funded pension. That is more than most Canadians earn from honest work in a full-time job.

More recently, we saw Mac Harb retire from the Senate after it was discovered that he had also been fleecing taxpayers. He qualifies for a pension estimated to be over $100,000 per year. The police are investigating his actions. Should he be charged and convicted, he will be in the same boat as disgraced former senator Lavigne, with taxpayers footing the bill again.

This situation is unacceptable. That is why I want to change the law to close the loophole that is currently letting politicians who abuse their office and swindle taxpayers get a taxpayer-funded retirement. That is what this protecting taxpayers and revoking pensions of convicted politicians act will do.

First, it would add a clause to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act to take into account the situation where a senator or a member of Parliament is convicted of an offence that arose out of conduct that occurred while that individual was in office. It would do this by using the same mechanism that is already in place for politicians who become disqualified from holding their office. The law already takes into account a situation where senators are deemed disqualified. It states that senators will receive their pension contributions plus interest and not a penny more as a lump sum when he or she “...ceases to be a Senator by reason of disqualification or was expelled from the House of Commons”.

Whenever senators or members of Parliament are found to have committed reprehensible crimes while in office, whether or not they are still holding that office, they should have their pensions taken away. I am sure my colleagues will agree with me that we must get rid of the loophole that currently lets crooked politicians keep their pensions if they quit before they get fired. Thus, under my bill, convicted parliamentarians would not receive a pension but would be reimbursed only their pension contributions plus the earned interest.

Second, what I also want to accomplish with the bill is to make sure it will be applied for all future convictions of politicians, including for past malfeasance. For this reason, I have included a section clarifying that the charges contained in the bill would apply with respect to any person who is or was a member of the Senate or House of Commons and convicted after the date I introduced the bill, which was June 3, 2013.

Police investigations are currently under way to look into possible criminal breach of trust, theft or fraud. Charges may be forthcoming. If any of these potential charges result in a conviction, I would want to know that this loophole was closed in time.

Some have wondered if this bill, which would revoke the parliamentary pension of convicted politicians, is legal and have asked the following. Can the law be modified to repeal an entitlement? Can it be applied retroactively to the near past when the bill was tabled? Can it include a crime that occurred before even the tabling date?

I can answer with certainty; the answer is yes. Yes, we can repeal a parliamentary entitlement and, as I mentioned previously, the law already provides under what circumstances that can be done.

Indeed, I believe most analysts would agree there is not an issue on a go forward basis, that is, when the crime, the criminal charge, and the conviction, all happen after the bill is law, should it become law. However, of course, life is not that simple. We have several difficult cases before us now. They demand a remedy to protect taxpayers.

With regard to retroactivity to convictions after the tabling date of June 3 for crimes committed before that date, the answer again is yes and yes, and again with certainty. It can be done, for it has already been done.

Legislation passed earlier this year in Nova Scotia strips the pension of any lawmaker convicted of a crime for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment of no less than five years. The start date for that law was May 6, which was when the bill was tabled in the provincial legislature. The result was that in June an independent MLA lost his pension after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. He collected tax dollars after filing ten false expense claims in 2008 and 2009. Today he is not eligible to receive an MLA pension.

I believe that taxpayers expect similar accountability from Parliament. We have an opportunity to stand with taxpayers, should any parliamentarian be found guilty of a serious crime in the future.

Some have expressed concerns that the bill is too harsh. The bar that I have set in the bill would strip the pensions away from any MP or senator who commits a crime with a maximum punishment of two years or more.

During my consultations, it was brought to my attention that there are some crimes in the Criminal Code with a maximum penalty of two years, for which I do not think a politician should lose their pension. There are many different crimes. I will not go through the entire list, but I hardly think that a member of Parliament should lose their pension for being convicted of blasphemous libel. Neither do I think it is necessary to strip a pension away from someone who gives a false alarm of fire. It is also conceivable that somebody could technically be guilty of crimes without the offence being so egregious that it should be grounds for losing a pension.

I think all hon. members would agree that if we were to proceed with the bill, we should do so thoughtfully and carefully, to avoid unjustly revoking a parliamentary pension. I am therefore open to suggestions for improving the bill in this regard.

The best suggestion I have heard so far, and with which I agree, is to limit the scope and to raise the bar. The bill currently would apply to any federal statute, again, with a penalty of two years or more as the maximum. I think it would be fair to limit the scope to only include the Criminal Code.

As I mentioned a moment ago, the bill would apply to violations for which the maximum penalty is two or more years. It would be fair to raise the bar and only consider indictable offences in which the maximum penalty is five or more years. I will therefore be moving and endorsing this higher five-year threshold at amendment stage. In doing so, this federal act would be virtually identical to provincial law in Nova Scotia.

I believe that my bill is an appropriate response to the unfortunate actions of a handful of people. Both of these modifications would keep the spirit of the bill entirely intact. Fraud and breach of trust would both still result in a loss of pension.

The message I want to send is very simple. If a senator or an MP steals from taxpayers, they do not deserve to have taxpayers buy them or fund them a gold-plated retirement. I trust all hon. members would agree.

Sealing Industry November 29th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, there appears to be some confusion in the Liberal ranks. This week, the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte wrote in a Newfoundland newspaper that he does not believe Ottawa should appeal the World Trade Organization's decision to uphold the seal ban. Apparently, he did not consult with the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, who earlier this week said the Liberals would in fact support the government initiative.

It is disappointing that a member from a province where the sealing industry is so vital would suggest that our government not take action. Could the minister please update the House on the government's intention to appeal the WTO decision?

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act November 22nd, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the bill and its amendments. I have to say that from my vantage point, it is interesting to see some of the strange bedfellows who have jumped in to support the member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

The member for Winnipeg North talked about how he is confused by this. I find that statement to be accurate, largely because it seems that he is unaware of the content of the amendments that are being proposed here today and how they deal directly with the CBC and the reforms that are important and necessary.

It is worth highlighting, as well, that the opposition member, along with many in the opposition, voted to defeat the bill when it was sent to committee stage at second reading. I and others look forward to seeing how they will vote on the bill, and if that amendment is successful, how they will vote after that, if in fact they are sincere about the need to protect and report on how tax dollars are spent. I have my doubts, but we will see.

I am speaking today because when I spoke on the bill initially I called for some of the very amendments that are being put forward today. While I was supportive of the bill, I felt that the level for reporting of federal employees should not be the $180,000 that the member for Edmonton—St. Albert was proposing but in fact should be the same salary as a member of Parliament, which is approximately $160,000.

I still feel that way. I think that represents the top 2% of income earners in this country and it is a good level for Canadians to consider when they look at how their dollars are being spent and who is being paid what.

I will point out that in fact the bill is not out of line with legislation we see elsewhere in the country, albeit at the provincial level. For example, Nova Scotia and Ontario require the disclosure of the name, salary and job title for anyone making $100,000 or more from their respective provincial governments. These sunshine lists, as they are called, and rightly so because they do provide some insight for taxpayers, hold those governments accountable for the salaries given to the top bureaucrats, civil servants and anyone else who earns six figures or more per year from the government.

I should note as an aside that Manitoba, where the member for Winnipeg North is from, sets its transparency level at $50,000. My own province of New Brunswick has a disclosure limit set at $60,000. In addition, any employee of the Government of New Brunswick receiving in excess of $10,000 in retirement is also subject to public disclosure.

These acts across the country at the provincial level have worked and they have worked well to give taxpayers across the country a better idea of how governments are spending their money. I will note these numbers are reported annually and they have been a good thing for taxpayers and open government.

That philosophy represents my view on the bill. I will say, regardless of the outcome of the vote on the amendments of the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, I will be supporting the bill. We heard earlier from the parliamentary secretary. Broadly speaking I agree with what he was saying in terms of the need for transparency and accountability. I just happen to not agree with that member on where that threshold should be. Again, my view is that it should be $160,000. I said that when we had the first debate on the bill, and I continue to maintain that. I will be voting for the amendments as put forward by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

I am also going to do it for another reason. The other place, as we refer to the Senate, not so recently changed a private member's bill from the House of Commons, Bill C-377. One of the arguments they used for increasing the threshold level in that bill, which was a good piece of legislation and one I supported, was that they set the disclosure for union transparency at the same level, about $444,000, I believe.

I would like to send a message back to the Senate on that bill that we ought to work in a way that expands transparency, both for the public sector as well as for the unions.

That encompasses my thinking on the bill. Again, I find it interesting how the opposition has suddenly rallied behind the bill. I only wish that had more to do with the well-being of taxpayers across the country and not political opportunism.

I regret that my former colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, no longer sits on this side of the House. Having said that, his bill would improve transparency within the Government of Canada. That is why I will vote in favour of it. I urge my colleagues on this side of the House as well as my colleagues on that side of the House to do the same.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act November 22nd, 2013

No thanks to you. You voted against it.

The Economy November 22nd, 2013

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to economic stewardship, our government is leading the world. We have witnessed the creation of over one million net new jobs, signed the Wayne Gretzky of trade deals with Europe and stayed on track to balance the budget. We also cut the GST and created the tax-free savings account, benefiting more than eight million hard-working Canadians.

Canada has weathered the global economic downturn because we have a plan. Unfortunately, the Liberal leader has no plan. While we create better policy in Canada, the Liberal leader admires China's basic dictatorship. While the Prime Minister successfully travels the globe promoting trade and Canada's values, the Liberal leader parades around Canada promoting marijuana growth, including to school kids.

While an inexperienced Liberal leader pushes pot, we will continue to create the economic conditions for jobs and growth for all Canadians.

International Trade October 23rd, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the historic Canada-EU trade agreement announced by our Prime Minister will bring benefits to key economic sectors in every region of the country. Despite what the opposition and its anti-trade union backers say, we know this trade agreement, with a market of over 500 million people, will benefit Canadian workers, businesses and families.

In order to counter the fear and misinformation being spread by fringe anti-trade free traders, could the parliamentary secretary update the House on what our government is doing to ensure Canadians from coast to coast have the facts about this important trade deal?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act June 11th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, you can obviously see the point I am trying to make here. In the past, when members voted on both sides of the question, I believe the Chair asked for clarification.

I am pressing this point because when members rise on a question in this House, I think it is important that the rules apply equally and that when members inadvertently vote one way or the other, they are asked to stand to correct the record.

For the record, I am glad you did not ask the whip for the NDP as to how I vote. I would like to affirm now that I vote with the government.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act June 10th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to challenge you, but there are many bills for which I would like to vote on both sides when I go home and tell my voters that I voted with them.

However, the fact is that it is very unclear. Mr. Speaker, you cannot allow members to vote one way and then appear to vote the other way without a correction. We typically expect that of members as we have in the past. The rules of the House have to apply to all of us equally.

I ask that they stand and record their votes properly, as my seatmate had to some time ago.

Excise Tax Act June 3rd, 2013

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-519, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act (motor vehicle fuel).

Mr. Speaker, a second bill I would like to move today is the ending gasoline tax on tax act. The bill aims to amend the Excise Tax Act so that GST and HST are no longer levied on any federal or provincial excise tax charged on fuel for motor vehicles.

I believe the bill would be in line with our government's priority to balance the books by 2015 and would fit nicely into that schedule.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act June 3rd, 2013

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-518, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance).

Mr. Speaker, the alternative title of the bill I am putting forward today is the protecting taxpayers and revoking pensions of convicted politicians act. Should this bill become law, it would revoke the parliamentary pensions of any senator or elected member convicted of an offence under any act of Parliament for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for more than two years.

There are two points I would like to highlight on this bill.

First, the way the bill is written, those people found guilty are not required to serve a sentence of more than two years. It is simply that the maximum penalty be two years or more. Therefore, there could be a member who is sentenced for a period of six months, as was the case at one point with a not so honourable member from the other place.

Second, this bill would be made retroactive to today, June 3, 2013. In doing so, I have adopted the aim and intent of a bill from Nova Scotia, which followed the same precedent.

Therefore, I ask that this bill be brought forward for debate in the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)