Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act

An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

John Williamson  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Considering committee report (Senate), as of June 25, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act to provide for the payment of a withdrawal allowance in lieu of a retiring allowance or compensation allowance, as the case may be, when a member of the Senate or House of Commons who ceases or has ceased to be a member has been convicted of an offence under certain provisions of the Criminal Code arising out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 4, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Feb. 4, 2015 Passed That Bill C-518, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance), as amended, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments].
Feb. 4, 2015 Failed “ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a”

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about reform. We are talking about reform in many ways today.

I want to thank the mover of this bill again for providing the information he provided and I want to thank everyone involved in this particular debate.

Liberals believe all members of both Houses must uphold the law and that those who violate it cannot be allowed to profit from their misdeeds. In this particular situation, when we started to talk about this bill, we wanted to talk about a public example, as it were. There was a lot of consternation as to whether we were going to look at this and accept in principle what it says about pensions, what people earn, whether people who violate the law should lose their pensions, whether a lot more people will suffer as a result of that individual being caught, so on and so forth.

When the conversation came around to this particular bill, the discussion was about how the situation in the House is different from the real world situation. It is different in the sense that we are parliamentarians, different in the sense that we are representatives, and different in the sense that we have to set an example for the population.

I want to thank many for their opinions on this issue. We have gone back and forth, and it has been spirited debate, for the most part.

We know that the bill would add a clause to the Member of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act to take into account a situation of a senator or a member of Parliament being 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 for their offices. If MPs or senators are kicked out of their chamber, they currently lose their pensions, of course, but if members resign beforehand, they get to keep their pensions. We saw that happen some time ago, in the case of a member of the Senate.

The purpose of the bill is to close this particular loophole. The bill would cancel the pension of any MP or senator convicted of any indictable offence committed in whole or in part while in office. Now amendments have been put forward as well.

Throughout the committee process, we looked at many amendments. There were some deep conversations, certainly, not only with the mover of the bill but with all sides of the House and all parties represented here, or certainly the three in committee.

It was suggested that the bill be amended by limiting the scope of the bill to a conviction of an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of no less than five years. In addition, it would have to be one of the following: bribery of officers, defrauding the government, contractors subscribing to election fraud, breach of trust by a public officer, perjury, contrary evidence with intent to mislead, fabricating evidence, obstructing justice with dissuasion, theft of over $5,000, drawing up documents without authority, obtaining, et cetera, based on forged documents, falsification of books and documents, a false return by public officer, and secret commissions.

What was absent at the time were changes related to Canada Elections Act violations. We talked about that as well, and it was contested around that time regarding a particular member. That is all I will say about that right now, because I do not want to talk about that particular situation and that member, who is no longer here. I knew that person quite well. Despite the offences being talked about, I have a deep respect for that individual and for the work that he has done. He was a hard worker, despite what happened. I will leave it at that.

It would apply future convictions on politicians, including for past malfeasance. The bill includes a section clarifying that the changes contained in the bill would apply with respect to any person who is or was a member of the Senate or the House of Commons who is convicted after the date the bill was introduced, which takes us to June 3, 2013.

The bill would strip the pensions of many people that people watching this broadcast right now would know all too well. Senators or former senators were involved in a lot of this. I am assuming that the genesis of this particular bill dated back to that time when we talked about malfeasance, and so on and so forth. That situation continues, so I will not comment on that at this point.

We are not dealing with the particulars of that situation regarding the senators or former members of Parliament. We have to look at the parameters by which we look at the behaviour of members of Parliament and senators and how in the future punishment must be laid in light of these offences.

Therefore, my understanding of this is that all contributions, plus interest, are to be returned to the particular member and in this situation that means they no longer are vested within our pension system. As I said before, many people made comparisons with the private sector, but the comparison is not one that is just, despite the narrative.

I understand many would like to have a level playing field, but this is the House of Commons. I do not think the level playing field applies here. We set the best example we can put forward as representatives in the House, representatives of each and every riding, currently 308 and after the next election 338. By doing so, we have to be exemplary in all manners of our behaviour and especially for many of the offences cited within the bill.

In the details of some of the offences of what members were indicted on, whether it was the maximum offence out there, there were deep conversations about that. The amendments have the maximum for the offence.

It is not just in the House of Commons, but there are many jurisdictions across the country that are doing much the same. In 2013, the Nova Scotia legislature passed Bill 80, which strips the pensions of any lawmaker convicted of a crime for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for not less than five years. It is running in the same vein as this legislation. The start date was May 6, 2013, which was when the bill was tabled at the provincial legislature, which is similar again. The result in June 2013 was an independent MLA lost his pension after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. The member had collected tax dollars after filing 10 false expense claims in 2008-09. Today he is not eligible to receive that pension. This is very similar. I am sure there are certain differences, but minute I am sure.

Statutes in both Alberta and New Brunswick provide that the government may withhold certain sums payable as retiring allowances to a member of the legislature in cases of indebtedness. These statutes do not however make explicit reference to garnishment or termination of a pension due to a criminal conviction, although the way things are going and if the bill passes, as well as what is happening in Nova Scotia, I am sure other legislatures across the country may follow suit. Maybe the mover of the bill could shed some light on that. It would be interesting.

However, this has been a lively discussion. Some people have said that maybe this is too onerous, but personally, and even as a critic, I do not think it is. As sitting members of the House, we have that responsibility to act in the best interests of the public. If the public wants us to behave as such, then we have to be punished if the offence that is so egregious for the public to accept.

I thank the member for this. After this stage of the bill, I hope further discussion will be had it. However, I will be supporting the bill.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor. His explanation of the bill was both fair-minded and quite elegant. He did a good job explaining both the bill and also the rationale to hold parliamentarians to a higher standard because of the privileged position we hold in this House. The member has given me a few more minutes to address some other points. I am not going to explain what is in the bill, since he has done such a wonderful job already.

The bill does focus on some two dozen Criminal Code violations. These are all indictable offences, meaning they are serious crimes that members of this House or the other place would have to commit and be found guilty of in a court of law before a pension were revoked. That is an important part of this bill because it would take these decisions out of a political theatre and put them into a court of law where, because these are serious matters, those decisions should rest.

There is one aspect of the bill that I would like to address, and some points that I have heard in the first hour of debate and that have come up in discussions with colleagues here and elsewhere.

The first measure is that there remains in this bill some measure of partial retroactivity. Initially when I tabled this bill in June 2013, I suggested that convictions be retroactive from that date forward. In the committee, that was modified and the modification is acceptable so that the crime itself could have happened at any time before this bill, should it receive royal assent, came into effect, but the conviction would now have to happen on or after that date. Going forward, if this bill became law, it would still apply to malfeasance that occurred in the past. That is a good compromise, and I understand the reasons for that were dealing with potential court challenges. That was an amendment that I thought was wise and good.

This bill, after discussion over the last 20 months, does have and I hope it will have support from both sides of the House. When I first tabled the bill, I had suggested a floor of two years, that the maximum sentence be two or more years. However, upon consultation with members on both sides of the House at the first debate, I suggested that be moved to five years, within the Criminal Code and an indictable offence. In working with both sides of the House, trying to find a bill that would accomplish its objective—which, at the end of the day, was to penalize members who broke trust with taxpayers, members who through illegal activities misplaced or misused tax dollars—the bill was further refined in committee, with amendments I suggested in committee, to focus on violations like breach of trust, fraud, theft, and forgery, aspects that have to do directly with how we spend and use tax dollars in this place. Our role as legislators is to come here and decide on behalf of Canadians how tax dollars are going to be spent.

I will give one good example of why an across-the-board five-year threshold posed some challenge. I say this respectfully mostly for members in the official opposition who believe the bill has been weakened because of these changes. When we are at home in our riding, we drive around a lot. If we were to ever hit someone with our vehicle and kill him or her, the punishment is up to a five-year prison term. The point of this bill was never to capture someone or to have someone revoke or lose a pension through an error or momentary lapse of judgment; it was for deliberate theft of tax dollars.

To have an across-the-board blanket meant that a member in this House, because of a terrible accident, a tragedy and a crime but not something that was intentional, could very well be in a position of losing a parliamentary pension.

That is the rationale for focusing on the two dozen or so provisions in this bill that focus on infractions that deal directly with our duties as parliamentarians.

Recently a number of amendments have come forward from the official opposition that I must confess I disagree with. In fact, I actually thought it was the will of this House, as I was proposing these changes, to focus the scope of this bill on our actual duties. I can say that, because on December 10, 2013, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, when I suggested raising it to a threshold of five years, said:

However, as the member has already indicated, we would be looking and seeking amendments to change it to five years for a criminal offence and we have seen, I think, from the member, some willingness to compromise on that. That is welcome.

I went back through the debates we had in this House on this bill to be sure I understood the mood of the room. Member after member, from both sides, had suggested or debated or told this House that in fact we wanted to be careful, that we did not want to inappropriately strip a member of a pension for a violation that was not related to his or her duties. It was only as one of our colleagues found himself in violation of the Canada Elections Act that suddenly the debate became about widening it. This is a problem, because as we look at legislation, we have to be somewhat consistent in our approach.

I have correspondence from the Leader of the Opposition, who talks about our former colleague, Dean Del Mastro, who was found guilty of breaking the Canada Elections Act. The Leader of the Opposition said that this former member would have lost his whole pension under the restrictions of the Nova Scotia law, which states that any MLA convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of five years or more in jail will lose the right to a full pension.

This is actually false, because this former member, while he was found guilty of a provision under the Canada Elections Act, was actually found guilty of a crime with a maximum penalty of one year. It did not reach the threshold, in my original bill, of two years. It does not reach the threshold of the penalty of the Nova Scotia law, nor did it ever reach the threshold of this bill, at five years. That is simply not true.

It is important, because the mood of this House was such that we wanted to focus on our duties as legislators and on the appropriation and disbursement of tax dollars.

Where are we? We have a bill today that has gone through several hours of debate, has gone through committee, and has had several changes to it proposed, which I think, by and large, have strengthened it.

I will not be supporting the amendments put forward by the official opposition, because I think they attempt to, at the last minute, the 11th hour, open this bill up in a manner that not even the Nova Scotia bill, which the NDP cites as the standard, does. In fact, they would endanger the likelihood of this bill passing the House, because it was both government members and opposition members who urged me throughout the process to be very focused in this bill and to go after penalties that are in line with our duties as parliamentarians.

Twenty months later, we have this bill before us, and I hope it will receive support on both sides of the House. I believe it will receive support on both sides of the House, and I urge members to support it so we can get it off to the Senate. I hope to see it become law before Parliament is dissolved in advance of the next election.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 7:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly an interesting bill that we are debating tonight given the fact that we have a government that has consistently said it is about transparency and accountability.

I will quote the Prime Minister, who has said, “...bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison”.

When looking at this bill, we have to take into consideration its intent and how we can best ensure that when we are elected or appointed as parliamentarians or senators, there is protection for the public trust.

This bill is similar to one moved by the NDP in Nova Scotia, as my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest mentioned a while ago. That bill received royal assent on May 10, 2013. There are some differences between the bills. The Nova Scotia law targets MLAs who have been convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of no less than five years. It also provides that any entitlement of a former spouse or a court ordered restitution may be deducted from the MLA's pension.

The bill before us was tabled in the middle of the Senate scandal that was subject to raging debate in the House of Commons, a scandal in which many Conservative senators were under scrutiny for claiming expenses they were not entitled to. This has severely tarnished the Conservative Party's claim that it is the most ethical and transparent government Canada has ever seen. Indeed, we look at this, we see that it is an issue of ethical and transparent government. Just to go back a bit, we can look at some of the issues that have come forward from that. We just have to look at Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, the former Conservative spokesperson turned senator, who had to repay inappropriate living expenses. We had Mike Duffy being ordered to pay back more than $90,000 for false living expenses and claiming per diems while on vacation. Pamela Wallin was ordered to pay back more than $100,000 for improper claims. We have also seen Liberal senators who have had to make repayments.

When looking at what has transpired since the Liberal sponsorship scandal, there really is not much difference in terms of transparency and accountability on this side of the House. Therefore, when bills such as this come forward, we think they look great but we have to scour through them to see what the hidden agenda is or how we can work with the Conservatives to make the bill functional

During the analysis of the bill in committee, the Conservative Party changed the provisions that determined when a senator or MP's pension would be revoked by removing any retroactivity in the application of the bill and proposing an exhaustive list of Criminal Code offences that would trigger the removal of the pension instead.

Experts had hesitations regarding this approach, noting that the choice of including some offences and not others did not make sense, particularly the fact that offences under the Elections Act were not included. The Conservatives refused to accept an amendment that would have revoked the pension of the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, as mentioned a while ago. We know that the Prime Minister stood in the House and defended that member over and over again until the member was found guilty of breaking the Elections Act.

While the bill clearly aims at punishing the Conservative and Liberal senators who have abused taxpayers' money, Canadians are more and more convinced that the solution to the unelected, unaccountable, and under-investigated Senate is to abolish it, pure and simple.

So much has been going on in the House with respect to accountability and ethics that we really have to look at the whole. We have to look at what happens at committees as well.

We used to see committees as a place where we could count on people doing the heavy lifting for Parliament. It was said that although the chamber could appear to be a partisan mess, the committees were where sleeves were actually rolled up and petty differences were set aside, while some common good was served. That notion and those outcomes have been replaced by sideshow antics and committees are now a place where democracy rarely happens. By using their majority to go in camera, the Conservatives are actually gaining every aspect of committees and then telling Canadians, with a straight face, that this is what they voted for.

There was a comment from one of the committee chairs at the time, the member for Winnipeg Centre. The Conservatives had voted to go in camera and he wanted to ensure we were not. As he was suspending the meeting he said the following. “while we clear the room of the Canadian public and go under the black shroud of secrecy once again”. That is how he ended that session of the committee in order to go in camera. Canadians need to know the truth. Therefore, when we are looking at this bill, it is important to look at all aspects.

Let me reiterate what the bill would do.

Bill C-518 would remove the privileges of retiring allowances or compensation allowances of former members of the Senate or House of Commons if they have been convicted of certain offences under the Criminal Code, and that is a great thing. The member of Parliament or senator convicted then receives an amount equivalent to the contributions he or she paid for his or her pension, as well as the accumulated interest on those contributions. They get what they put into it, but they do not get the rest.

Following an amendment in committee, the member of Parliament or senator must now have committed certain offences in the Criminal Code that are listed in the bill. The Conservatives have also removed the retroactivity of the bill, meaning that Bill C-518 will only apply to senators and MPs that lose their position once the bill becomes law.

Experts have warned against the use of a list of offences because it could be applied in a broad spectrum, for example, if an MP has been a public servant, and also because it does not include many offences to other laws that are relevant to an MP's or senator's function, such as the Canada Elections Act, the Income Tax Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. We found a solution to this problem, but the Conservatives simply chose to ignore it.

We make proposals. We try to work with the Conservatives and the Liberals to try to find that common ground where we can have bills that are functional and that mean something.

The changes that were introduced to the bill by the Conservatives in committee will exclude the offences. That is the part we want to ensure we emphasize. Too many laws that are relevant to the function of the MP or senator will be excluded. They were not able to justify why they refused the amendments brought forward by the NDP. It was a good amendment. By doing this, the Conservatives will allow the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Dean Del Mastro, to keep his pension even though he was found guilty of electoral fraud. That is the important piece.

Although the member across had mentioned the fact that it had to do with our duties, when we are running for an election, that is part of our duties as we are moving forward. That is how we get elected.

We can talk about a lot of the misgivings on the Conservative side. Peter Penashue was one of them. He was found to be in contravention of how much money he was allowed to spend during the election. It actually had given him a hand up over other candidates because there was much more money spent on that side. We have a list of those where we have a lot of misgivings on the Conservative side.

At the end of the day, we need to ensure that the laws we put in place will protect the public's interest when it comes to accountability and ethics as we take our positions in the House of Commons or in the Senate.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-518, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 12 to 16 on page 1 with the following:

“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-518, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing lines 20 to 25 on page 3 with the following:

“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection 19(4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a withdrawal”

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you and all of the members here today a happy new year. We have a lot of work to do in the House of Commons over the coming months. Even though I was sad to leave my friends and family in Burnaby—New Westminster, I am pleased that we are all here to work for the people, for Canadians.

I think that this bill will be of great interest to Canadians. The Conservatives' amendments to this bill will also be of interest to people across the country. I am therefore pleased to rise in the House to deliver the first speech of 2015 and talk about Bill C-518.

As members know, the NDP was in favour of the bill in principle. In fact, when the bill was originally presented, we raised the fact that the former NDP government in Nova Scotia was a pioneer in this regard. It presented legislation in the Nova Scotia legislature that took away the ability of representatives who have been convicted to be able to fall back on a pension, coming out of that conviction. We supported it in principle, and we supported bringing it to committee.

Then, what I can only consider to be the centralized control of the Prime Minister's Office kicked in around this particular bill. That is why we are offering the amendments that have just been proposed by the Speaker. They are amendments that seek to close the loopholes that were opened up in committee. We certainly hope that the Conservative members of Parliament will support the amendments we are bringing forward. We believe that most Canadians support those amendments as well.

When this bill was brought forward, we raised the very clear concerns about loopholes around acts of Parliament that are violated. As we know, when an act of Parliament is violated, it is a serious breach of trust by any member of Parliament. We have seen it particularly in the Senate with Conservative and Liberal senators, but also here in the House of Commons. We can think of the former member Dean Del Mastro, who resigned just before Christmas.

Crimes were committed. In the case of Mr. Del Mastro, he was convicted in court. Crimes were brought about by this particular member of Parliament, and we felt it important that the legislation, Bill C-518, actually reference those criminal violations, which result from a violation of an act of Parliament.

To our surprise, in the heat of the scandal around Mr. Del Mastro, Conservative members at the committee that was given the task of studying Bill C-518 actually put in place an amendment that would simply subtract these types of criminal violations from the overall thrust of the bill. I do not fault the member who proposed the bill for this. I think he is very well meaning in this regard. I have a sense that he believes that the bill should cover every member of Parliament convicted of serious criminal violations including acts of Parliament.

However, at committee, the order came down, as we have seen with other pieces of legislation brought forward by Conservative members. The order came down from the Prime Minister's Office, I can only assume, and it basically subtracted any criminal violation of an act of Parliament from the overall thrust of the bill.

What does that mean? It means that there is the Del Mastro loophole, which is a sizeable loophole in this legislation. If this legislation were passed as is, it would allow the Conservative and Liberal senators the violations that they have committed, as well as violations that we have seen in the case of Dean Del Mastro. Even when it is a serious criminal conviction, the bill, as amended by the Conservatives in committee, would not allow for their retiring allowance to be withdrawn.

What we have is this curious cherry-picking of what offences would and would not be included. That is why we decided to bring forward the two motions, the amendments we have brought forward today. The idea is to assure that any serious violation or criminal conviction that includes violations of acts of Parliament, which are certainly breaches of trust by any member of Parliament as part of our duties to uphold the acts, be considered in withdrawing the retiring allowance.

That is why we are moving these two motions, and we hope the government members will support them.

The motion reads in part as follows:

...is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4)...

This covers offences already included in the bill, as amended by the members of the committee, which has a Conservative majority.

The motion continues:

...or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament....

We would then be able to strip these members of their pensions.

Currently, there is a list that includes certain offences and of course refers to provisions of the Criminal Code. Certain sections are mentioned; however, offences under acts of Parliament, which we are supposed to uphold as MPs, are not included.

Of course, that is why we want to repair the damage done by the Conservative majority on the committee, because some acts were eliminated, which changed the scope of the bill. These amendments would make the bill more just, especially when it comes to serious offences, including those that carry a sentence of five years or more in prison. Such offences should be included in the scope of this bill.

It is just common sense. This is hardly a radical idea. I think the vast majority of Canadians agree with us on this. We are here to support federal laws and the Criminal Code. In both cases, if a serious offence was committed, then it must be dealt with accordingly.

In this situation, that is not the case. The bill refers to a few Criminal Code offences, but not offences under acts of Parliament, such as a violation of the Canada Elections Act.

In the case of former Conservative MP Mr. Del Mastro, it was a serious offence. The bill came before the committee that very week, and it was certainly the time for the Conservative members to send a message. The Conservatives undermined their own bill. We are repairing the damage.

Under the leadership of our very experienced leader of the official opposition, we are ready to take action. In the months to come and this fall, we will repair the damage caused by the Conservative government. That is our plan.

Today we will move motions and propose amendments that make sense, in order to repair the damage caused by the Conservative members of the committee when they removed offences under acts of Parliament and thereby changed the scope of Bill C-518.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be here with all my colleagues.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-518, an act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance). This is a laudable bill put forward by an hon. member who is concerned that parliamentarians could break the law and walk away with pension benefits paid by the taxpayers of our country.

All parliamentarians must be held to the highest standards of accountability. They have a duty to protect the integrity of our public institutions, and their actions should be based on integrity, trust and respect for the tax dollars of Canadians. The bill before us today is consistent with these key principles of our democracy, and that is why the government firmly supports it.

Specifically, the bill would disentitle the pension of a senator or a member of Parliament who would be convicted of any offence based on a specific threshold that I will discuss shortly. This would bring an important and welcome change to our system of government.

As it stands, if a parliamentarian retires or resigns prior to being expelled or disqualified from Parliament as a result of him or her committing a crime, the individual is still entitled to a pension. In many circumstances this is unacceptable, particularly when the crime constituted is a serious offence under the Criminal Code. There are many situations where parliamentarians who are convicted of certain offences should not continue to receive a benefit from pension benefits funded by taxpayers.

The bill, as amended, clearly states what the disentitlement threshold would be. It is based on a list of prescribed offences under the Criminal Code, which would apply only if a conviction were rendered on or after the coming into force of this legislation. This includes serious offences such as bribery of an officer, perjury or intimidating Parliament, which all carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It also includes offences such as obstructing justice and theft over $5,000, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Any parliamentarian affected by the bill would be entitled to only a withdrawal allowance, which is really a refund of his or her own pension contributions minus any retirement allowance already paid plus applicable interest. However, any contributions made by the employer would not be included. In addition, the parliamentarian would no longer be eligible for post-retirement health or dental benefits.

The government has already taken action to ensure that public sector pension plans are sustainable, fair and financially responsible. In 2012, we reformed the pensions of members of Parliament and public servants to make them more broadly consistent with the pension products offered by other jurisdictions, as well as fair relative to those offered in the private sector. As a result, contribution rates for public service employees and MPs will be moving to a fifty-fifty cost sharing model by 2017.

We have vowed to strengthen accountability and transparency in our public institutions, and we have delivered on that.

A major milestone was the implementation of the 2006 Federal Accountability Act and its companion action plan. Through the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, we implemented numerous measures to prevent undemocratic and criminal behaviour from impacting our system of government. For example, we created a new standard of accountability for the financing of political parties. We did that by reducing the maximum annual contribution by individuals to political entities and prohibited unions and corporations from making political contributions.

We banned secret donations to political candidates by prohibiting electoral district associations and parties from transferring money to their candidates from trust funds.

Our government introduced a new Conflict of Interest Act and granted powers to the new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce it.

We toughened the Lobbyist Registration Act by introducing stricter rules for lobbying activity and giving a new Commissioner of Lobbying enhanced powers to investigate and enforce them.

We reformed the procurement of government contracts by adding transparency to the process and by appointing an independent procurement ombudsman to provide additional oversight.

We strengthened the Access to Information Act by extending its reach and its scope. As a result, more government institutions than ever before are subject now to the act, including departments and agencies, crown corporations and wholly-owned subsidiaries.

We strengthened the role of the Auditor General by expanding the office's investigative powers, which has helped parliamentarians to hold the government to account.

We strengthened auditing and accountability within departments by clarifying the managerial responsibilities of deputy heads within the framework of ministerial responsibility and by bolstering the internal audit function within departments and crown corporations.

In short, we have strengthened accountability in every corner of the government, from the Prime Minister to parliamentarians and public sector employees, and for all Canadians and businesses that receive government funding.

Canadians work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules, and they expect accountability from their government. This is why we continue to pursue opportunities and support efforts that promise to make our public institutions more transparent, accountable and ethical. This includes measures such as Bill C-518, which is consistent with the spirit of our landmark Federal Accountability Act and action plan. It applies to members of both the House of Commons and the Senate, because those who make the laws should never be above the law.

This is a bill we can all get behind. We also hope the bill will be another deterrent against criminal behaviour. As my hon. friend who sponsored the bill said so succinctly in debate, the point of the bill is to send the signal to people to not break the rules. If they do not break the rules, the pension will be there for them.

The bill sends a strong message that if anyone breaks the law in our country, there are consequences. It is a very strong bill. More than that, it is consistent with our government's focus on accountability, transparency and protecting taxpayer dollars. It reflects Canadians' sense of honesty, hard work and fair play. That is why we support the legislation. I encourage all members of the House to join with me in voting for the bill.

I also want to thank my hon. colleague again for his excellent work in preparing and putting forward the legislation.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-518, a bill that, in principle, is worthy of support. The ultimate objectives and goals that the bill hopes to achieve are admirable.

Pensions have been a hot topic. I had the opportunity over the break to have a great deal of discussion on pensions. As much as it is nice to see the bill, there is a bigger concern related to pensions, which is real. I would have much preferred to talk about that today.

The member who spoke before me talked a lot about transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour. They are all wonderful things to admire, and I respect what the member attempted to say on that. However, as much as I will support the bill, I would have rather seen the government talk more about other issues related to pensions.

Over the last number of years there has been a huge backlash toward the government's decisions with respect to Canada pension plan, and in particular the OAS, where it saw fit to increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. As much as the government wants to spend time dealing with pensions for members of Parliament, I would encourage it to also spend some time, effort and provide more debate toward the issue of pensions generally and recognize that the people who the budgetary measures really hurts are those individuals who depend on those public pensions. That is why it would be a mistake for me to rise in my place and not remind the government how bad it has missed the mark in supporting our seniors at a time in need, at a time in which they look for comfort with respect to their retirement. It was wrong for it to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67.

With respect to the specifics, the bill would add a clause to the members of Parliament retiring allowance to take into account the situation where a senator or a member of Parliament would be convicted of an offence which arose out of his or her conduct and occurred while the individual was in office. It would do this by using the same mechanism already in place for politicians who have become disqualified from holding office. Currently if MPs or senators are kicked out of parliament, they lose their pensions. If members resign beforehand, they keep their pension. The purpose of this bill, and I sat on the committee, at least in part, has been designed intentionally to remove that loophole.

The issue of parliamentarians receiving pensions and those who have been disqualified to receive pensions because of inappropriate behaviour is nothing new per se. Other provinces have attempted to deal with this issue, some more successfully than others. Alberta and New Brunswick have both attempted to deal with the issue. As has been pointed out, back in 2013 Nova Scotia passed legislation that stripped away pensions.

What I liked about it was that we were provided a specific example where an independent MLA ended up losing his pension after he pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. That member had collected tax dollars after filing 10 false claims in 2008 and 2009. For the most part, due to that legislation and as a result of the conviction, the individual in question was not eligible to receive the MLA pension.

Currently the law is fairly clear that if members of Parliament or senators are caught in the same sort of situation and are asked to leave the floor of the House of Commons through a vote, they will in fact lose their pensions. If they choose to take it upon themselves to resign prior to a conviction or to being kicked out of the House, they will in fact continue to be eligible.

Anyone looking at that situation would no doubt come to the conclusion, as I and many others have, that it is just not right. They are trying to escape justice by announcing their retirements to avoid being held accountable for their behaviour and so they can collect publicly financed pensions.

That is at the core. That is the way Bill C-518 was talked about at second reading. There was a need to close that loophole. It is for that reason that I feel comfortable supporting the legislation.

There were issues that came up in committee that raised some concerns with regard to other individuals who might have a bit of an entitlement, potentially, to a pension. An example raised was that of a spouse of a member, who, through divorce, would have had some form of entitlement and consideration.

The answers I found to be somewhat wanting. However, at the end of the day, there have been enough assurances and information brought to the table that I think it is advisable to support the legislation as suggested by the government. At the very least, we should be aware that there are other things we need to take into consideration.

The overriding theme is that as elected officials, we have a responsibility. There is a moral high ground if one is an elected official in a legislative assembly or the House of Commons or if one is appointed to the Senate. These are bodies that review and bring in legislation that ultimately becomes law, and there is a expectation that we will follow the law.

In situations where politicians fall on the other side of the law, there needs to be a consequence. I believe it is appropriate to look at the pensions MLAs or members of Parliament would collect, recognizing that this legislation only applies to members of Parliament and senators.

This is a piece of legislation that would ultimately apply to a very few. If we look at some of the past comments, particularly at the committee stage, we can count on one hand the number of potential offenders over the decades who would have actually been impacted by this legislation.

There has been a great deal of public interest in regard to public trust because of what is happening in the Senate, with Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, and with other individuals, such as Dean Del Mastro.

It is necessary to pass this legislation. That is why, when it comes time for a vote, I will be voting in favour.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill.

Like many members of the House, I come from a remote area. Most people in my riding do difficult jobs. They work hard to keep their job so that they can put food on the table. Most of them would not be entitled to severance pay if they lost their jobs. The amounts they would be given are ridiculous compared to what MPs can get if they leave their position.

That being said, the member wanted to introduce a bill to prevent people who have been convicted of an offence from enjoying these privileges. I think that, in an effort to represent Canadians properly, it is very commendable to want to prevent people who have been convicted of an offence from enjoying such privileges.

The bill was examined and amended in committee, and there is now a list of offences to which the bill will apply. Unfortunately, I believe that by proceeding in this way, the member overlooked a number of offences that should result in a loss of severance pay. The law cannot be amended every time a new case arises. That does not make sense. We should have found a way to ensure that most offences are included already. Under the existing bill, we will have to add cases that we did not think of. They will be added later, but they will not be retroactive. This will be a never-ending process.

For example, in Nova Scotia, the law applies to offences with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. That encompasses a large majority of offences. The list that we have contains several provisions, but I do not see anything about members who commit sexual assault or sexual harassment when participating in events in the course of their duties, for example. I believe that most Canadians would oppose the fact that someone who has to resign, either because that person was found guilty of such an offence or because people did not support him or her in the election, is entitled to a withdrawal allowance. That does not make any sense. When an exhaustive list of provisions is set out, there is always the risk that an important one will be forgotten.

Furthermore, in committee, we asked to add offences under certain laws, for example the Canada Elections Act, the Income Tax Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. Unfortunately, that was rejected.

In the case of the Canada Elections Act, MPs—we cannot speak for senators—can say that they are here because of the provisions of the act. It determines that we can sit as members of Parliament and that we have the right to rise in the House of Commons to speak. It directly governs our role as parliamentarians and it was excluded from the bill. Everyone at home realizes that doing that makes absolutely no sense. Everyone is wondering why we did that. It makes no sense.

More specifically, we see that a Conservative MP, Dean Del Mastro, resigned because he was found guilty of violating the Elections Act and winning his seat illegally. He should not even have sat as an MP because he obtained his seat fraudulently. However, he will be entitled to his severance and pension. That makes absolutely no sense, and I believe that all Canadians are offended. They will be even more offended when they realize that the Conservatives amended the bill, which was well-intentioned, so that it cannot apply to this member.

In addition, this measure is not retroactive. I understand that we cannot go back 50 years, but there are some very recent cases. When the member in question resigned, I was sitting close to him. I still remember this incident, which is still fresh in Canadians' minds. In this case, we heard that it was not serious.

Mr. Penashue, a minister who also violated the Elections Act and who chose to resign, was not re-elected. However, he still retains all of his privileges. Those are two examples of Conservative members who, conveniently, would not be subject to sanctions under the bill. For a member who spoke about the importance of standing up for taxpayers, I think he has missed the mark.

There are a number of other laws. With the Income Tax Act, for example, the government keeps going on and on about combatting tax evasion. However, the government is apparently not prepared to crack down on a member who spoke in favour of this measure in the House and who was evading taxes himself. That makes absolutely no sense. How can Canadians have faith in their parliamentarians when they see these parliamentarians giving preferential treatment to others who are caught cheating? This attitude is what causes people to lose faith in politics and to lose their trust in us. It is very unfortunate.

It is high time we put an end to the hypocrisy and recognized the importance of being as inclusive as possible in our approach to a bill like this one, an idea like this one. We also have to be flexible because things are not always black or white. However, by creating this exclusive list, we could end up missing the mark. I am sure that, sooner or later, even the Conservatives will end up regretting the fact that their own exclusive list will prevent them from punishing an MP who has broken the law. They will realize that they messed up when they had a chance to get behind a real bill that would have applied to everyone.

When it comes to fraud, the Conservatives are not the only ones with problems. The Senate has issues with that too. Liberal senator Mac Harb, who fraudulently claimed $50,000 for living expenses and travel, resigned but is still getting his allowances. The worst part is that senators do not face any consequences. A senator cannot even lose the next election. Those found guilty of fraud simply apologize publicly and keep all of their allowances.

Contrast that with the people who regularly show up at my office because they are having problems with employment insurance and their tax returns. The Canada Revenue Agency tells them to reimburse a certain amount, so they do, even though they did not knowingly make those mistakes and their situations involve sums that might mean a lot to ordinary people but are insignificant compared to the kind of money we are talking about today. For parliamentarians who break the law, it all depends: if they are on the government side, the government can massage a bill so it does not apply to them. That is hypocrisy.

People will of course understand why I am voting against the bill. It was a good idea, but because of what the Conservatives did in committee, they are missing an opportunity to prove that they are willing to fight crime, even when it is committed by former colleagues.

If the Conservatives are prepared to do some real work, the NDP is willing to accept a bill that actually deals with all offences. Right now, however, this is really just a sham bill that will apply only to certain cases. The amendments made in committee were a serious mistake.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, since this is my first speech of the year, I would like to begin by wishing you and all my colleagues of the House and everyone at home all the best for 2015. We in the NDP have been anxiously awaiting 2015 for some time now; as everyone knows, this is an election year.

This year is particularly important to us, because it is time to do some housecleaning. We need to repair the damage caused by previous governments, both Conservative and Liberal. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that we have to start off the new year talking about scandals and about MPs and senators who have broken the law.

Bill C-518 amends the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. In principle, we support the objective of taking retirement pensions and payments away from senators or members of the House of Commons who are found guilty of certain Criminal Code offences.

The scope of the bill was changed in committee. I will elaborate on that later. In fact, I want to say from the outset that the principle is good. Every Canadian who is watching us or follows politics has had enough of the scandals and are sick of hearing about Mike Duffy, for example, who committed fraud, or Dean Del Mastro, who was convicted of violating the Canada Elections Act. Then there are the Conservative and Liberal senators; my colleague mentioned Mac Harb. Let us not forget the sponsorship scandal that is still dogging the Liberals.

People have had it with all this corruption, this approach, the same old politics. That is why we support this desire to tackle the problem. It really is not right for a convicted person to be entitled to a pension or benefits. The bill includes a balanced provision whereby a convicted person could nonetheless collect the equivalent of his or her contributions to the pension plan with interest. Even if a person is convicted, they are still owed a certain amount. The problem is this government's approach.

As for last session's scandals, and most recently those involving the Conservatives, we see that the Conservatives used their majority on the committee to protect one of their own. After throwing Dean Del Mastro under the bus, they nevertheless protected his pension. The Conservative members had an exhaustive and specific list of offences and they made sure that Dean Del Mastro would get his pension. I find it deplorable that they massaged a bill, which was basically a good bill, to protect one of their own. That is completely unacceptable, especially when we know that the person in question was found guilty of violating the Canada Elections Act.

Indeed, the NDP's objective, which it continues to work towards by moving amendments and motions, is to expand the scope of the bill and to eliminate this gaping loophole that is protecting a Conservative member. This law must be enforced in an impartial and honest manner.

I will give other examples. What was initially proposed, and what we are calling for, was that federal legislation such as the Income Tax Act, the Parliament of Canada Act and all laws concerning the federal government be included in the scope of the bill.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives rejected the amendments we moved in committee, which only fuels cynicism. We have a bill with good intentions, that is, to punish those who commit fraud and violate the law. However, out of pure partisanship, the Conservatives—who, as we know, also have a majority in committee—decided to amend the bill to protect one of their own. That is completely unacceptable.

Furthermore, why were Income Tax Act offences not included? When I was the official opposition's national revenue critic, we moved a motion, which was studied by the Standing Committee on Finance, to combat tax havens and tax evasion. After negotiations, I managed to convince my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to tackle this issue, which is why we studied it in committee.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives' refusal to include Income Tax Act offences clearly shows their bad intentions. They agree to a study, but they refuse to punish tax evaders. I hope that this will change and that they will understand that this does not help them, even though they want to protect their friends. In this case, we are talking about Dean Del Mastro, but there are others. The Liberals did not take action when they were in power, and now the Conservatives are not doing anything either, even though they claim to be acting.

That is why I look forward to having an experienced leader in 2015 who will move things forward and fix the mess caused by Conservative and Liberal governments.

To come back to the bill, why does the government not want to go after those who break our laws? I am asking this question to my colleagues opposite. Why did they limit the scope of this bill, whose underlying principle was good, simply to protect one of their own? This will create loopholes for other fraudsters, who will be able to take advantage of the fact that offences under the Income Tax Act have been excluded from the bill.

That is rather surprising. Let us not forget that the Conservative government is the first government in the history of Canada to have been found guilty of contempt of Parliament. Clearly, this government wants to protect its friends and its MPs who break its own laws.

This brings us back to the matter of accountability. Senators are included in this bill. Everyone knows about the Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin scandals. These senators were appointed by this government, with the exception of Mac Harb, who was appointed by the Liberals. The NDP's position is clear: these senators do not belong in our democracy. The NDP believes that the outdated institution that is the Senate should be abolished, and we are going to make that happen.

In this case, why do the Conservatives want to protect one of their own, who has been found criminally responsible, by amending an bill that was commendable in principle and had the support of the opposition? We now have a watered-down bill, and this confirms what we have been saying all along: the government is once again letting senators and MPs get away with fraud.

If the government wants to be accountable and do something about this cynicism, which often arises as a result of the politicians themselves, why would it do such a thing? It is unacceptable. I hope that my colleagues opposite will consider and support our amendments.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

January 26th, 2015 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few moments to rise on the first day the House is back for the 2015 winter session. Some have suggested that it may be our last session. As a few people in my riding have said to me, it is about time that we have a chance to get rid of these rascals and replace them with an NDP government and make some real changes for Canadians. In the meantime, we still have to deal with some of the legislation that is before us to try to correct some of the egregious errors the current government has made and to try to make sure that the concerns of my constituents in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour are properly represented.

I certainly recognize the intent of Bill C-518. Canadians have completely lost patience with public officials breaking the law and the public trust and expect government to do something about it. Unfortunately, Bill C-518 in this regard simply does not meet the standard that I think the sponsor of the bill might have expected it to.

Nova Scotia, as a result of a spending scandal back in 2010, has introduced a similar bill that would go further. It deals with a couple of the issues that we have raised before in both committee and here in debate. One issue in particular is the whole question of retroactivity, to make sure that MPs and senators are not able to duck out when they feel they are going to be okay doing so, even though it is pretty clear, whether a conviction has gone through or not, that they have in fact broken the law and public trust.

Other parts of the bill in Nova Scotia would ensure that a former spouse or spouse of the public official in question would be entitled to the amount of the pension that he or she would normally have been entitled to. Likewise, the government would still have the right to garnishee the pension if there were amounts owing to it. I think members would agree that these are two extremely important provisions as they relate to the question of balance and fairness.

Constituents of mine in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour have seen the Province of Nova Scotia move forward in this regard to put an end to public officials breaking the law and public trust and still being able to benefit from pensions and other entitlements they may have enjoyed as the result of holding that particular office. The Government of Nova Scotia was successful in doing that. The people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour applaud the intention of the bill before us and want to see it go through. They want to see us move forward in this area, and we have had some discussions with them about our concerns with the bill.

We want to see a bill like this pass, but we are concerned about the weaknesses we have already identified. Therefore, we have presented a couple of amendments to the bill.

We say to the government that if it is truly serious about making sure that this legislation would do what the government says it would, there are two particular problems. The first is that it basically wrote out the fact that former MP Dean Del Mastro would have been covered by this legislation. The government rewrote the bill so that he would, in fact, be absolved, that the bill would not touch him. That is wrong, and I think Canadians recognize that it should not be the case.

The second thing is that, with this bill, rather than setting the terms of what should be required, the government has listed a number of different laws that would need to be broken. It is cherry-picking what laws specifically need to be broken for this bill to apply. It has also exempted such legislation as the Canada Elections Act, specifically. What we have said in our motion, to make it very clear, is that it is wrong for the government to be picking and choosing the laws. Experts have told us this. We need to make sure that the provision in this is sufficiently clear that it deals with the issue of breaking the law and breaking public trust.

The amendment is really important. It says:

ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member...

It says “any” act of Parliament. This idea that members can break the elections act, as former MP Dean Del Mastro did, and get away with it just does not make sense. I have heard that from my constituents. If we are serious about bringing in laws that will end this practice and hold officials accountable for doing this, we need to deal with that.

The second thing is the whole issue of retroactivity. We are suggesting that we add in the following:

ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection 19(4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member...

My message to the government is that the people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour support the intention of Bill C-518, but they are saying let us not pretend and agree to accept legislation that pretends do something but then really does not. It would excuse some members of the government benches, for example, or the Senate, at the same time that the government is trying to say that it will deal with the whole question of ethics and integrity in government and hold people to account.

I have indicated to my constituents that if that is the intention, and if the government recognizes this principle and our amendments to this bill, maybe we will get to a point where we are able to pass a bill that does what it sets out to do. That is the message that my constituents have asked me to bring here to the House. I hope the government is listening.

I hope we can do something to actually make this bill work to hold public office holders accountable who have broken the law and the public trust.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2014 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving us the quiet we need in the House to make a few comments about this bill, since it is a private member's bill and therefore no period for questions and answers is provided. It is too bad, because I would have liked to ask some questions. I will ask some during my speech and hope that they will be heard. Perhaps I will get some answers later.

This bill is rather odd. As we are entering a second hour of discussion on this bill, allow me to quickly put it into context again and provide another overview of the bill introduced by our colleague from New Brunswick Southwest, for those who are following us on CPAC or on other media.

Let us first look at the title: Bill C-518, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance). If I were a regular citizen seeing this at home, I would immediately think, “Finally, they are going to get rid of pensions for overpaid MPs”. However, that is not at all what this bill is about. That is why I want to set the record straight.

Bill C-518 revokes or would revoke the privilege of a retirement pension or compensation allowance for former members of the Senate or House of Commons who are convicted of an offence under an act of Parliament. The parliamentarian must have been indicted for an offence with a maximum punishment of imprisonment for not less than two years. The offence must have been committed, in whole or in part, while the person was an MP or senator.

That is more or less the idea behind this bill, which, I must say, comes at a curious time. Obviously, I can tell you right away that there is little chance that we will not vote in favour of this bill, because otherwise we would practically be saying that we are against virtue. However, while I would not say that drafting a bill that asks members of the House to obey the law is worthless, it does raise quite a few questions.

Among other things, it is amusing to see a bill come from the Conservatives that in some way deals with issues of ethics and honesty. In fact, the bill involves revoking pensions that are to be paid to elected officials should there be a serious omission or should they commit a serious crime that breaches a federal law.

Allow me to say that if the substantive principles of this bill make sense, the approach is somewhat suspicious, just like the timing of the bill's introduction. We might also wonder why this bill is so relevant now. From what I understand with my meagre experience of a few years as a parliamentarian, MPs usually table a private member's bill to solve a problem, fix a legislative loophole or clarify a particular local issue. The question here is: what situation is this bill trying to fix?

I will take the opposite approach. It seems entirely clear to me that the vast majority of MPs in the House, regardless of their political affiliation, are here for good reasons, despite their different perspectives on various bills and the direction our society should take. The vast majority of MPs serve quite honestly, to the best of their abilities and with an ultimate goal, which is to serve their constituents to the best of their knowledge and to the best of their convictions. Therefore, what is the purpose of this bill?

I get the feeling that this exercise is not about diversion or camouflage, but rather about image, in order to send the message that some Conservative members—and certainly the member for New Brunswick Southwest—want to address the scandals in the House of Commons, the government and the Senate.

I cannot help but recognize that most of the scandals we have been talking about for many weeks now do not involve my party. Still, I find the current juxtaposition of this bill rather strange.

I read the entire bill; it is only two pages long. I am by no means suggesting that a two-page bill is irrelevant. That is not what I am suggesting. However, it seems to me that someone who really cared about this issue would want to take the time to look much deeper.

For instance, Nova Scotia has a very similar bill. However, it is much more comprehensive than Bill C-518, which is being proposed today. I have to wonder if the sponsor really wants to solve a problem that he considers important, which it may very well be, as the misappropriation of funds has become increasingly comon in recent weeks. I will not dwell on these cases now, but perhaps I will give a couple of examples before the end of my speech.

If one really cared about this matter, it would only make sense to consult the case law, to consult similar legislation that exists in other countries and to consult the provinces. I just used the word “consult” three times, and I suspect I just created something. I am not quite sure what to call it; it is not quite an oxymoron. Let us just say that the word “consult” and the word “Conservative” do not flow together naturally for me.

I will give a very specific example. I would like to remind members that I will be voting in favour of this bill because we cannot be against virtue. If an MP or Senator has committed the acts warranting the penalties set out in Bill C-518—the loss of retiring allowances and other compensation—why is it that in Nova Scotia, for example, a minimum five-year sentence is required as compared to two years in the case of this bill?

Once again, it is probably to give the impression that this government is tough on crime and that it is going to take a hard line. I would like everyone to draw their own conclusions about that.

What seems to be missing in this bill, and leaves me quite perplexed, is that this income is not always the income of just that one person. I will explain. We are revoking the retirement income of an MP or senator, without including in the bill possible exceptions for the people who depend on this income.

For example, if the parliamentarian's child support payments are based directly on his or her income, a judge could review the support payments because the MP's or the senator's income has changed.

This means that this tough-on-crime bill for someone who commits fraud significantly affects more than just the person who committed the fraud. I have a serious problem with that.

The second problem I have with this bill is that it reminds me of something we have seen in many bills.

This bill establishes penalties for the person who commits the crime. We have seen this hundreds of times in other Conservative bills. Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit and getting carried away. However, this bill does nothing to prevent these situations.

Although we cannot be against virtue and we will be supporting this bill, it seems to me that it is designed solely to make a good impression and is an inappropriate solution.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up on the member's ending remarks concerning public relations.

One of the things I have found to be very topical, whether it is provincial politics or federal politics, is the issue of pensions.

I have had the opportunity to sit on different types of committees over the years to deal with the matter of pensions, on issues such as who should be entitled to a pension, what type of pension it might be, and so forth. In fact, as an MLA, I was involved in discussions as to how we could replace the pension program that we had in 1988. I can say that people are very much concerned about the pensions that politicians receive. We want aspiring politicians, and we recognize that they often sacrifice a great deal in order to have the privilege and opportunity to represent someone. However, there are always questions.

I have had the opportunity to have many discussions with political candidates in the past. One of the questions they often have is with respect to benefits, annual pay, and so forth. These are issues that one would expect to come up for anyone seeking elected office.

On the other hand, from the constituents' perspective, we find there is a certain caring attitude, of wanting to see fairness within the system.

I have seen a lot of change in the ways in which pensions have come into being. As I pointed out, back in 1988 when I was first elected, we had a pension program. It was something in the nature that one had to be successful in three consecutive elections, or to have been elected, I think it was for eight years, though I could be a bit out on that. However, then one would be able to receive a pension virtually immediately.

Some members of the public felt that was not an appropriate type of program for elected officials at the provincial level. There was a great deal of debate, and we ultimately formed a committee. That committee was made up of a group of interesting stakeholders. One of them, I believe, was Mr. Northcott, who is with Winnipeg Harvest. There was representation from management and union. What happened ultimately is that we lost the pension program in favour of matching RRSP contributions.

In the late 1990s, 2001, and 2002, there was a change. MLAs would make contributions, the government would match those contributions, and that would go into an RRSP.

When Gary Doer became the premier of Manitoba, he recognized there was a need to go back to government pensions, as opposed to matching RRSPs. That is ultimately what ended up happening.

Again, I have had the opportunity to listen in to some areas, and in other areas to get engaged, in terms of what sort of pension programming and benefits that MLAs should be entitled to.

One of the things I found to be important throughout the whole process was the need to provide assurances to the public that there is a proper way to deal with the benefits that MLAs receive. That is why I was quite pleased that the provincial Liberal Party was involved in terms of how we come up with the pay, benefits, and pension-related issues. Ultimately, pensions were then reformed in the province of Manitoba.

I say that because I have had the opportunity, through the leadership of the leader of the Liberal Party, to become engaged with the procedures and House affairs committee. There has been a lot of discussion there about benefits of members of Parliament, the Board of Internal Economy, and to a certain degree there are issues relating to pay.

One of the suggestions, from the perspective of the Liberal Party of Canada, is that we need to look at ways we can have more independence in terms of the setting of pensions and the salaries of members of Parliament. That was incorporated in our report. I must say it was a minority report; it did not receive the support from all parties. However, if we look at what our constituents would want, it is in the best interest of the House to see that independence in the setting of salaries for politicians. I suspect it will only be a question of time before that will be the case in Ottawa.

With Bill C-518, I understand what the member is proposing: Should an individual be denied a pension if they have been held criminally responsible? If we were to try to get a better understanding of the details of what the member is suggesting, I would be most interested in hearing that and having that dialogue.

However, my primary concern is dealing with the bigger issue of pensions. That is the reason I started my comments by talking about the idea of independence and how pensions are best set. From a personal perspective, I do not know if I would qualify for a member of Parliament pension. I believe it is six years, but I am not a hundred per cent sure of that.

With regard to members of Parliament or members of legislative assemblies throughout out country, I suspect that the primary reason they become engaged in politics is not necessarily to receive a pension. I like to believe that individuals who take an interest in politics, first and foremost get involved because they want to serve. I think that is of critical importance.

Individuals approach me, especially nowadays, and at least every other week I talk to someone who could be interested in becoming engaged in politics. Being able to share with them about the compensation and so forth is important. There is no doubt about that. However, their real interest is in being able to serve the community in which they live, whether it is a smaller neighbourhood or the broader country. That is admirable.

The bottom line is that we have to respect that and to recognize there is a need for some form of compensation. As to what kind of compensation and to what degree, I would like to see that brought into the realm of independence in terms of how that compensation would be determined.

With regard to the bill specifically, I look forward to hearing more debate.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to be speaking to Bill C-518, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.

The bill would revoke the privilege of a retirement pension or compensation allowance for former members of the Senate or House of Commons who are convicted of an offence under an act of Parliament that is punishable by a minimum of two years in prison. These types of sentences of two years or more mostly involve federal offences covered by the Criminal Code.

Once the bill is passed, MPs or senators who have been found guilty of such an offence would be reimbursed their pension contributions plus interest, which is consistent with other applicable legislation.

The NDP supports this bill because we belive that any bill that strengthens parliamentary ethics is a step in the right direction. However, it is clear that this bill is really just a Conservative charade to make us believe that they are not responsible for the Senate scandal and that they champion ethics.

In reality, the Prime Minister—a man who appointed people like Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to taxpayer-funded positions—is using this bill to try to make us believe that he has at least a vestige of ethics. Canadians know better and they will not forget this government's schemes.

Liberal Party senators, those who are part of the non-Liberal caucus or rather independent Liberal senators with no caucus or something of that sort, should not get too excited yet. Canadians have not forgotten that they had no issues with Mac Harb even after he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, nor have they forgotten that the Liberals paid their deficit by drawing on workers' employment insurance contributions. Above all, nobody, particularly nobody in Quebec, has forgotten the sponsorship scandal. Quebeckers are fed up, and in case anyone is wondering, it is not because the Montreal Canadiens are winning the Stanley Cup. It is because Quebeckers believe in their motto “Je me souviens” or “I remember”.

In short, although the bill is a step in the right direction, it is just a front and does not address the serious ethical problems caused by both the Conservative and Liberal parties. No legislation can do that. The problem is these parties' culture of entitlement. They think that they deserve to be in power no matter what they do and that they eventually will be again one day. They think they are entitled to their entitlements. That is an unhealthy way of thinking. The NDP is now giving Canadians a healthy option that works for them. The NDP knows that it is a privilege to represent Canadians, not a given right. The NDP works for Canadians, not for the lobbies.

I am also proud to mention that the bill is basically copied from a bill introduced by the NDP government of Nova Scotia that received royal assent on May 10, 2013.

I am pleased that the members opposite are finally using one of our ideas to draft ethics-related legislation. Perhaps they are starting to see the light, unless they are merely acting like a co-worker who steals other people's lunches and then puts a note on the fridge the next day warning people to stop stealing others' lunches. Given the government's history, I tend to think the latter is true.

Let us now come back to the subject at hand. Clearly, the purpose of the bill is to show that the Conservative Party is angry about the ethical lapses of its senators, who were all personally appointed by the Prime Minister.

The same is true for the Liberals, who magically made their senators disappear overnight and who will surely make them reappear when they need them.

In fact, the party of the Mac Harbs and Raymond Lavignes still plays political games, assuming that Canadians are naive, when they are not. Canadians see through their games and, with each passing day, more and more Canadians come to trust the NDP. The only solution to the ethical problems of parliamentarians is to elect an NDP government and to abolish the Senate.

Even the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, formerly run by the member for New Brunswick Southwest, believes that the lack of ethics in the House comes from the blue and the red parties. Let me quote what Director Gregory Thomas said:

Canadians have just witnessed the spectacle of convicted fraudster, former Liberal Senator and MP Raymond Lavigne, collecting his $67,000 annual pension while sitting in jail for filing false Senate expense claims. We now have a former Liberal MP and Senator and a former Conservative Senator each facing criminal charges relating to their official duties, with more Senators under criminal investigation. Clearly, Senators and MPs need tougher anti-corruption penalties to combat the temptations politicians face.

This quote, which could not be clearer, perfectly summarizes the constant and systemic ethical breaches of successive Liberal and Conservative governments for the past 20 years, from the sponsorship scandal to the current Senate scandal.

This bill is a step in the right direction. That is why we in the NDP will support the bill at second reading. However, we cannot legislate the culture or the ethics of a party. That is the problem with this government and the third party.

That is why we must send a message that Canadians need a government that respects them and that will work in their best interests rather than its own interests. In 2015, that is the government Canadians will have by voting for the NDP.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2014 / 7:10 p.m.
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Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of points I would like to make in concluding this second hour of debate.

I appreciate some of the comments I heard from the other side, I believe referring to the bill as virtuous, which I suppose is good news, but at the same time questioning some of the motivations behind it. I am not going to respond to those. I am just happy to have support for this bill.

There are some amendments to this bill that I believe are necessary, which I referenced in the first hour of debate. As one hon. member noted, in the original draft of the bill I did suggest in drafting it that the penalties be invoked for any crime where the maximum penalty is two or more years. Upon reflection and consultation, as I stated some weeks ago, I felt that the threshold should be increased to five-year indictable crimes, elevating it to charges that would include, for example, breach of trust, theft, serious charges, because the consequences are serious for members of Parliament.

As well, this bill as drafted is very much in line with the law that exists currently in Nova Scotia. My bill was tabled on June 3, 2013, and would apply to any convictions after that date if it is passed here and in the other place, and ultimately receives royal assent. However, should it be successful and move on to committee, here is really the test that committee members should consider when weighing the merits of this bill. It is what I call the Lavigne test case. Senator Lavigne was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, yet he resigned from his position as a senator before he could be ejected, thereby keeping his parliamentary pension.

He was convicted of these crimes, which, as I said, have a threshold. The maximum is five or more years. However, he was only sentenced to six months. That really is the type of scoundrel we are trying to capture with this legislation: individuals who are convicted of serious crimes. It should not matter the amount of time spent in prison, but rather the crimes that people are convicted of in a court of law. That is the request I put to the committee for consideration as they look at possible amendments to this bill, beyond the ones I am suggesting. How would it work in practice with respect to an individual who has already gone through it? How do we ensure, going forward, that we do not see that kind of abuse again? I remember when Senator Lavigne was able to resign and keep his pension.

On that note, I will highlight what the law currently states. Currently, on the books for both the House of Commons and the other place, the Senate, if a member is convicted of a serious crime, he or she is to be evicted, and when that happens, that member loses his or her pension. The loophole, the out, is that he or she can resign before being ejected and in doing so can hold onto his or her pension. I believe we should close that loophole. If a member of either House is found to be guilty, their pension should be revoked automatically and that loophole should not exist.

I look forward to the committee's review and recommendations if we are successful going forward, as well as further consultation on this bill.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2013 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

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.

Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2013 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the recognition. I thank the member for putting forward the bill, which the NDP members will be working to support at second reading.

The hon. member mentioned in his speech that he would be looking to change the convictions within Bill C-518 from two years to no less than five years, which is parallel to the Nova Scotia law that the NDP government put in place.

I certainly appreciate that the member brought forward that he will be bringing in those amendments, but the other concern that has been raised around the bill, and that is contained within the Nova Scotia NDP bill, allows for a former spouse having court-ordered restitution that can be deducted from the salary or pension of the member of the House of Assembly.

I would ask the hon. member if he is looking, as well, for those amendments, so that the spouses or ex-spouses of those MPs who are convicted would have access to that pension. That was the other concern that was brought forward in terms of his bill.