Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-518. Quite simply, this bill will penalize politicians who break the law by taking away their parliamentary pensions.
In a moment I'll suggest amendments for this committee to consider which I believe will improve the bill, but I'd like to begin by highlighting the current law. Members can already be disqualified for a pension for breaking the law if they are forced from office, but as we've witnessed, a member will be paid a parliamentary pension if he quits before being fired by his colleagues. The purpose of my bill is to close that loophole.
Here's what the bill will do.
First, it will 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 which arose out of conduct that occurred while that individual was in office. It does this by using the same mechanism that is already in place for politicians who become disqualified for their offices.
The law already takes into account the situation where a member is deemed disqualified. It states that a member will receive their pension contributions plus interest as a lump sum when a member ceases to be a senator by reason of disqualification or is expelled from the House of Commons. The change being proposed is that whenever a senator or a member of Parliament is found to have committed certain crimes while in office, the member or senator should have their pension revoked whether or not that person is still holding that office.
The second thing I want to accomplish with this bill is to make sure that it will be applied to all future convictions of politicians, including those for past malfeasance. For this reason I've included a section clarifying that the changes contained in the bill will apply with respect to any person who is or was a member of the Senate or the House of Commons and was convicted after the date I introduced this bill, which was June 3, 2013.
Some wonder if the law can be modified to repeal an entitlement and if the law can apply retroactively to the near past when the bill was tabled and include a crime that occurred before even that date. The answer is yes.
Yes, we can repeal a parliamentary entitlement. As I mentioned, the law already provides under what circumstances that can be done. There is certainly no issue, I believe, on a go-forward basis, that is, when the criminal charge and conviction all happen after the bill is law. Thus, regarding the retroactivity on convictions after the tabling date of June 3 for crimes committed before that date, the answer is yes, and yes again, with certainty. Colleagues, it can be done, for it has already been done.
Legislation passed in 2013 in Nova Scotia strips the pension of any lawmaker convicted of a crime for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for not less than five years. The start date was May 6, 2013, which was when the bill was tabled in the provincial legislature. The result, in June 2013, was that an independent MLA lost his pension after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. That member had collected tax dollars after filing 10 false expense claims in 2008 and 2009, and today he is not eligible to receive an MLA's pension.
Some have expressed concern that this bill is too harsh. The bar that I set in the bill as it currently stands would strip away the pensions from any MP or senator who commits a crime with a maximum punishment of two or more years, which I later suggested in debate be raised to five years. It is conceivable that somebody could be guilty of a crime without the offence being tied to parliamentary duties. That should not be grounds for losing a pension, I believe.
I think honourable members will agree that if we proceed with my bill, we should do so thoughtfully and carefully to avoid unjustly revoking parliamentary pensions. I am therefore suggesting that changes be made, changes that I have not raised before in the House.
A document was sent to you, I believe this morning, that lays out 19 criminal offences. If I have time, Chair, I'll just read them quickly, and that will pretty much wrap up my statement. Do I have time to read them?