Mr. Speaker, I have no hesitation to withdraw the comments the member for Burin-St. George's referred to. They were uttered inadvertently. I did not intend to cast aspersions on the parliamentary secretary's integrity or his honesty.
The House has heard many arguments as to why the proposed revisions to the MP pension plan are still too generous. Committee members have received repeated testimony from highly qualified witnesses who confirm that the plan is still far too rich and is basically poor public policy.
Let me quote Paul McCrossan, a former member of Parliament and now an actuary for Eckler Partners Ltd., who appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. He said:
My conclusion is that the bill is bad for you as members, bad for Parliament as an institution and bad for Canada because, having acted on this bill, you will hamstring this Parliament in dealing effectively with the most urgent challenges it faces, namely redesigning Canada's national retirement income and medical care systems to reflect the financial realities of Canada as well as Canada's rapidly aging population.
This is exactly what is now happening. Parliament is hamstrung from dealing with important issues of the day: our increasing deficit and debt, social program reform and building a stronger economy which will produce more jobs for Canadians, to name just a few key problems.
Despite the apparent futility of our efforts, Reform members cannot, with good conscience, allow the legislation to slip by without resistance. Perhaps those large pink pigs placed on the front lawn of Parliament to protest this pension scheme last week say it best. Surely there is no other place in this great nation where people are authorized to legislate the amount of their own benefits and salaries.
I would agree with those who contend that the basic pay of members of Parliament is insufficient when the responsibility and workload are considered. However, this pension benefit cannot be justified and continues to leave a foul taste in the mouths of all taxpayers.
Is our government blind to what is right? Why, rather than paying lip service, has it not undertaken realistic pension reform? Certainly there have been enough good suggestions given both in the House and in representations to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The Reform member for Beaver River will refuse her million dollar payout and, under the deliberately planned punitive opting out provisions, will lose any government contributions made to that plan.
Members will know that normal pension plans see the employer matching employee contributions. Even with the revisions to the pension plan instituted by the government, the taxpayer will be contributing an excessive $3.60 for every dollar members of Parliament contribute.
The government made the opting out provision punitive because it very much wanted the member for Beaver River to opt into the plan so that during the next election it could point the finger at members of Reform Party and say that we were no different from the others.
But we are different. We fought for these very principles during the last election. The parliamentary secretary's reference to the fact that it is Reformers who are bringing these measures to Parliament is absolutely wrong. Yes, we are transmitting it, but we are bringing the message from all Canadian taxpayers.
Unhappily, despite the wishes of the parliamentary secretary, it would appear that the same issue will be around again in the next election.
I return to Paul McCrossan's testimony before the committee about the legislation. Referring to the legislation he said:
It does nothing to develop a sensible compensation package for members and may actually impede redesign. It entrenches your benefits at a level higher than those available to general taxpayers. At the same time it reduces the cost of your compensation package.
So when you come to redo a compensation package, you will be left with having then to increase it from the level you have reduced it to and it is going to make it much more difficult to do it in two steps rather than one.
It reduces compensation for future service but leaves benefits substantially above the private sector and, indeed, public sector permissible levels.
It is just this that members from this side of the House have been saying. The benefits go well beyond anything in the public realm.
Some time in the future MPs will again decide that the compensation package is not adequate and adjustments will be made.
Many take great pride in pointing out that MPs have curtailed their salaries in seven of the fourteen years since the present pension scheme was adopted in 1981. Are the salaries kept low in exchange for generous benefits? That question has been raised many times in the House and in committee.
The study by Sabeco, Ernst and Young called for a 37 per cent increase in MP salaries, accompanied by a reduction in pension benefits, also recommending that they should be limited to retirees who are at least 60 years of age.
The report further suggests that when the parliamentary wage freeze is lifted in 1996 the MP basic annual salary be increased to $75,000, and that prior to the next election Parliament be urged to pass legislation to increase MPs' salaries to $86,000 to take effect on the first day of the 36th Parliament.
Given the political climate, the ever present debt and deficit and this ineffective pseudo pension reform, I do not believe the government has the political will to make these badly needed appropriate changes to current MP compensation and pension arrangements.
Once again let me go back to Paul McCrossan who said:
I believe that legislating preferred treatment for yourselves, even if it is reduced preferred treatment, as proposed under this bill-will continue to foster cynicism.
Each of us holds a very privileged position and thus must make every effort to avoid abuse of that position.
As long as Parliament holds the power to set members own salaries, perks and pensions, the job will clearly not be effectively achieved. Politics will come into play as they have in this instance and longstanding MPs will resist every effort to make appropriate changes to the pension plan.
Even in the Progressive Conservative government Wilson budget of 1986 provisions were made to lower MP pensions to private sector levels. We could wonder why this had not happened but the answer is clear. Decisions such as this cannot be left in the hands of Parliament. Rather, a competent, independent body must be assigned to ensure appropriate compensation and pension reforms are implemented.
It is not too late even at this report stage to make some important changes. The proposed reductions make only a small dent in the cost to the taxpayer. Treasury Board officials have indicated that most of the savings will result from actuarial factors rather than legislated changes.
For my own part, unless the government makes real changes which bring the MP pension scheme into line with that of other Canadians, I will be signifying my intention not to opt into the proposed plan.
I call on government to go back to the drawing board, heed the very clear direction given by its own constituents and make meaningful, realistic changes to Bill C-85. I call on rank and file members of the government to press for these changes. They know what is right and proper. They know that Bill C-85 does not meet this need, and they should know that a concerted effort on their part could influence the changes needed to fulfil at least one of the promises made in the red book.