House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was gst.


Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Sales Tax And Excise Tax Amendments Act, 1999Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have been asked by the government whip to defer the division on this motion until tomorrow at the end of Government Orders.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

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Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Prior to proceeding to the next order, pursuant to the motion earlier this day, I was wondering if the House would consent to a small rectification. We did not provide for an adjournment debate at the end of the day today.

I would propose that the order made earlier today provide that when a minister adjourns the House, pursuant to the order made earlier this day, that this adjournment be made to be followed by the regular Adjournment Debate.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

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The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed to proceed in that fashion?

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

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Some hon. members


Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2000 / 6 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that Bill C-37, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Members of Parliament Retirement Allowances Act be read the second time and referred to a committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, and the Members of Parliament Retirement Allowances Act, which I had the honour to introduce in the House earlier today.

The bill provides for the correction of an anomaly in legislation that was passed in 1995, which, as we all remember, ended double dipping with respect to severances. However, it should be noted that it responds to concerns expressed by various members. It is a non-partisan bill that should be welcomed by all of us in the House.

I will explain why the current situation is unfair. It is unfair to over 100 MPs who are under the age of 55 and who have been shortchanged as a result of pension changes made in 1995.

The 1995 legislation provided for a severance allowance of six months salary to MPs under 55 who entered the pension plan after July 1995. However, an MP elected before July 1995 does not receive any severance because the MP gets a small pension for contributions made before July of that year. In the case of some members, that pension is as low as $1,400 a year, and that $1,400 stipend—because that is all it is—in fact prevents people from having any kind of severance, and of course those members, were they to cease to be members of this place, are not even eligible for unemployment insurance. We would not tolerate that of a private sector employer, certainly not one of the size of the Canadian government.

This situation has created two groups, almost two classes of MPs. MPs under 55 who were elected after 1995 get a severance allowance, while those elected before that date get no severance. For example, an MP under age 55 who was elected in 1993 would receive an annual pension of $5,600 a year and no severance. In one case, as I said, this could be as low as $1,400. There are actually two MPs in that situation. This pension would increase to $21,000 when the MP in question reaches 55.

Need I remind all of us that the pension is not free. People pay premiums, and the premiums, even by many standards, are quite high; $7,000 to $8,000 or, in the case of ministers, as much as $10,000 a year in premiums on the pension plan. That amount is subtracted from what one is usually entitled to contribute to a retirement savings plan, so that is not free either because other investment opportunities are also denied.

An MP who was elected in 1997 and retires after six years would receive a severance allowance equal to six months' salary, or $34,000 a year, and at age 55 would receive the full pension that one gets after six years. Of course one only gets the real full pension after 19 years of being a member of parliament, another fact not too well know, particularly by those who want to portray members of parliament in an unkind way.

The bill we are addressing today remedies the injustice to which I have referred, in the present pay arrangements, by providing a reasonable severance allowance for all MPs.

Those under the age of 55 who were elected prior to July 1995 and belong to the MPs' pension plan will receive an allowance equal to six months salary, at the time they leave their position, less any immediate annual annuity. Thus, the allowance and the pension are not combined. The one is subtracted from the other, and MPs may only receive the difference between the two.

Members under the age of 55 who were elected after 1995 will continue to receive the allowance of six months salary after six years of service.

In both cases, the allowance would not exceed six months salary after six years of service. So, it remains the same for both groups, with the amendment I am suggesting today.

As a result, this change does not affect members under 55 elected in 1997, as I said earlier. Nor does it affect members who have opted out of the pension scheme, because they will continue to receive the six month allowance when they leave their position.

The severance allowance proposed in the bill is reasonable. It is comparable to severance allowances provided to provincial parliamentarians. As a matter of fact, it is even less generous than what is offered in a number of Ontario provincial legislatures. It is not that high either when one compares allowances in the private sector, in particular large private sector concerns. Of course none of them are as large as the federal government, but in many medium size sectors their executives and people in higher echelons have severance packages that are far more generous. Even the municipalities have quite generous severance packages, as we have noted from reports in the media, for those who are leaving their services.

Providing all MPs with a severance allowance is also appropriate because MPs do not have access, as most people do, to unemployment insurance to support their families while they are looking for another job. Again that is something that is not too well publicized. I suspect there has been more than one case of someone leaving this high office only to find out that there were no benefits at all, not even a transition, not even unemployment insurance that every worker would get.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, in case you are wondering, yes we do pay unemployment insurance premiums even though we cannot collect. We certainly pay Canada pension plan premiums even though technically we do not receive a salary, we receive an emolument.

Let us consider the example of a former MP, a 45 year old parent of two who is eligible for a full pension at 55. I think it is perfectly legitimate for that person to receive a six months severance package to enable him or her to find another job and to try to earn a living.

I also believe that the House should be regarded and should function in such a way as to attract people from all walks of life.

At the risk of boring members with details that I have shared with the House before, I obviously did not come here from a family that was very wealthy. As a matter of fact, I came from the bottom rungs of the ladders of parliament. I started here as a busboy. I was the child of a sole support parent. I had not even completed my high school education, as members of the House now know from subsequent educational training that I have received and which did get considerable attention in this place, for which I am grateful.

The one thing that remains true is that I do not object to the fact that very wealthy people have rights if they are elected to serve in this parliament. What I am saying is that serving in the House should not be contingent upon being wealthy. People who have families and who earn regular salaries, people who come from all walks of life, should have the right to participate in the process and to seek to hold this high office in a way where they know that the day they leave here, they can go home and at least provide for their families and provide for a transition to either going back to what they were doing or to finding something else to do for a living.

It was only a few weeks ago that a report was published and got considerable media attention. The report said that it was getting to be more and more difficult to attract candidates for public office and particularly to sit in the House of Commons.

I am sure that has always been true. There are vast distances for many people to travel. There is, of course, the sacrifice of office with which we are all familiar. We do not complain about it generally. It is there and it is part of the job, but just the same I believe the climate should be conducive to attracting people to become members of parliament and to want to sit in this place to represent their fellow citizens in the highest court of the land, the Parliament of Canada.

The 1998 Blais commission report on MP compensation stated:

Departing members are entitled to a relatively financially secure transition from parliament to the work force or to retirement as the case may be.

That was the Blais commission reminding us that someday we all will leave here and that it should not be a sinecure nor an experience to make one rich, but it should not be the way to the poor house either.

This transition is provided to MPs under the age of 55, and not only to MPs elected after 1995, which was the case until this bill came along. Now it will be available to everybody.

The second provision of the bill is that it provides that all members of parliament will become members of the MP pension plan as of the date the bill comes into force. This is consistent with the view that the MP pension plan is a reasonable plan for members of parliament. The Blais commission said that the MP pension plan “while appearing generous, is not necessarily out of line with public and private sector plans that recognize the impact of the mid-career hire aspect of the career path of their senior executives”.

The bill also gives MPs who have opted out of the pension plan the choice to opt into the plan retroactive to the date of their election. In other words, now that we have the bill it will be possible for someone who was not in the plan to buy back their years of service. Again, this is very logical and I commend it to the House.

It is the same for an MP who served in a previous parliament, left this place and then came back some seven, eight, ten years later. That MP would have the right to buy back previous service. Why should we give that right to someone who sat here 10 or 15 years ago and deny it to MPs sitting in the House today? MPs sitting in the House today should be given the same opportunity to buy back that service. I believe that to be totally logical and I believe the opposite would be illogical.

MPs do not have to buy back previous service, but then again neither do members who served in a previous parliament who have returned and who must contribute to the pension plan. They are not forced to buy back previous service either. Again, it is consistent with what we are doing for others.

This also provides, in a way, a transition to participation in the pension plan. If an MP—and of course we all will, effective immediately—contributes to the pension plan, that does not make an MP who was elected in 1993 eligible for a partial pension now unless the member buys back his or her previous service. The member who does not do so would only be partially pensionable in 2006, two terms from now. Furthermore, those who do not buy back previous service would only have a full pension in 2019. That is 19 years from now. In fact, it is a form of phase-in back into the pension plan.

Those who do not opt back in retroactive to the date of their election would continue to receive the supplementary severance allowance which we passed in 1998. That is only fair. Of course, MPs who decide to opt back into the plan to the date of their election will have to reimburse their contributions retroactively to the date of their election. Again this is consistent with the case of an MP who previously served in parliament some years ago and is returning to the House of Commons.

I would like to cite a passage from an article by Claude Picher, which appeared in La Presse two weeks ago:

But, generally speaking, it is clear that the salaries of Canadian politicians are in no way commensurate with their responsibilities....In reality, given what we expect of our elected officials, there is no comparison between their salaries and what they would be paid for doing a comparable job in the private sector.

Whether or not we agree with Mr. Picher, I think we would all agree that our system of pay should put all members on an equal footing. This is not presently the case. It will be with this bill. Right now, some members receive severance pay when they leave, and others do not.

This bill, which is designed to correct an unfair situation in the current compensation package, responds to concerns expressed by many MPs in the House.

This place is not supposed to be government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich; it is supposed to be government where all Canadians can expect to be represented by one of their own, if that is their wish. That is the case as it applies to political orientation.

Many people in the House, of course, disagree profoundly on political issues, and that is perfectly legitimate. However, it should also apply to people of various socio-economic levels. I believe that correcting these anomalies will make it such that it will make parliament work better because it will assist in attracting good candidates for the future.

The way the motion to discuss this bill is structured makes it possible to have a recorded division at the end of the debate. I am going to make a plea to colleagues. I have nothing to gain in this personally, as everyone will know. I have been a member for a long, long time. None of these changes apply to me. I would ask my colleagues to rise above the temptation that there would be to embarrass one another as we are passing a bill like this. It is easy to do. It is very hard to undo afterward. It is a temptation that some of us might have from time to time.

If we think of who we want to sit in the House in the future, not just the next term of office but maybe two or three terms down the road when my children and grandchildren decide whether they want to seek office to see if they too could participate in directing this very fine country and democracy, I hope they will be able to do so whether they are well off, which I hope they will be, or whether they start off at the other end of the socio-economic ladder, as I did.

Our country will be better served if we rise above some temptations that we might have, particularly in these times that are no doubt challenging for some of us.

In closing, the argument I wish to make to the House this evening is that we will all come out of this experience perhaps slightly better people, having ensured that the legislation will be better for Canadians, especially those who wish to represent their fellow citizens in the highest court in the land, the Parliament of Canada.

I want to conclude by saying that the bill corrects initially that mistake which I have described, that glitch in the system whereby some MPs had a severance package and some did not. It fixes that.

The second thing that it does is obviously to make everyone contribute and be part of the pension plan for members of parliament.

I have said consistently in the past that it was wrong to be out of the system. It was wrong to be out of the pension plan. It is just like getting the benefits of a collective agreement or anything else. It is a group plan. If I said in the past that it was wrong to be out of the plan and I am consistent, I have to say that it is right to be back in the plan. That is why there is criticism of people who not only will be back in the plan, because we all will, but criticism of people who will join again. Even purchasing their retroactivity portion would be wrong, because joining the plan is the right thing to do. That is what I think, and I have to be consistent with my thoughts, otherwise it would not be correct or appropriate.

Just as some colleagues in the House before might have denounced me when they thought that my view of the pension plan was incorrect, I have to stand in solidarity with others who now think that the plan is correct. Again, that is only logic and easy for all of us to understand.

With all this in mind, I commend the bill to the House. I think it is good. I think it is right. I think it corrects historical wrongs. I think it will contribute to making this parliament in a small way a better institution than it is already. I hope that the bill will be even greater if it passes with the unanimous support of all colleagues in the House.

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps you will forgive me if I do not say it is a pleasure to address Bill C-37 because I think it is always difficult for members of parliament to talk about their own compensation packages. It is a discomfort for all of us on all sides of the House to talk about what it is we think we are worth as parliamentarians, whether we think we are worth a pension or what the severance package should look like. It is the discomfort that comes from talking about one's own salary and setting one's own wages. It is a difficult thing to talk about publicly.

During the debate this evening I think we will hear a level of that discomfort in all of the discussions that come forward, because people realize that no matter how they slice this loaf of bread there will be others who will misinterpret it or have it deliberately misinterpreted for them. I think we all understand that some of that is bound to happen.

I thank the House leader for the government for giving a very accurate description of what the bill is about technically, the reasons for it and the changes to the severance package that specifically address a wrong which was allowed to stand after the last changes were put through the House.

The changes uphold what I think should be a principle of any pension plan, which is that we need to be equitable to all people in the House of Commons when it comes to what is a fair and sensible severance package for MPs. I cannot think of any logic which would say that someone elected in 1993 should not get a severance plan, but someone elected in 1997 should. It is illogical. It is not right.

A pension plan is practical because people will often campaign right up to the date of an election, anticipating that they will be back here, only to be surprised—and many of us will go through this over the years—to find that they do not have a job the next day. Barring asking members of parliament to set up another business while they are serving as parliamentarians, it is only fair that a severance package be given. Again, the principle is that if it is equitable for one group of MPs, it needs to be equitable and fair for others. That to me seems fair.

With respect to the changes to the MP pension plan that are proposed in the legislation, unlike the last time we made changes to the plan in the House, one of the things I am grateful for is that there will be a significant amount time, as a matter of fact as much time as people want, to speak to the bill and to put their thoughts on the record. I think it is wise for us in parliament and one of the ways that we will garner respect, even on difficult issues like salaries and benefits, to allow people to speak freely in the House, to give them as much time as they want and to allow a vote.

The government House leader has asked in a certain spirit that we not actually have a standing vote. I eagerly await the debates to see where the House goes on this issue. I think it is proper and much wiser the way we are handling this issue now as compared to the last time. We are having an open debate not just on one but on two evenings. This should do away with the criticism that this was a Friday night special or the quick passage of a bill that we were somehow ashamed of.

We have to vote on this issue and we will have to move on and defend it and explain it. All of the speeches and all the debate will give people confidence that members of parliament have applied themselves to this thoughtfully and have come to a conclusion collectively.

Normally legislation comes down from the executive and backbenchers and opposition parties basically have to play whatever hand is dealt to them. It is true the government has drafted this bill. The rumour mill has been working overtime for the last month. People have talked about it in caucuses. The media has been abuzz. The self-appointed watchdogs of parliament were sure they knew what was going to happen. There has been lots of speculation about changes that might come down regarding the pension plan.

Although this is a government bill there is no pretending that this issue just dropped out of on nigh this evening. There has been lots of talk around Parliament Hill and in different circles about this. We knew something was coming. The big question was how we would deal with it as individuals and as parties once the legislation was introduced. That needs to be acknowledged and put on the record as well.

For most political parties the MP pension plan is a no brainer and is just accepted. But there were MPs in all parties who opted out of the plan in 1995 and I think they have gone through a self-inflicted torture test each and every time this issue comes up. There is no one to blame for this but ourselves. It is a case of reaping what we sow.

If I take the government House leader at his word and if he argues the plan today is a good plan, then I believe passionately and wholeheartedly that when we opposed the plan which was in place in 1993 we did the right thing. Changes had to be made to the original plan. It allowed for a pension to be paid to someone 30 years old and even younger, an MP could double dip, and there were other parts that were unpalatable to Canadians and to many of us in the modern reality we face in parliament. Changes had to be made.

There are those who say we should not have grandstanded so much to make the changes. I think the changes would not have been made unless we were willing to push the issue to the max and no doubt we did that. Some of the quotes that will be drummed up for media reports tomorrow will refer to a plan we felt had to be changed and we initiated some change. That was a good thing. Canadians had the feeling that they had been locked out of the decision making in the House.

Once the plan was amended to exclude double dipping and benefits were only payable after age 55, many of us were still convinced that it was still a more generous plan than what was seen in the private sector. The debate about whether it is too generous or not will go on here this evening. In a genuine effort, as it was in 1993, to put pressure on all sides to offer something more modest, we created two classes of MPs. There were those who would get the newly revised plan, the 1995 plan, and those who would get nothing. A significant number of people from all political parties chose the nothing option.

If that had been the end of the options available to MPs, perhaps this whole issue would have slowly gone away. Unfortunately after every parliament the salary and benefits package for elected officials goes through a mandatory statutory review.

We ended up with another plan that created yet another level of pension benefits. Currently we have the absurd situation that MPs could be entitled to a pre-1995 plan, a post-1995 plan, a 1997 plan with a different severance package than the 1993 plan, a hybrid of any of those mentioned above, or no pension at all.

Even though it was recommended by the Blais commission to offer a revised and more modest pension plan, that was not offered. Because it was not in the offing, a handful of MPs continued to opt out of the pension plan and have remained so. It is true also at that time some members from most of the parties in the House chose to opt back into the plan, arguing, I think absolutely honestly again, that they had not campaigned on no pension plan; they had campaigned on a fair pension plan.

Zero pension was never a campaign promise. Certainly it never was in this party and it never was something that we had promised either to prospective candidates or others. We have always said that we wanted a fair pension for all MPs and not just for some.

Of course any talk of pensions results in people being pilloried in the press, by some but not all in the public, by some of their own colleagues, and so on. That is usually part and parcel of what the government House leader already described as a very unfortunate development. No matter what members do it seems like it is always the wrong thing.

Virtually all MPs, those who opted in, those who stayed out, those who get some hybrid of the plan, all MPs experience some public flogging over the MP pension plan. It does not matter whether or not one is in it. I have been out of the plan and I continue to get criticized. Even though I have not been in the pension plan since 1995, I still get flogged for it.

It is very unfortunate that those of us who have remained out of the pension plan have run that gauntlet and, as I said earlier, have reaped what we have sown. We had hoped that by staying out of the plan we could press for a more modest and acceptable plan but alas, it was not to be. Even though it was recommended by the Blais commission, it was unfortunate that option was not put forward and it has ended up that now there are four different classes of pensionable members of parliament.

Today we are faced once again with another revision to the plan. It is argued by groups such as the National Citizens' Coalition and actually it is Canadian Alliance policy that the proper way to change the remuneration package of MPs is after one campaigns on it in an election. The alliance policy is that there should be an independent commission, just like the statutory review demands, to take it out of the hands of the members of parliament. No matter how we slice it we end up with accusations of being self-interested in this. It should be taken out of our hands and given to an independent commission which makes binding recommendations to the House of Commons.

If we had followed through on those recommendations in the Blais commission report, we would not be revising the plan again today. The commission recommended that we be transparent with our salaries, that we do away with the tax free allowance and call it all one type of salary. We could be up front about it and say to people, “This is what we are getting paid. We get taxed the same as other people”. We could have had a pension plan that was recommended in the Blais commission report. It would have been wise. It would have defused this issue. We would have been able to move on.

Although we can campaign on that, it is not going to happen unless everyone in this place agrees that is a better way to handle it. No matter how we vote on it or do not vote on it later, people will point a finger at us and say, “You have some self-interest in it. What are you doing voting on your own salary?”

I still absolutely believe that if we gave it to an independent commission, the salary and benefits would not change a whole lot. I agree with the Blais commission. It is not that far out of line. It is just that people want the appearance of transparency; not just the appearance of it, they want it transparent. They want to know that their MPs are treated the same way as everyone else under the tax system and they want their MPs to have a pension plan. I absolutely believe they do. They say to give us the plan, make it fair, that MPs as much as any superannuate should get a pension for having served the country in this place.

It is unfortunate that under the current plan many MPs, including those with 10 or 12 years of service to the country, or those who are over 65 years of age, will still receive no retirement benefits at all, without even the medical benefits that would be available to any superannuate, any public servant. If one is not in the pension plan the medical coverage is not available in retirement. It cannot even be bought because one has to be a member of the plan. In that sense, I believe that the second principle, that all MPs should be treated equitably and equally as far as a pension plan goes, is also fulfilled in this proposal.

All MPs in my opinion should be in a pension plan. They should be eligible for insurance and medical coverage in old age. It should be available to all members of parliament. This bill will accomplish that. It puts us all in the pension plan whether we like it or not. It allows MPs to say to their loved ones, and I am thinking especially of those who are at retirement age, who have served the country outside parliament and have spent 10, 11 or 12 years in this place, that they will not be denied the right to buy medical coverage. To me, it was just not right to ask MPs to do that.

Frankly, I think we would have seen a different result had we even known that back when some of us opted out. The fact that we had no medical coverage and could not even buy medical coverage when we left here was not known. Nobody picked up on that. It was like the severance package. It was something we did not see when we went through the process the last time.

It is unfortunate that some of the MPs who are currently not in the pension plan will still not get any pension or benefits because public pressure or personal financial straits will not permit them to spend the $50,000 or $60,000 required to vest them in the plan. The unfortunate part of this is that some people very much need access to things like medical coverage and a pension plan of some sort. If they cannot scrape up the $50,000 or $60,000, and this is not crocodile tears and I do not expect any sympathy, it points to an unfortunate development that has happened for a variety of reasons.

The failure to offer that more modest plan recommended by the Blais commission and the steadfastness of some people to stay out of the plan means that even with the changes in this bill some people will leave this place and will receive no pension. That is the personal financial story they will find themselves in. They opted for that. They will not go home crying for sympathy but it is unfortunate that an important principle has been violated and some people will get no pension. That has never been the policy of either the Reform Party or the Canadian Alliance. All MPs should get a pension. It should be a fair pension and it should be decided by an independent committee.

As opposition House leader, I realize the conundrum MPs find themselves in tonight and over the next couple of days as we talk about this and vote on it. It will evoke little public sympathy. On both sides of the House, whether it is about a severance package, potential for a pension plan, will there be a pension plan, would an MP ever take the pension, all those discussions will evoke no sympathy, even if I were to ask for it, and I am not.

The public is very cynical about some of the things that go on in parliament. Some of that we brought to this place by trying to bring in changes especially initially to the 1993 plan. I reiterate one last time that the proper way to handle the remuneration package for members of parliament is to take it out of the hands of members of parliament and give it to an independent committee. It is proper only because we cannot win this debate. No one can win this debate.

If I have learned anything over the last seven years, no matter how we try to spin this story, people will say that we are voting on our own pension and we are voting on our own salary. No matter how we try to spin that differently, that is what it boils down to. It is one of those things that is an unsolvable issue unless it is given to someone who takes it out of the hands of MPs who will struggle tonight to find the right balance of what an MP is really worth and so on. In the end result, whether they vote yea or nay, they will be passing judgment on someone else's personal financial situation when that is better left to an independent body that can look at the big picture and take some of the political considerations out of it.

That is a recommendation of our party. It is a recommendation that I personally and heartily endorse. When we come to our next statutory review of what is a proper package for all members of parliament I hope that is how we handle it in this place. I hope we will say, not just in the spirit the House leader mentioned tonight, that we will take the partisan sniping out of it, realize we are all in this boat together, and give this issue to an outside body to decide it for us.

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the easiest thing to do at this point in the debate on Bill C-37 would be to start making a political issue.

The matter of the benefits, salary, pension and everything that concerns members of parliament has become such a sensitive matter, that every time the matter is raised, it distresses and discomfits parliamentarians to do so. They are embarrassed, intimidated and never know how it is going to be received.

Let us say right off, before anyone gets in a state because of this bill, that over 50% of the members of this House do not benefit from the bill before us. Over 50% of the members of this House have nothing to gain from this bill. Some 30% of members will an injustice affecting them corrected. For 20% of the members remaining, the bill forces parliament to apply the same plan and conditions for all those who already enjoy them.

The bill therefore corrects an injustice, requires parity for all and offers no additional advantage to most of the members of this House.

Among those members who are required to join in the famous MP pension plan like everyone else, let us not forget that, while some of them may benefit, namely those who are close to retirement age, a number of others will be penalized.

That is the case for my colleague, the hon. member for Témiscamingue, a young member of parliament who has been here for a number of years and who, based on elementary financial calculations, would be better off if he did not have to join in that pension plan. Over the years, so much was made of this extraordinary pension plan that, when it was reduced, they forgot to explain to all that it now allows members of parliament to retire at age 55.

But are there not thousands of public servants in Quebec, thousands of nurses, federal public servants and people across Canada who can retire at 55? It is the same for parliamentarians in this House.

Some make a big fuss because it is now automatic, because a member of parliament is automatically entitled to a pension after six years. But is it not 10 years for public servants? I have never heard anyone in Quebec—I am well aware of the situation in Quebec, because I myself was a member of the public service—for example a journalist say “Today, public servants who joined 10 years ago are entitled to their pension”. Yet, in the case of members of parliament, after six years—and when we look at the average career of the members of both groups we can understand the difference—people say that they are entitled to their pension.

Yes, as public servants are entitled to their pension after ten years, along with thousands of workers who have contributed ten years to a private pension fund, they are eligible but cannot draw it until age 55. It is the same thing for MPs.

The MPs pension fund is not what it used to be. It is very close to the public service pension, but slightly more advantageous for one very simple reason: the average career of an elected member—a matter I have already looked into—whether an MLA in Quebec or an MP in Ottawa, is around seven years, or one and one-half mandates.

We know very many, of course, who last for just one mandate, and others for two or a bit more, but the average time for an MP is seven years. Nevertheless, the retirement pension applicable to them must not be accessible to only about 30% of the total. We must not get carried away here.

The conditions are particular. Who else in society sees his job open to question every three or four years, who else has to go before his bosses or his customers to find out whether he can keep his job for another four years? There will always be differences for MPs. What seems to be just a slight positive difference as far as the number of years is concerned is a major inconvenience.

If we asked any public servant—and there are some here—if they would be interested in running for election every four years, provided their pension plan were altered slightly, we know very well that not a single one would say yes.

That said, this bill before us makes no change for most MPs, remedies an injustice for a certain number of them, and requires the rest to accept the same plan as everybody else. This is no big deal. This is not a coup that has been organized to take advantage of the end of a session in order to do something to benefit MPs, far from it.

It is a matter of justice, and this is my second point. In our society, everyone has protection at work, even those who work and are protected under minimum labour standards. I will speak of the case of Quebec, because I know it best.

In Quebec, those who are subject to the minimum labour standards are entitled to vacations when they lose their job. They are entitled to paid vacations. They are entitled to compensation when they have been in their job a period of time. It is understandable, no one can reasonably lose their job overnight and end up without a cent.

People have access to employment insurance, are protected under minimum labour standards and everyone has a transition allowance. Except in extremely difficult cases, and perhaps our society should correct them, the vast majority of people who lose their job are entitled to certain benefits: vacations, a separation allowance, certain severance pay and employment insurance for a year or nearly.

What about parliamentarians? Some, because of a discrepancy in the law, do not have this transition. Let us consider our colleagues, professionals, lawyers, doctors, engineers, people who left their office work and who tomorrow morning, because of elections, lose their job and do not have even a month's transition.

Among my colleagues on both sides of the House, there are 45-year-old fathers who have interrupted their career to serve one or two terms here in parliament. Because of a loophole, they could find themselves home tomorrow without employment insurance, severance pay, or anything, after two terms. These members would go back to their families with nothing.

Is it so scandalous to ensure that every member of the House gets six months of severance pay, i.e. $34,000 gross, or approximately $17,000 to $20,000 net, depending on individual situations? Is it a tragedy to give members somewhere between $17,000 and $20,000 to support their family for a few months while they find a new job? Of course not.

I am sure that those listening understand this. They know that, if they lose their job, they can collect EI benefits for 40, 45 weeks—perhaps a bit longer, I am not sure, depending on the region—but nobody wants anyone to lose everything overnight and have to rely on public charity to survive and support their family. It is therefore a matter of fairness and equity for parliamentarians in this House.

I will close by saying that the cost to society is ridiculous. We do not build the finances and the economic future of a country like Canada on the backs of 50 members of parliament who were penalized through a bill by mistake. No one would be proud if, following the next election, the Parliament of Canada had 20 or 25 of its members with no money and no job, simply because one day, when the pension plan was reduced, there was something missing in the act and some people were not covered by the six month severance pay, the transitional allowance.

I do not think that the taxes of the Canadians listening to us will go down by one quarter of one penny per year if we take action to avoid penalizing 50, 75 or 100 members of parliament.

It is easy to engage in demagoguery. Tomorrow, many people will talk about this. I am curious to see how they will do so. I know that some morning men in radio stations will say that the members of parliament voted themselves a generous severance package. But the fact is that these people earn three, four or five times the salary of the parliamentarians in this House. Yet, not one of them will mention that fact. Not one of them will say “I earn $300,000 per year. I make five times as much money as a member of parliament, but I object to parliamentarians voting themselves a six month transitional allowance, in case they lose an election”. We have to realize that some people will say such things.

There are journalists who will write about this. Some will do so correctly, they will look at the facts, but others will say that members of parliament voted themselves a generous benefit. Most journalists who work on the Hill have a salary equal to or higher than that of MPs. This has to be said. Society has the right to know how things are made difficult for certain individuals.

We are not talking about salary increases. We are not talking about giving rash benefits. We are talking about correcting something that needs correcting. While political rhetoric is easy, justice requires we proceed this way.

So, as of tomorrow or whenever the bill is passed, all parliamentarians in this House will have the same working conditions regardless of their political party and this is only right. When this bill is passed, all parliamentarians in this House will know that at least they will have a transition period of six months' salary to enable them to take a new direction and feed their family should they lose in an election.

This is no irresponsible benefit. Once we pass this bill, everyone in Canada, as well as in Quebec, all those watching us will know that parliamentarians did not give themselves more benefits. They simply corrected a terrible error that risked putting a few of our colleagues in a very difficult situation, were it not corrected.

I do not think that a good MP—for those watching us—closes his eyes to the need to respect others here. A good MP respects his colleagues, respects the duties of an MP and respects his fellow citizens for having risen and said “I think this makes good sense, I think this is just and fair”.

I very definitely support this bill, because it corrects a flagrant injustice. It does not cost a lot and it will save social costs, perhaps major ones for some of us, that would have benefited no one.

So I support the government on this. My party should support the government on this matter. It seems to me a simple matter of fairness, justice, honesty, candour and courage. I thank the government leader for introducing the bill.

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7 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I echo the sentiments of others, but perhaps for different reasons, when I say I take no pleasure in speaking to this bill because I for one associate the debate about the pensions of MPs with a great deal of unpleasantness, both personal and political.

This is the third such debate I have been in. I was here in 1981 when the pension plan that became so controversial in the early nineties was designed out of amendments that were made to the pension plan that existed before 1981. At that time in 1981 I voted against the amendments to the pension plan which involved not just changes to the pension plan but also a very significant raise in pay for members of parliament. However I have to say, even though I voted against that measure in 1981 and had my own criticisms and reservations on the plan, that I came to despise the way the plan was misrepresented for political purposes over forthcoming years.

I came to despise the way in which I constantly read in the newspaper and other places analyses of the pension plan which either implied or stated in bald faced misrepresentation that members of parliament qualified for lucrative pensions after only six years of service, when in fact what was true was that members of parliament who served for six years qualified, because it was a 15 year qualifying period, for six-fifteenths of a pension. Six-fifteenths times 75% times the average of the five best years service in the House is a long way from making the claim that members of parliament only have to serve six years and they can collect wonderful pensions. Yet I read this time and time and time again. I came to read it more often in the late eighties and early nineties as it became part of a political strategy on the part of a particular party.

The House leader of the official opposition said that he and his party favoured an independent commission to arrive at recommendations on how members of parliament should be remunerated. This has been the policy of the New Democratic Party since the beginning of time, to exaggerate the metaphor.

I say that because having that policy did not save us from the kind of criticism that came out of certain quarters. Having exactly the same policy as the House leader for the official opposition just advocated did not save us from the kind of criticism, both legitimate and illegitimate, both modest and extreme, that emanated from certain quarters in the late eighties and early nineties.

My leader at that time, Audrey McLaughlin, the former member for Yukon, was the first leader in the House of Commons to suggest that the pension plan ought to be reviewed with a view to addressing some of the things being said about it, but that did not save us from the kinds of criticisms being offered at that time.

While I will do my best to hold to the non-partisan tone that has been set or that some have tried to set, it is very hard to do because this pension issue has been a partisan issue. It has been employed for partisan purposes—

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7:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

People lost elections on it.

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7:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

I do not need the help of the hon. member. He should just let me talk. It was employed for partisan purposes and often in ways that I found quite unacceptable.

I was one of the people who was targeted in the literature of the Reform Party. I remember seeing my name in pamphlets as someone who was receiving a $1 million pension because I had the good fortune, or misfortune some might say, to be elected when I was 27 years old. They calculated everything I would receive from that year on and, because I was so much younger, there would be that much more distance between my age and when I was 75. It would all be added together, figured out through some kind of formula about indexing that would kick in when I was 60 and amount to this enormous sum. That was the sum put beside my name.

My children would come home from school and ask “Daddy, are we millionaires?” I asked them what they were talking about and they said “The kids at school are saying that you are a millionaire. They are saying that you get a million dollars. How come we don't see any signs of it?” It is hurtful to have those kinds of impressions left and to have those kinds of questions asked, yet that is the kind of thing that not just myself but others had to put up with.

I would certainly beg the indulgence of the House if hon. members can detect the difficulty I have in speaking to this issue. I do not mean this in an entirely partisan way, but I also have some satisfaction in speaking to this issue because I hope this legislation could bring to an end what I regard to be a very ugly chapter in Canadian politics. Members of parliament were played off against each other and this began to happen even within the parties that started it. I think this was the beginning of wisdom which led to this day and the legislation we now have before us.

All members of parliament will be in the plan, as it should be with pension plans generally speaking. No one will be able to exercise any kind of self-righteousness with respect to the other whether in the collective sense of one political party over another or in the individual sense of one MP over another. There is some room left for that in the way this works out because of the buyback provisions, et cetera.

I would echo the sentiments of the government House leader in hoping that it will not become the object of that sort of thing but that this will be something people will be left to decide individually, that their decisions will be respected but not regarded as cannon fodder for political rhetoric.

The opposition House leader verged on this. Perhaps this is what he meant to say when he said that this is no secret and there has been talk around the Hill. There has not just been talk around the Hill. There has been talk between the House leaders. What we have before us tonight is something that was negotiated. It is a product of cross-party or inter-party negotiation, whatever is the appropriate word. I have heard it said and some reporters even asked me today “Don't you think the government House leader has tried to outmanoeuvre Canadian Alliance members, former Reform Party members or what have you?” I said “No, that is not what is going on here”.

The first thing that had to be done out of fairness to all members who found themselves in the anomalous position that was created by the Reform of 1995 was to address the particular anomaly, something that was not noticed at the time. That had to be done anyway, but there was the second dimension of whether or not one more opportunity would be provided for members who had opted out of the plan in response to what I consider as the Prime Minister's bluff in 1995, but in some respects a bluff that was called by those members who opted out. Perhaps they were not sure who bluffed whom after it was over.

There was a need to give those members, a felt need, not on the part of other members but a debate in the minds of those of us who had been the object of this political strategy to ask why should we. Why should we allow them back in after all they said about the plan even after it was amended? There was a felt need to do that, particularly on the part of many members who had opted out, and that was made clear.

The end result was that the legislation reflects the fact that it is better for everyone, and particularly for those parties who have opted out members because we do not have any, if everyone went back in together rather than being vulnerable to the kind of not necessarily public political sniping that might go on but even the internal political sniping that might go on. What we have before us is an amendment that puts everybody into the plan and gives those who are able and willing an opportunity to buy back.

One could be tempted to say many other things. It is part of a process that we have seen on the part of my colleagues to the left, who came to this House without any institutional memory by definition. It was not their fault. They just did not have one. Therefore, they did not always understand the reason why certain things are the way they are.

This is a profoundly conservative argument I am going to make, but sometimes when we find things the way they are, sometimes there is a reason for it and it takes a number of years to find out or to appreciate why things are the way they are.

We have seen a lot of changes. The leader does not sit in the second row any more. They have critics. They do not belong to pods, or whatever it was that they belonged to when they first got here.

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7:15 p.m.

An hon. member


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Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

I think there was a group of critics that they called pods or envelopes or something.

They did not want to go on parliamentary trips. That was a bad thing too. Parliamentary trips are not a bad thing. They are part of our job here, trying to get to know people in other countries, in other parliaments and to be citizens of the world. I think they have come to appreciate that, which is a good thing.

There are other more political things that have happened, which I will not go into for fear of entering into a form of partisanship at a lesser level, like Stornoway and Ontario and what is happening with the new party and that sort of thing. Let us save that for a town hall meeting some night. Let us save that for the election. Let us save that for moments when we are not trying to do something that has to be done and do it in the most dignified way that we possibly can.

Having said all of that, I express the support of the New Democratic Party for this particular amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act and to the legislation having to do with pensions. We hope that we might be able to deal with this expeditiously, not because we have anything to fear and not because we have anything to hide, but because I am sure the Canadian public do not want us wasting any more time on this than is absolutely necessary.

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7:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I always am fascinated when listening to the NDP member for Winnipeg—Transcona. He has been around this place a long time, having been elected at a very young age. This is an issue about which we have spoken to each other in private as well, that is, the unfairness in terms of the public perception of the pension plan which the member mentioned in his speech.

The lady sitting next to me is probably one of the most famous politicians in the country. As an example of this so-called gold plated pension plan, this woman would have to live to be 117 years old, if in fact she were to reach that number. She is a woman who has spent most of her adult life serving the public and she would have a pension of about $20,000 a year. I have actually had people on the street talk to me about the member for Saint John and the pension she will get. The reality is that she will be looking at a pension of about $20,000 a year.

My question to the member is, how did this story spin totally out of control? How did we get to the point where now, on second sober thought and reflection, some members have to re-think their position?

I do not mean this member personally. I know that he is one who firmly believes that public servants, politicians and others working in the workplace should be rewarded for their service.

How did we reach the point that we brought public perception down to that level when it comes to talking about pensions for politicians?

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7:20 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, first I want to say how much all of us share the view that the hon. member for Saint John should live to be 117. However, we do not know if we want her to hold her seat that long.

The member makes a good point. He was asking me what went on in that time, which is not completely over, of misrepresenting political life and the perks that go with it. I was very hard on members of the Reform and Alliance earlier. It was not only them, it was also a general sense which they both contributed to and also played off of and exploited. The tragedy of it is, as politicians we do not want to be a closed club in which we defend our collective habits, come what may, no matter what. On the other hand, we all need to defend politics collectively because politics is the art of democracy. If we do not defend the democratic enterprise, if we do not defend the democratic task, if we engage either collectively or individually in calling that down and feeding public cynicism about it, then who will?

The member may not like this answer, but I personally feel that the extent to which the Conservative government created a lot of cynicism about politicians and politics, which was sometimes centred on the prime minister, was that this was part of the problem. From my point of view, I would like to see more decisions made here about Canada's public life rather than elsewhere, rather than in the corporate boardrooms or by trade bureaucrats or in the courts or by the first ministers or in all of the other places where decisions are now made that at one time would have been made here.

Everything we do collectively or individually to disparage this place for short term political gain is, in a way, an unprincipled attack on democracy. That is not say that we should not be critical or that we should not encourage public skepticism. Skepticism yes, but cynicism no; criticism yes, but exaggerated attack no. We have seen too much of the negative and not enough real reflection on how important it is to hold this place up, and not for our own sake. If we do it only for our own sake, then we do nothing. We hold it up because in so many ways this place is under attack.

There are many quarters in this country, both politically and non-politically, which take joy, which celebrate, which rejoice in the erosion of the power and the prestige of parliament. They would like decisions to be made somewhere else. We should all keep that in mind every time somebody sticks a microphone in our face and we are tempted to say things that perhaps we should not just to get on the news.

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7:20 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, one thing I always had a problem with, long before I ever became a politician, was the fact that a group of people might get together and accomplish a mission that sits before them and then draw their own package as to what they should earn, how they should be paid, et cetera.

I have believed for a long time that a totally independent body of people, made up of citizens of the country who are not affiliated with politics, who have never been members, who are genuine, hard-working taxpayers who expect a service from each of us, should be put together to settle this thing once and for all on behalf of all Canadian people, rather than us, through debate, determining our own fate.

I believe that with all my heart. I wish that would happen rather than any kind of debate or discussion or bills being presented in the House. I wonder how the member feels about that.

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7:25 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member. In fact, I think I began my remarks by saying that NDP policy for many years had been to have an independent commission. We do have commissions after every parliament, but they have been subject to criticism because they are commissions made up of former members of parliament. A cynical public will say “Yes, but they are guys from the club”. That is a legitimate point of view, and it can be a legitimate point of view without reflecting on the integrity or the objectivity of the people who have made up those commissions. It is just a fact that some, not all, but some members of the public will never trust the recommendations of former members of parliament.

Others have said that there should be a completely independent commission of people who do not come from parliament.

The interesting thing about that is—and I will say this by way of saying how complex this is—now that we have been members of parliament for a while, could we pull somebody in who has lived his or her entire life in the business world who could have an appreciation of what being a member of parliament is like, how different it is from so many other jobs? I assume it is very different. However, that is neither here nor there. The fact is, if we brought people in from the corporate sector and if the recommendation was that we be paid $150,000 a year or $200,000, we would have to live with it. It would have to be binding before they were given the mandate. Otherwise we would end up voting on whether to accept the recommendation and we would be right back in the same box we were in to begin with.

This box is not easy to get out of, unless we want to completely hand over judgment with respect to the remuneration of members of parliament to somebody, if we want to give up that responsibility. There may be members of the public who would say “Isn't that cute. You guys want to wash your hands of it altogether”. Then we would be criticized for who we appoint. “They appointed a bunch of high rollers from the corporate sector to determine this. Those people think that anything under $150,000 is peanuts. No wonder they appointed those guys”. If we appointed somebody else, they would have some other criticism to make.

We can all say everything that we said here today, but we should not be under any illusions that we are not going to get out of the world, this side of the kingdom, without these kinds of criticisms which will prevail.

I remember seeing in a bookstore a book of headlines from the last 100 years or so. I just happened to turn to 1905, to a headline about MP salaries. It comes with the territory.

We need to determine amongst ourselves what we think is fair either in terms of process or in terms of outcome and realize that no matter what we do there will always be a certain amount of public criticism.

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7:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, a recurring theme around this place is that only in the dying days of a session would a debate like this take place. I guess what is worrisome to some members, and I could refer to the House leader of the NDP who just spoke, is that much of this debate takes place among House leaders but individual members of parliament are not involved. In fact most of us in this place, with the exception of the House leaders and very few others, would have no idea of what is being debated today. It is brought in a fashion to allow the expedient passage of the changes to the members' pension plan.

What has to happen is that there has to be transparency, not only for the public but for members of parliament.

The hon. member from Nova Scotia next to me and I found a glitch in some of the numbers that are being presented as part of the package. There are some inequities that involve certain members of parliament, myself included.

If we are going to talk seriously about this, we must have some notice of what is on the table, what is being discussed. We are talking about individual members of parliament, their retirement packages and what their families or they themselves will be left with when they leave this House, provided they can leave this place alive.

I know we do not want to get into too much of the politics of this issue, but there is at least one party in the House that has swallowed itself whole on the pension issue. I am speaking about the Canadian Alliance party, formerly known as the Reform Party. Again, we are talking about goodwill and even personal goodwill from the reformers, if some of these inequities are going to be changed. One might say I am going to be shooting myself in the foot, because they are not going to show much generosity to me as an individual member of parliament if I cannot show it to them.

I want to put on the record how some of this stuff started and what their position was on the pension issue a few short years ago prior to the 1993 election. In fairness, many people come to this place not really knowing what the job entails. They come not knowing what sacrifices they make as individual members of parliament when they leave their jobs, their careers, their farms or their businesses behind. Many members of parliament do that.

We can argue that members of parliament are overpaid. We can say that I am personally overpaid or that other members are overpaid, but there are members on both sides of the House who are certainly working below what they would get in the private sector. We all know that. Many members made more in remuneration in their private lives than they are making as members of parliament. Sometimes we have good fortune in the marketplace and sometimes not as good, but on a yearly basis in terms of compensation, many members can certainly exceed what they are paid as members of parliament.

When they came to the House, many members did not realize they would be taking a pay cut, because what a member of parliament gets paid and what the pension will be all looks pretty good from the outside. That is the feeling of many members in what was then known as the Reform Party.

Mr. Speaker, I do not see any quotes here that are attributed to you. I think being a former businessman and understanding the pitfalls involved in the business of politics that you had pretty good idea of what you were getting into. Therefore, I do not think you were one of those who railed against the so-called pension scheme.

I want to quote the former leader of the Reform Party, the man who is now seeking the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. It is a quote from Preston Manning which I am reading from the Vancouver Sun of September 28.

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7:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Order, please. The hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest is well aware of the fact that we do not refer to sitting members by name, only by their position or riding.

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7:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am quoting from a newspaper article.

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7:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest is also quite aware of the fact that we do not bring in through the back door that which we cannot bring in through the front door.

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7:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

It is something like the pension plan. You cannot bring it in the front door, so you bring it in the back door. I think this is what the leader of the former Reform Party, the member for Calgary Southwest who is certainly seeking the leadership of the CA, was referring to and this is what he is quoted as saying in the September 28 edition of the Vancouver Sun :

The obscene [MP] pension scheme cannot be justified. The Reform Party is the only federal political party to consistently advocate a change in the MP pension plan in order to bring the benefits in line with private sector standards.

The present leader of the CA, the hon. member for Beaver River at the time, said this about the pension plan. This is from Hansard of November 22, 1994:

But this particular MP pension plan is a “scheme a dream” when you think about what has gone on in the last several years to make sure MPs look after themselves.

The hon. member for Macleod is quoted as saying:

I looked for a different way to say to those potential constituents of mine that I will not take the plan. I wrote in public a letter to my constituents: “I, Grant Hill, the Reform Party candidate for the Macleod riding—

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7:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Order, please. The hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest is very well aware of the fact that we do not refer to sitting members other than by their constituency or by their title.

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7:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Macleod stated:

I...the Reform Party candidate for the Macleod riding, do hereby state that I strongly oppose the current MP pension plan. I will not accept this pension if I become eligible for it and I will do everything that I can do to reform the plan and make it fair.

The former leader of the Reform Party who is now seeking the leadership of the CA, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest said:

It is the intention of Reform MPs to opt out of the MP pension plan. We call upon every other member of the House to do likewise. “Opt out or get out” will be the cry in the constituencies. It is a cry which must be respected if fairness and leadership by example and integrity are to be restored to Parliament and any budget it endorses.

That is typical of what the former leader of the Reform Party had to say. He basically said the same thing in terms of his limousine, “Here are the keys. Take it. I do not want it.” That was in 1993 when he first came to the House. He regretted making that decision because he eagerly took the keys to the limousine when he was re-elected in 1997 and he became Leader of the Official Opposition. To my knowledge he still has the limousine, the driver and the keys.

He said the same thing of Stornoway. Remember that one? He said that Stornoway was nothing more than a bingo parlour and that he would never live there. It would be obscene to think that the leader of the Reform Party would live at Stornoway at public expense. “I simply will not do it,” said the leader of the Reform Party, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest who is now seeking the leadership of the CA. However he is there and he is not holding any bingo games for charity. He is living there at public expense, which is what we would expect every leader of the opposition party to do. However, it was convenient at the time to rail about it. “I will not do it,” he said. Now he is doing it and he is entitled to do it but he railed against it until he got there.

It has been mentioned that he started out sitting in this place in the second or third row because he did not want to be a favourite or a star. He wanted to be a lonely MP and not lead the pack. It did not take him long to realize that if one is going to be a leader of a party in the House, then one sits in the front row and leads the attack on the government. It did not take him long to change his mind on that one.

It did not take him long to change his mind on the fact that his hairstyle might have been a little outdated. I cannot say the same thing because I do not have much anymore. He had a bit of a makeover in terms of hair and a dye job and all the rest of it, including a facial and voice lessons to make his voice sound better in the House of Commons. I would call those enormous flip-flops.

Not knowing how politics worked, they came into this place almost defying the House of Commons itself and the so-called professional politicians who are in Ottawa. It is like the west wants in and they are going to stick to their principles. The principles just went out the window. Now the principles are going to be watered down by this so-called broader base of support called the UA or the CA. The cry that the west wants in is going to be diminished because Ontario is going to take over the party. We will find out how lost or disoriented those members become once that happens, which will probably be on June 24 if my calendar is right. Those are major flip-flops and are the types of things that have to be considered when we look at this issue.

This issue was brought up in this place by the very party that defied pensions. Those members said they would never take them, that they would never opt in. Those members wanted out and in terms of the quotes, I could go on and on.

The leader of the CA party, formerly the Reform Party, said in the September 12 edition of the Vancouver Sun :

Canadians will know which MPs are greedy and which really care about taxpayers....Believe me, the voters won't soon forget those MPs who promised integrity in government but decided to `pig out' while the trough was still full.

Words can hardly describe that type of attitude in this place.

Now those people want the pension issue put to rest. And why would they not? They have suddenly realized that they have given up eight years of their career to sit here like we all do, knowing when they leave there is nothing for them or their families if something should happen to them, except for a bit of life insurance. I suppose it has been a hard lesson for them and that is one area with which I can sympathize. Maybe they were opposing it for the right reasons, but I do not know what they would be.

A certain sense of reality has set into the minds of many of those members since 1993 and the reality will be when they are done with politics. Most of us are done with politics beyond middle age because most of us do not come into this place at the age of 20 or 30. Some of us have had a career or two before we came here. In most cases this is basically ending our working career.

For those that leave businesses behind, there has to be a little bit of something there. The argument is that they are going to retire on a gold plated pension plan. As I mentioned in a previous intervention, under the existing plan, which will still exist after this debate and will not change but will allow the people who opted out to come back, the deputy leader of the Conservative Party and I would get all of $20,000 a year in a pension. How many times have we read in the newspaper about a million dollar pension for this MP or that MP? What the press and some politicians were doing in a case like that, including some Reformers at that time, was taking the worst case scenario or the best case scenario.

For example, they might point to the present Prime Minister who has been here since 1962, having come to this place when he was younger than 30 years of age, or the Deputy Prime Minister who has been here just about as long having been elected at the early age of 30. They extrapolate from that that he will live to age 90 after having served here 30 years. They use that as the example which fits all of us.

The truth is that most members in this place do not qualify for a pension. The life of a federal member of parliament, believe it or not, is equivalent to that of a pro football player. How long does a pro football player play in the NFL or the CFL? On average it is about four years. The average life of a member of parliament is just slightly higher than that but it is certainly less than six years. All the statistics will prove that.

The sad reality is that most members will leave this place without a pension, with nothing. Most people that leave this place usually go out feet first politically because most of us are defeated. There are a few of us that get defeated and have the opportunity or the privilege to come back into this place, but that is not the norm.

We are talking about some fairness on the part of those that oppose pensions for MPs and the media. Why do they not take as an example the member for Saint John, the deputy leader of our party, who has spent most of her adult life in public life? The only pension that she will have at the end of this term would be a pension of about $20,000 a year.

We do not fall into our seats in this place. Most of us have worked in our communities and have worked in other levels of government or behind the scenes of government as volunteers. We worked in our communities and left our homes and families behind to come to Ottawa. None of us believe in a gold-plated pension plan, but the truth is the public wants good people representing them.

If every safety net completely disappears in this place called Ottawa, good and worthy Canadians of standing in this place who represent their constituents will say they are not sure they want to drive or fly 3,000 miles a week to go to Ottawa, only to find out at the end of four years they are defeated and have nothing. At the end of six years they would have a measly $20,000 pension. The truth is in the private sector just about anyone in here could make more than that.

The truth is politics, and this should not happen, diminishes people's attractiveness to the private sector once they have been here. There are many exceptions to that rule and many people flourish after they leave politics. Those people are exceptions to the rule. At the end of an election when we are on the losing end we are not in high demand, believe me.

We have been saying all along that there has to be fairness and equity in the pension plan. If members want to opt in, my position is that they should be able to do so. If they do have to swallow themselves whole on this issue as the Reformers will have to do, let them do so. They have probably learned by their mistakes in terms of railing against it for so many years in this place.