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House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was park.

Topics

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, I wish I had the blue book with me. I believe it is about 25%, but he is asking for an absolute figure. If we are talking percentages we cannot give an absolute number because numbers in ridings continue to change.

I do not know, but maybe he is interested in recall because someone in his riding is planning to start a campaign against him, or something to that effect. He is afraid people are going to ask why he does not pay attention to the previous Reform Party policies so that they can get rid of him.

For me, it is no worry. Nobody is that unhappy with me as their member of parliament.

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10:30 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, the member of the Conservative Party brought forward the issue of recall in a way that he seems to think is somewhat threatening to us.

I would ask the member for Prince Albert directly, if this government were to bring in a bill tomorrow on recall, would he support that bill?

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Reform

Derrek Konrad Reform Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, that is a hypothetical question which does not require an answer, I am sure to say, because the government would never do such a thing. If the Canadian Alliance did it, yes, I would support it.

I rather doubt whether we would ever see such a piece of legislation coming from any other party in the House, but the answer is yes.

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10:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to make some remarks in the debate this evening. The course I will take in terms of the presentation I will make over the next number of minutes will reflect on the comments that I made in last night's debate. I will speak very much to the politics of this particular issue, more so than to the substance of it.

I think it would be wrong for me to stand and accuse members of the CA, the party formerly known as Reform, of being people without principles because I clearly know that is not the case. They are individuals who believe in their country and they want to make a better country.

The energy of the debate comes from the stunts, the antics, the rhetoric, the visceral attacks that members of the former Reform Party make against numerous members of parliament. I could refer to the Minister of the Environment. They chose to put that individual's picture on a billboard with one of Canada's most horrendous mass murderers to illustrate an issue with respect to the feint hope clause, section 745.

That was done not only by Reform candidates. To be fair, it was also done by a special interest group. The point is, no one deserves to be put on a billboard or to be subjected to that kind of tactic.

I can also point to the stunts they pulled on the House of Commons lawn, where they actually had replicas of pigs to represent parliamentarians feeding from the trough.

We also remember the stunts that they pulled with respect to giving away the keys to a car which was meant for the leader of a political party.

The hon. members for West Nova and Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough and I in my riding of Fundy—Royal like to play bingo. It is an institution that exists very much in rural Canada. I know that my constituents who have pensions play bingo. Bingo cannot be played in Stornoway, as the member for Calgary Southwest advocated, because it was not turned into a bingo parlour. It is now the home of the Leader of the Official Opposition. Reform members made a stunt out of it.

They also said that they did not need a chauffeur, but now the member for Edmonton North has a chauffeur driving her car. Those are the stunts and the language these members choose to use.

My comments are made in tribute to principled individuals who sat in the Progressive Conservative government between 1984 and 1993, individuals who lost their seats because they were attacked with that same kind of rhetoric. Some of these comments may be applicable today, but they would be against their own internal mechanism.

The member for Calgary Southeast commented in the Vancouver Sun that MPs who opt back in are liars or hypocrites. He went on to refer to one member of parliament who had opted in. He said that he had told the voters he was opting out and that he had broken his word.

The leader of the party formerly known as Reform said in September 1995 “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”.

It is this sort of visceral attack that actually precipitated a fair amount of the energy of the debate we have before us at this time.

On February 28, 1995 the former leader of the Reform Party stated “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”. Those comments were made by the member for Calgary Southwest.

What are the big picture issues that Canadians are concerned about? They are concerned about the fact that we still have a $600 billion national debt. We owe it to every young person and future generations to pay down the national debt in a very deliberate way.

We also owe it to the Canadian economy so that we can maintain our place in the world. We must address the fact that we have the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world as a percentage of our economy and the highest personal income tax rates.

Those are the issues Canadians want us to talk about in this place. Instead, time and time again we have ratcheted up the rhetoric using the kinds of quotes I just read. They are very visceral attacks made in the course of campaigns for crass political gain. That is the issue that we have before us.

A few weeks ago in my riding the member for Edmonton North said “We are going to send the member for Saint John, the member for New Brunswick Southwest and the member for Fundy—Royal home after the next election whether they receive their pension or not”. The fact is, there is not one poll to substantiate the fact that they would even have one iota of a chance of winning a seat in Atlantic Canada. The point is, they were still willing to use the pension card only a few days ago.

I was very happy to celebrate my nomination, at which there was a very articulate speaker. Bernard Lord is one of the youngest and most dynamic leaders that we have in this country. As the Premier of New Brunswick he has done some very special things in his first year in government. He has been able to lower taxes, balance the budget and put more money into priorities such as health care and education.

I am very pleased that he had a chance to speak at that nomination meeting, which was attended by 300 people. All eight MLAs were either there in person or sent letters of endorsement. A couple of cabinet ministers attended. More importantly, 300 grassroots members came to support and endorse that campaign.

I want to pay tribute to my president, Glen Baxter, whom I regard as one of the strongest presidents of any political party in the country, for putting together such a positive event.

What that illustrates is that with all eight riding associations supporting my campaign provincially, all eight MLAs, we know that we will be very strong in the riding of Fundy—Royal the next time around.

The debate that we have before us today gives us a chance to illustrate the stunts of sombrero dances against the Senate, visceral attacks against a great Albertan, Ron Ghitter, the stunts with respect to the car, Stornoway, the pension plan and the changing of the party name.

All of these stunts come down to one issue. I refer to the comment which came from across the way from the parliamentary secretary for heritage. He said that they were going to do politics differently, in a more mature fashion. What Canadians have witnessed on numerous occasions over these last seven years has been exactly the opposite.

I will not taint all members of the Canadian Alliance or Reform, but the fact is, that is what they did. They assailed our leaders. They assailed people like Brian Mulroney, who was the prime minister between 1984 and 1993.

They were very quick to point out that the economy was in a worldwide downturn, but they went at it as if we were the only country not to have a balanced budget during that era. Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative. She had some of the same challenges in Great Britain. I do not know if they would attack Ronald Reagan or George Bush in the same way, but they faced the same challenges over that timeframe.

They forget to comment on the fact that the Progressive Conservative Party from 1984 to 1993 was indeed a prosperity builder. It was able to upgrade our trade with the Americans from around $100 billion each and every year to over $320 billion. That is why we have growth in our economy today.

Those are the issues that Canadians need to hear and talk about. That is the legacy that we need to point out. The debate comes down to one issue: the visceral attacks, almost hatred, being uttered by so many of those members.

I will not repeat the comments that were uttered time and time again in yesterday's debate. But we should probably take the lead from the House leader of the Canadian Alliance when he said, “We have no one to blame for this but ourselves. This is a bit of a dilemma of our own making. Let us not kid ourselves”. My comment to the members of the alliance is if they sincerely want to do politics differently, if they sincerely want to build a broader coalition of conservative voters, they have to do one thing and that is to tell the truth and apologize for the stunts and the antics which they performed.

The Progressive Conservative Party has taken the time to speak here tonight to point out the hypocrisy that was demonstrated by those members. A good number of them are now choosing to participate in the pension plan. I do not begrudge them believing they should have some kind of compensatory regime upon retirement. I will even tip my hat and say that the pension plan is more palatable to Canadians currently because we cannot collect it until we are 55, that of the amount of contribution dollars required there is a higher input from members than from the taxpayer. I will tip my hat to the Canadian Alliance for helping moving the yardstick and helping to correct the issue.

But the issue of concern here is that they have an awful lot of crow to eat. There is the pensions, the bingo hall, the car keys, the chauffeur. In the election of 2000 or 2001 the voters will remember this issue more than anybody can imagine.

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10:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, I might suggest coming from a House leader, I think we could probably wind up this debate. I want to make a few comments to capsulize what we have been saying with regard to Bill C-37.

To remind people who may be channel surfing and watching this ordeal, Bill C-37 is an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. Being a former educator, I think it is important to lay out what the debate is all about in such a fashion that the Canadian viewers understand. From time to time we tend to get off track to make our point and I am no exception.

This bill will allow members of parliament who opted out of the pension plan to get back in. This is the third go around for what was formerly known as the Reform Party. Those members have basically swallowed themselves whole. I have used that expression a couple of times tonight.

Members of that party, as my hon. friend mentioned, railed against pensions for years until they came to this place. Many of them got elected on that issue. There are other issues and we concede that, but many of them got elected on that issue because it was a popular thing to say, only to find out that once they were here it does put limitations on what they can do back home in terms of a business and what they can do in the future when they leave this place. They have suddenly realized they might need it. They actually conceded that last night in the debate.

How this was brought about was there were secret meetings on this issue between the House leader of the Canadian Alliance, formerly known as the Reform Party, and the government House leader. They did it behind closed doors. They were pressured by members of the Canadian Alliance to do something about the state of their pensions because obviously they had since found out that they may need a little bit of a safety net when they leave this place, understandably. They had to do it in such a fashion that it would not appear that they were pushing that agenda. They were pretty clever at it. They almost succeeded until our party decided to rail against it and vote against it, which we did.

Whatever twisted logic the CA wants to use in terms of our position, it just ain't going to work. The fact is we will vote against the bill in the way in which it was brought about. It was brought about by secret meetings between the House leader of the former Reform Party and the government House leader.

The National Post tells it just about as well as anybody else in its June 13, 2000 edition. That would be today's, almost yesterday's edition by now. The headline reads, “Grit pension plan ploy divides alliance” and goes on to say, “Bill prompts party to drop hardline stance against system it has often attacked”. Our House leader often refers to the National Post as the Reform Party daily bugle, I guess with a little sense of humour to be fair. This capsulizes what we are talking about tonight. That is why we have been up on our feet so much on this. The National Post article said:

The pension bill, introduced in the dying days of Parliament's spring session, also allows dozens of Alliance MPs who were elected as Reformers in 1993 to “buy back” years of forgone contributions to the plan. The party which once threatened MPs with punishment for joining the plan has apparently dropped its opposition. Its MPs agreed to give unanimous consent to the tabling of the legislation last night, which ensures its speedy passage through the House of Commons before Parliament's spring session ends this week.

They did exactly that. They gave unanimous consent to push the bill through the House truly without debate. They did not want a debate on it. They did not want to vote on it. They did not want members to express their feelings on it, as we are doing tonight. I would say it was a conspiracy of silence on their part. They simply wanted to slide it through in the dying days of this session, which in fact they have done on a couple of occasions, pressuring the government to do so.

The government has a legitimate interest in this as well. We do not want to deny that. But the fact is that MPs were left outside of the process. Again this is to educate the people back home. Hopefully as the final speaker we can get a sense of what is actually happening. We will not deviate onto the national debt and past history.

The bill was laid on the desks of members of parliament one-half hour before we came into this place last night. That rarely happens unless the government is trying to push something through quickly without debate. That is what it is attempting to do with the help of the Reform Party. There was unanimous consent to push it through, ram it through.

The bill is complex. Tonight in the House of Commons the minister responsible for this bill, the hon. government House leader, who is still here with us to give him credit, had three officials with him, three technical advisers to explain to him what the bill is about if he got questions from the floor of the House of Commons.

This bill was laid on our desks one-half hour before it was debated. There was no opportunity to review it or to get any kind of consultation or advice on it. The House leader tonight had the audacity to say, “We are going to pass this bill and you people will have an opportunity to ask these officials exactly what you want to know about it. Let us get it through the House of Commons”. That is truly what he said tonight, let us get it through the House of Commons.

I am going to quote from the bill, just to give an idea of how complex it is. We have to go back into a lot of past history and bills that preceded this to truly understand it. I am reading from page 1 of the bill. Listen to this:

Section 1(1)(70)(4) of the Parliament of Canada Act is replaced by the following:

(4) Subject to subsections (4.1) and (5), the severance allowance to be paid to or in respect of a person under subsection (1) or (2) shall be a lump sum amount equal to 50% of the aggregate of

(a) the sessional allowance under section 55;

(b) any salary or allowance under section 60, 61 or 62 of this act or section 4 or 5 of the Salaries Act.

That tells us exactly the complexity of this bill. And it was laid on the desk of every member of parliament minutes before it was going to be introduced and debated. They did not want debate. We have to remember that. They did not want debate on this issue.

What has to be known when this bill is read is that the Reformers are now in the pension plan. They have achieved exactly what they wanted to do. They have done it by stealth.

Last night the Canadian Alliance House leader spoke in this House. To quote from the Hansard of Monday, June 12, he said, “We have to vote on this issue”. He was talking about the bill in question here.

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

That is the member for Fraser Valley who happens to be the House leader for the Canadian Alliance. He went on to say:

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.

He went on to talk about the Blais commission.

The National Post actually picked up on part of what he had to say. He is basically saying they railed against this in 1993; they railed against it for almost 10 years, actually long before 1993 leading up to the 1993 election. The House leader of the Canadian Alliance, the member for Fraser Valley said, “We have no one to blame for this but ourselves. This is a bit of a dilemma of our own making”. Imagine. He was being quite modest, “This is a bit of a dilemma of our own making. Let us not kid ourselves”.

He got up in the House tonight and 24 hours has given him enough time to spin his story. As the member for Winnipeg—Transcona said tonight, it is almost unbelievable that the same House leader of the Canadian Alliance allowed his party to give unanimous consent to push this bill through without debate.

Now, after 24 hours of reflection and probably getting some calls from back home, he has completely flip-flopped on his position. It has basically allowed him to massage the message that he was giving last night. Although every one of them unanimously consented to ram the legislation through the House, they stood in their places tonight and voted against it. They want to have the best of both worlds.

I have received a note from my House leader which says that Reformers are in an suspended existence of purgatory, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: what they said to get elected and what they truly want and desire. They now walk softly and avoid the big stick with which they like to club other members of the House. That is pretty good humour, but does it not tell the whole story about exactly what they are attempting to do.

That pretty well winds it up from our point of view. They truly have swallowed themselves whole. That is the long and the short of it. I think the Canadian people have basically figured them out. They have attempted everything. We have talked about some of the things they have attempted to do in terms of watering down their policies, trying to broaden the base of their party, changing the name of their party, and so on and so forth. We could go on and on forever on some of the things they have attempted to do.

The truth is they wanted this to slide through the House in the dying days of this session without any opposition. They conspired secretly with the House leader of the Liberal Party to make this happen. In terms of the cynicism that is sometimes expressed about the way this place works, that is living proof of it. The House leader of the government does not have a lot to be proud of. Certainly the House leader of the CA has nothing much to brag about on the particular bill. It is a sad day for parliament when we see a display of arrogance like we have seen in the last couple of days. On that note, I rest my case.

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11 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a few comments to make and hopefully the hon. member will keep his comments short. I know a couple of my colleagues would like to have some time during the 10 minute question and comment to make some comments about the hon. member's intervention. He raised a number of issues during his intervention. If I can understand where he was going with it, one was—

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

An hon. member

He wasn't going anywhere.

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11 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

One of my colleagues says “He wasn't going anywhere”. During the committee of whole process he said that he did not have an opportunity to direct questions to the officials or to the hon. government House leader. Anybody who has been watching the debate tonight at home and anybody who has been participating in the Chamber knows that is rubbish, as one of my colleagues said. The hon. member used the majority of that time.

We had one hour in committee of the whole during which opposition members and members of the government could ask questions pertaining to the bill of the minister responsible, in this case the government House leader, and the officials he has asked to be present. The hon. member used 20 minutes or 25 minutes of that time to rant and rail against the Canadian Alliance. Anybody watching the debate saw that. He had lots of time to put questions to the officials or to the government House leader, yet he chose not to do so. That is the first fallacy in what he stated.

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11 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. When bills are brought forth in the House they are normally sent to a parliamentary committee where they are scrutinized and Canadians participate, as opposed to being sent to committee of the whole.

Parliament Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid the hon. member is into debate right now.

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11:05 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, as you correctly pointed out, even though it is eleven o'clock at night that certainly was not a point of order. The hon. member knew it before he rose in his place.

The second assertion of the hon. member from New Brunswick was that somehow my House leader, the member for Fraser Valley, and the Canadian Alliance had an opportunity to spin their story. Let us look at who is spinning what story.

The hon. member represents a party that had a massive majority government between the years 1984 and 1993. If I am not mistaken, the father of his House leader, the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, was a member of that government for a portion of that time as a cabinet minister. These individuals in the Progressive Conservative caucus are somehow trying to point the finger during this debate. They had a majority government for nine years. At that time they promised the Canadian people a privatized pension plan like those used by other Canadians. They had a massive majority government for nine years and did nothing to change the MP pension plan.

Since we were elected in 1993 we have tried for seven years to bring about changes to this plan, and we are in opposition. We have tried everything we can including opting out of the plan to draw public attention to what we believe is an unfair plan. We have tried to get changes that we all can participate in. We have tried to get a plan that we can all participate in, hold our heads up, look at ourselves in the mirror, and participate in.

The Progressive Conservatives were in government between 1984 and 1993. They had a massive majority, indeed the largest majority in Canadian history. They had 212 of the 285 seats and they never changed the pension plan. They have the audacity to stand and attack others who have tried to change it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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11:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, I hate to say it but I think I am getting under the hon. member's skin. I certainly would not want to do that. This is the famous old bait and switch tactic. He wants to get us off the topic. The truth is that they are attempting to spin their story and they are not succeeding. The truth is they conspired with the government House leader to sneak the bill into the House of Commons in the dying days of this session. That is what they attempted to do and they will not get away with it.

The reason for that is pretty simple. Now that they are going into an election they realize they have been here long enough to be pensionable. Most of them have been here at least six or seven, going on eight years. They realize they need a little safety net for themselves. They are saying they may not run as Reformers so they do not really care.

All they want is to get locked into a pension in some fashion even though they railed against it for the two terms they have been here. When they leave, when they wave goodbye as one of them is doing now, they will have the golden parachute, the thing they railed against.

That is what is getting under their skin. They have truly flip-flopped on this issue as they have on every other issue including changing the name of the party. They went from being a party that would bring in the west. Its rallying cry was that it would let the west into this thing called Confederation because the west wanted in.

Now that they are courting with Bay Street, the big blue machine in Ontario and Tom Long. They risk losing their party to the very people they railed against. They are going from a western based party to a Bay Street party, from a populous party to a corporate board party.

In the meantime they will do whatever they have to do to land on their feet back home. If it means a safety net that is fine. They might have railed against it, but the fact is that is what they want and that is what they will get. They conspired with the government to move this through the House very quietly, very silently. Unfortunately some of us stood up on our hind legs and railed against exactly that type of manoeuvring.

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11:10 p.m.

Reform

Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The hon. member from New Brunswick Southwest knows that his House leader was involved in those discussions.

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11:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I do not believe that is a point of order.

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11:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, that is rhetorical nonsense and he knows it. Again he is attempting to find a scapegoat as they normally attempt to do on any issue they are not comfortable with. The truth of the matter is that his House leader conspired in secret with the House leader of the government to bring their members into a pension plan which they railed against for 10 years of their elected life. That is the sad reality.

We are talking about a simple plan that no other member of parliament including House leaders were involved in. We have always made pretty clear where we stand on pensions, as do the NDP and for the most part the Liberals. They conspired with the House leader of the government to bring this about very quietly in the dying days of this session of parliament.

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11:10 p.m.

Reform

Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like you to rule on whether the term that the hon. member used is parliamentary. I do not believe you will find that it is. He is saying that the alliance conspired.

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11:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

After researching in our reference book the word is not considered unparliamentary, especially in that context.

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11:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, that was a great ruling and I appreciate it. I just want to remind the House of one thing. CA members said that they would never take a pension, that pigs would fly first. All I can say is that there is a lot of pork in the air tonight.

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11:10 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to rise to debate Bill C-37 at third reading. It is a matter of great concern to me and has been for some time.

I want to mention that the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands suggested during his remarks that the bill represented a carcass which is being dug up for the third time by a dog. He asked me to correct the record on his behalf and suggest that it was a herd of pigs which was digging up this carcass for the third time, or hogs as the case may be.

This is a serious matter and it rests with a very basic principle that ought to govern our affairs, the simple principle of fairness.

It is fairly well known in these environs that I have a long, outspoken record on this issue as former president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough earlier suggested that in fact it was the reform party that was responsible for making issues, such as extraordinarily generous parliamentary perks and pensions, issues in the past. No. I think that citizens advocacy organizations, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, can take the lion's share of the credit for having amplified public concern about the double standard to which parliamentarians here and in the provincial legislatures had begun to treat themselves through the 1980s.

Let us just revisit the history because we have heard various comments from various shrill members of the regional fringe party to my extreme left, the fifth party. We have heard all sorts of huing and crying this evening about the parliamentary pension plan. In that process, I have not heard a single word of contrition or humility from that party which was reduced to two seats, in large part because of the overstuffed attitude and arrogance of its former government, which was typified by its unrelenting defence of a then platinum-plated pension plan that provided pensions of $6.50 for every dollar provided by the parliamentarian.

Those members seemed to have remembered everything but to have learned nothing from their experience in government. One of the things they seem to have forgotten is that Canadians were disgusted with the party that refused to accept the simple principle of fairness. I have heard them stand in this place all night long and criticize this party and Canadians for wanting a fair pension plan that operates on a self-funding, dollar for dollar, actuarially sound basis.

The history of this is that before the early 1970s there was no pension remuneration for members of parliament. I hear some defenders of the status quo ante often say that if we do not provide super rich benefits far in addition to what one could expect in the private sector, that we will not be able to attract high calibre parliamentarians.

I think most Canadians would suspect that before the days of great largesse, in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, before the gold-plated pension plan was introduced, we had some pretty sound public servants working in this Chamber on behalf of Canadians. To suggest that these benefits, at the levels introduced in the 1980s, are necessary to attract talent, I think is rather specious. In fact, there seems to be a direct inverse relationship between the generosity of pension benefits and the quality of members of parliament.

It was in the early 1980s that the then Liberal government introduced a pension plan with a 5% accrual rate at its maximum generosity. It was shortly thereafter that we had nearly 200 Tory members of parliament in this place, supposedly attracted by that generous benefit, who decided to double the country's national debt, double federal spending, increase taxes 72 times and help bring about the longest and most painful recession in post-depression history. Boy, did we not get our money's worth by juicing up those benefits to attract those Tories to this place, benefits for which they still shamelessly apologize?

I am proud to say that members of the former Reform Party stood on principle in the lead-up to the 1993 election and thereafter by the principle of fairness when they said, as we do today in the Canadian Alliance, that members of parliament and public servants ought not to be given access to benefits, pensions or remuneration that is any more generous than what is available to ordinary working Canadians. That is a very simple principle. It ought not to be difficult to understand but it seems to be for the regional party on my extreme left.

I want to point out that what the Canadian Alliance policy stands for is to allow an independent commission to determine the compensation for members of parliament so that it removes us from this intolerable conflict in which we are placed every time a bill such as this is brought before the House of Commons.

In fact, we see that virtually every province has undergone a major overhaul of their compensation packages for MLAs, MPPs, MNAs and so forth. For instance, the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario and, I believe, New Brunswick have all trashed their old, gold-plated, unfunded, actuarially unsound, taxpayer subsidized pension plans and replaced them with what our party has long advocated, which is a simple dollar for dollar, actuarially sound, money purchase style pension plan, the kind of plan available to all Canadians.

What does the current plan do that this legislation maintains? It creates and perpetuates a defined benefit pension plan that provides for benefits far in excess of what the MP contributions plus matching government contributions could possibly fund. It is a recipe for an unfunded, future liability, otherwise known as a taxpayer IOU, an IOU which will be picked up by future taxpayers. How does it do this? It does this because it has in it a 4% benefit accrual rate.

The members of the regional party on my left do not seem to understand how this pension operates. In fact, I heard the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough completely disingenuously and shamelessly suggest that the one time severance package brought in in the last legislation was somehow comparable to the generous benefits under the current pension plan before us this evening. That is totally facetious and completely inaccurate.

This is a 4% benefit accrual rate. What does that mean? That is a technical term, so let me explain it. The Income Tax Act of Canada has certain limits for what constitute registered pension plans. Registered pension plans are those to which contributions by employers and employees are tax deductible. There is a certain maximum that the Income Tax Act creates in terms of the generosity for registered pension plans. The maximum benefit accrual rate under the Income Tax Act is 2%. This is a 4% plan. In other words, the benefits are twice as rich as the income tax allows.

The Tories love it. We hear them rushing to the defence of that system. Fortunately, because of the efforts of my colleagues in this party and the Reform Party in the last parliament, the benefits were slightly modified from a 5% accrual rate to a 4% accrual rate and certain other peripheral changes occurred, such as an increase of the age of vesting to 55 and a certain restriction on the practice known as double dipping.

By and large, this plan is not an actuarially sound plan. It is a plan that is available to fewer than 2% of Canadians. In fact, it is so extraordinarily generous that the government in this legislation must actually go outside of the Income Tax Act to top up the contributions that are not tax deductible. This is essentially twice as generous as the average defined benefit plan available to Canadians in the private sector.

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Reform

Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

By law.

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Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, by law. The legislatures of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and other provinces looked at these unfunded, actuarially unsound pensions and they decided that they would bring in the same fair dollar for dollar money contribution plans that would be fully funded. Guess what they did?

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Liberal

Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mike Harris got $1 million when they closed that pension plan.

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Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

They trashed the defined benefit plan and introduced a defined contribution plan.

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Liberal

Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Ernie Eves got $850,000. You are full of nonsense.

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Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

The member across the floor points out that the members of the Ontario legislature, in the process of converting from a gold-plated, defined benefit pension plan to a self-funding defined contribution plan, received a certain lump sum payment to be invested into an annuity. He is absolutely right. They invested that money into an annuity and the money that went into that annuity is a fraction of the defined benefits they would have been paid through the unfunded liability. Mike Harris did what was fiscally responsible.

I wish the members of the regional party on my extreme left would follow the example of Mike Harris or Gary Filmon on this issue, or of Ralph Klein who followed the leadership of the reform party in moderating these benefits and putting them on the same level that average Canadians expect and anticipate. Yes, they got an annuity, the annuity being a fraction of the benefits that would have been paid to them under the old status quo ante.

The point that we raise here is one of simple fairness. Why could we not simply have introduced and passed in legislation the recommendations of the Blais Commission. Honest, hardworking Canadians volunteered, such as a former colleague, Ray Speaker, to sit on the Blais Commission, look at parliamentary compensation and determine what would be fair by analyzing the workload and responsibilities of members of parliament and senators and comparing those responsibilities to compensation packages in the private sector.

The commission came up with some very sensible recommendations, first among which was to take the defined benefit plan we have now, the actuarially unsound plan, and convert it into a self-funding, dollar for dollar, standard pension plan, the type of which has been adopted in Ontario and several other provinces. That was the Blais Commission's recommendation.

This government, instead of accepting the recommendations of that hardworking, thoughtful and objective independent commission, decided that it was going to continue with the status quo. Incidentally, that commission also recommended that we eliminate the completely odious practice of allowing MPs to hide a portion of their income and shelter it from taxes. Elected officials, alone amongst Canadians, are allowed, through a special provision in the Income Tax Act, to exempt one-third of their ordinary income from the same taxes that we impose upon Canadians.

I have a private member's bill that would eliminate the so-called tax free expense allowances which, of course, are effectively a proportion of our salary, and make that money fully taxable. This would create full transparency so that Canadian taxpayers could see what they are actually paying their members of parliament.

The Blais Commission made the same recommendation that we eliminate the tax free status proportion of our income and gross it up for full transparency. However, again the government decided it did not want Canadians to see what we are actually being paid. It does not want Canadians to see that the $21,000 tax free allowance is actually worth about 40,000 pre-tax gross dollars. It does not want Canadians to see that so it ignored the recommendations of the Blais Commission on issue after issue.

Why does the government continue to put us in this conflict of interest position? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

I voted against this bill at second reading because it fails to implement the recommendations of the Blais Commission. It fails to live up to the spirit of fairness that has swept the legislatures of this country which have reformed their legislative compensation packages. It also fails to simply respect the basic principle of fairness.

I want to make it absolutely clear, as a former president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and somebody who has raised the issue of fairness, that I for one have never advocated that parliamentarians or legislators in Canada ought to have no retirement benefits. Quite to the contrary.

I remember appearing before committees in this place in the last parliament as a lay witness and suggesting the kind of pension plan that Canadians would accept, the sort that has been adopted by the various provincial legislatures, a defined contribution, completely actuarially sound pension.

I never suggested as president of that organization that any member of parliament be required to opt out of the pension plan. In fact, we never asked for an opting out provision. I want to make it clear that those who have been fighting for fairness in MP compensation have been fighting for reasonable fairness. They have not been fighting for a double standard where MPs of one party would be set at a disadvantage compared to MPs of another party. We think MPs of all parties should have the same standard as all Canadians, and that is what this debate is about.

I can understand why my colleagues in the fifth party are shrill. After all, they are not only fifth in number of seats but I think they are now fifth in the public opinion polls. They are sad and tired with a retread leader from the 1970s who cannot even figure out whether or not he wants to run in a byelection,

It has been postulated to me by members of the PC Party that one of the reasons their leader will not run for election to this place is that is he is receiving very generous pension plan benefits right now, whilst at the same time receiving from his party a compensation package equivalent to that of the leader of his party in this place. Talk about double dipping.

These shameless advocates of the old status quo have learned absolutely nothing. Their leader will not run, in part because he is getting that very generous pension and a very generous salary from his debt ridden party. Is it not interesting that the party which doubled the national debt, which ran the longest and largest string of deficits in Canadian history but never apologized for it, all the while defending a six to one parliamentary pension plan, should now have for a leader a man who continues to collect that pension plan and a generous salary from a party that is in as much debt as it put the country in?

What a delicious irony. They have learned absolutely nothing. The shrill partisan squawking we hear from that extreme and narrow fringe of Canadian politics will continue. I think that they should do themselves and this place a favour. I would be willing to exempt my principles on the question of euthanasia because I would like to see that party die a dignified death.

What we see before us now is anything but dignified, as the Conservatives continue to apologize for the grandiosity and the pomposity of the regime which they represented and the six to one pension plan which Canadians have said enough about.

I am proud of my colleagues for having taken a stand on this issue, for having forced the moderation of these benefits. I look forward to the day when we sit on the other side and one of the very first pieces of legislation we introduce will be to institute an independent commission, which I fully anticipate will come back with recommendations to create a self-funding, actuarially sound pension plan.