Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to third reading of this bill. As I mentioned last night, I still have the feeling of unease as anyone does when talking about one's own salary and trying to justify one's self-worth.
As the House leader has already mentioned, at times we have to get up on our hind legs and do such a thing. Tonight is one of those moments when we must talk about something that is very personal. Different members of parliament finds themselves with different financial needs in different stages of their lives and careers. That is to be acknowledged.
I wish to address two or three points. There is not much doubt the House leader of the NDP was referring to me when he said he did not feel I should vote against the bill when I did this afternoon. He was offended by that. I should like to speak briefly on the principle I was trying to follow.
I have been absolutely consistent when speaking in the House, in what I have written in papers, and what I have said in scrums outside the House. I have admitted that the issue being addressed by the NDP House leader is in large part a problem of our own making. I have said that before. I will say it again.
I understand that by making the MP pension plan as big an issue as we did back in 1993 we are held to a different standard than everyone else in this place. I understand that. I understand we have taken some political heat. There has been a good discussion down at the far end of this place about that this evening. However I still maintain that by holding our ground, especially in 1993, important changes were made to the old pension plan.
People started to consider what is fair to the taxpayers of Canada as part of the equation. That was an important change. It was a change that would not have happened unless people forcibly made remuneration and the pension issues in the 1993 election. That is just a fact. I do not apologize for it. It had to be done. It was done with a lot of passion, and some changes were made.
The fact that changes were made opens the door. The fact that we are on our third different pension bill since I have been elected to parliament means that change will be possible down the road. This deal is not set in concrete. It will be reviewed again after the next parliament. There is a statutory requirement to review it. The government has a requirement to appoint an independent commission as it did last time. Parts of such commission reports deal with public perception and the public expectations in terms of pensions for MPs. I hope the recommendations, whatever they are, will be adopted by the House. It takes the kind of debate we are having tonight out of the parliamentary area.
As I have said in scrums, as I have said here and as I would say anywhere, it is too difficult for members of parliament to say to everybody that this is what they will pay themselves out of taxpayers' pockets. If as MPs we say that we are worth $70,000 per year, someone might say we are greedy, self-righteous or hypocritical. Whatever members might say they cannot fight. They cannot win the debate. The debate is always slanted by the audience that wants to hear the message.
There is a better way to do it in the future, and I am hopeful it can be done that way. We have seen three changes in less than seven years. The last change is not so much about the content but about the way we handle it. I still believe there is a better way to do it. We would not be having this debate tonight had the Blais commission report been adopted in its entirety. That would have been a much better outcome, but that was not to happen and we have to deal with it. We have to play the cards that are dealt to us.
I reiterate that the policy of this party has always been that members of parliament deserve a pension. It was the Reform Party's policy previous to the Canadian Alliance. The Canadian Alliance policy is that members of parliament should get a pension plan. That has never been in dispute.
One good thing about the bill is that the debate in the future will no longer be whether MPs get a pension. We have turned a page. There will still be a debate on what kind of pension MPs should get, which is the proper debate. The public will engage in it. The National Citizens' Coalition is sure to give us a pound or two in the next while. Others will get into it. That is fine because a debate on what kind of pension is appropriate. That is fine enough question and a fine enough debate.
The mistake, if there was one made or at least the impression that was left at one time, was that some MPs do not deserve a pension. That double standard was wrong. If people think I am coughing up crow feathers, or whatever it is I have to do, I just say the debate should have never been about whether some MPs should receive any pension at all. All MPs should receive a pension. We have said that. It has been our policy.
There was an honest attempt and effective pressure was brought on the government to change the pension plan. Part of that effectiveness unfortunately was that some members of parliament received no pension. It was part of a pressure tactic, part of of an effort to bring in changes and to bring in the recommendations of the Blais commission. That tactic was taken to pressure the government. It was somewhat effective, but the mistake in the end result was that some MPs were told they would receive nothing for the rest of their lives, whatever that might be. That was contrary to party policy. It always was and it still is.
The party policy of the former Reform Party was that we should have a pension in line with the private sector. The party policy for the Canadian Alliance is similar. I can get more specific and say that we should live with the results of an independent commission that reports to parliament. We would take its recommendations as binding. If the commission says we should get rid of the tax free allowance, gross it all up and base our pension on a totally taxable amount, we will salute the flag and we will do it. If it says we should have to work so many years before receiving a pension, if it says we will get a pension at such and such an age, or whatever it thinks appropriate is based on an independent commission, I will thank it kindly, shake hands, and we will pass it. That is the way to do it. Then there is no more debate as to how we handled ourselves or whether we scored or whatever. All MPs would receive a pension plan as they should, but it would be reasonable because an independent commission brought it down.
There was a lot of talk last night about the fast tracking of the bill. A couple of points need to be said. It is true the entire House gave consent to bringing the bill in without 48 hours notice. As I said to the media earlier today, if we had as much time to debate all bills in the House of Commons as we will have to debate this one we would be thrilled. Every member who wants to speak is allowed to speak to this bill. If we had as much time as that on the Nisga'a agreement, if we had as much time as that on the Clarity Act, if we had as much time as that on dozens of different pieces of legislation, as a House leader I would be thrilled to death.
There is no restriction on this debate. We brought it in 48 hours early, but as our caucus and members over there know as many members as want can get up on their hind legs today to talk about whatever they want to talk about. They are free to do it. What a wonderful way to do it.
I am much more proud of the way we are handling this bill as a parliament than the changes we made last time, when we brought it in and passed it in a day just two years ago. When I went home I had more complaints about how we handled the passage of the bill than the contents of it.
Here it is a wide open debate. Yes, it was brought in without 48 hours notice, but what an improvement it is for all of us to stand up, and I will have to do it too, to go to the media, to go home and when they ask, “What did you say about the bill? Did you speak about it?” I will say, “Absolutely. I am on the record and you can read it in Hansard because no one was denied the right to speak”. Not only that, but no one is denied the right to vote. This is the way legislation should be passed. We have a vote.
This brings me to my final point which is the vote itself. The House leader for the NDP is offended because I voted against this bill. I tell him as I told the media earlier, and as I will tell my constituents, I am voting against the bill because the bill is not consistent with our party policy. I am going to vote against it because I am going to be consistent with that. That being said, and I will say it here and I will say it back home, I am voting against it but my heart is not in it. That is the truth.
I am voting against it not because I think there are some shenanigans going on, not because I think that the government House leader has been sneaky or underhanded or anything else. And anyone who says that just has not worked with the government House leader. This is kind of shocking for me to say this, but those who say that the government House leader has not been honourable should be ashamed of themselves. I do not mind saying that. I think it makes cheap political points and I find that offensive.
All the time we allow bills to come to this place. We fast-track them so to speak. People should know how this works. It is no secret. There are negotiations. The House leaders get together and say, “How many speakers to you think you are going to have on this bill?” I will say, “I think we have about three or four speakers”. The government House leader will say, “Okay, I have two or three. It looks like we are going to have three or four hours of debate. If we do that we are going to be pressed for time. Would you cut back to just two speakers so we can get the bill into committee?” I will say, “Okay, I can see the wisdom of that, but I am going to vote against it”.
We are not supporting the bill. It is just part of how we handle it. I have opposed bills because they originated in the Senate, not for the contents of the bill but because I find it offensive that the Senate originates bills which I think should properly originate here.
I have already said that I am voting against this legislation. I have done and I will again if it is a standing vote and if we have a vote on third reading, not because I think something sneaky, underhanded or dirty has happened but because I think there is a better way to do it.
Often in this place we vote against legislation not because we think it is heinous, not because we think it is dastardly, underhanded, sneaky or anything like that; we see what the government is trying to do but we think there is a better way to do it. I will vote against the bill because I think there is a better way. I explained it last night thoroughly. I will vote against it not because I want to smear anyone. I have not said a word against anyone here and I am not going to. It is not because I am trying to paint someone into a corner or take advantage of someone. I am doing it because there is a better way. That is the way it works. We do that consistently in this place, not because we think different bills are awful, but because there is a better way.
When there is a better way we have an obligation as an opposition party to stand up, explain that better way and then vote against the legislation. That is what I think. We do this routinely. I am thinking even of bills that we will support. We will bring in report stage amendments even though we know they are not going to pass, but we think they will improve the bill. We will bring in the amendments but we will not hold up the bill or stop it or make somebody down the road pay the price. However, in our opinion, there is a better way.
It is our obligation to put that better way on the table for everyone to see. They can say yes or no. They can say they do not like it or they think it is good, bad or indifferent. As the official opposition, it is our obligation not just to rubber stamp it, but to say there is an alternative and this is what we would like to do. It does not mean we do not think there is some other benefit in the bill. It means that our obligation is to be consistent with our party line, with what we proposed and campaigned on and propose those better ways in the House.
After what I have said I hope people can understand. I will vote against the bill not because I think MPs do not deserve a pension because they do. I will vote against it because it is inconsistent with our party policy. Our party policy is not that MPs get no pension. That has never been the deal. That is not going to be the deal. As long as I have anything to do with it, it will not be the deal. MPs deserve a pension.
The debate is what kind of pension they deserve and who should give it to them. I wish, I hope and I believe one day that is the way it will be done. It will take the pressure off all members of parliament. The debate and the rancour about this subject will be put behind us once and for all. We will all be able to go home and say that we got the pension that somebody allocated to us, not because we asked for it or snuck it through or negotiated it or anything else. We got it because it was an independent group of people who gave all of us a fitting remuneration and retirement package.
I look forward to that day. It is not likely to happen before the next parliament, but when we go through the statutory review I hope all members of parliament will consider what I have said tonight. There is a better way to handle this difficult issue for all members of parliament.