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Canada: Maher: Harper Sets an Example by Slashing His Own Pension
Source: canada.com
Source Date: Friday, October 19, 2012
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Canada
Created: Oct 22, 2012

Stephen Harper tightened his own belt this week, voluntarily — and quietly — accepting a pension cut that will likely cost him more than a million dollars.

The prime minister doesn’t need our sympathy. He’ll still have a very comfortable pension, but he deserves credit for showing leadership and finally scraping some of the gold off of MPs’ gilded pension plan. MPs passed a bill on Friday that will see all of them start to pay more for their own retirements, ending a system where they paid just $11,000 a year and could look forward to an average pension of $54,693 a year beginning at age 55.

MPs qualify to collect after just six years of service, which means that Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre qualified for a pension at age 31. For every dollar that MPs or senators contribute to their pension, taxpayers pony up $23.30, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which has been pushing this issue for decades.

In changes that will be phased in, to spare the cohort now warming the chairs in the House of Commons, MPs will contribute $39,000 a year to their pensions, and they won’t be able to collect until they turn 65.

Harper, who did not need to do this, took a look at his own entitlements and decided to put another hole in the belt.

Until the bill passed, retired prime ministers received 66 per cent of their prime ministerial salary — $104,000 a year — on top of their MP salary.

Harper, who makes $157,731 as an MP plus his $157,731 prime ministerial stipend, will now receive three per cent of his prime ministerial salary per year of service.

If he serves until after the next election, in 2015, he’ll get about $47,000 a year in pension, $57,000 less than he would have received under the old system.

Depending on when he leaves office, and how long he lives, Harper’s pension decision will cost him $1.5 million to $2 million. Harper is quietly setting a good example, and deserves a bit of credit.

He also deserves credit for agreeing to split the pension measures off from the enormous budget omnibus bill.

It had looked like the Tories were planning to keep the measure in the bill, which the opposition is pretty much duty-bound to vote against, so that the Tories could complain theatrically that Liberal and NDP MPs refused to vote to cut their own pensions.

Instead, when Liberal interim leader Bob Rae asked Harper during question period on Thursday to split the bill, Harper said he would take it under advisement.

On Friday, the government decided to slice the measure off the budget bill and pass it. The NDP hemmed and hawed, and said that it really should go to committee for study, likely because they aren’t keen to give the government a fig leaf for cuts to public servants’ pensions, but they quickly realized they couldn’t be seen to vote against this, and got in line.

It is about time.

MPs make $157,731 a year, which for most of them is the biggest salary they will make in their lives. While a handful of business people and big shot lawyers do take pay cuts to serve in Parliament, when you consider all the benefits and free stuff they get, the number who really lose out by entering politics is vanishingly small.

We would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces if we make it an unappealing job. It’s a tough life, full of rubber chicken, long airplane rides, ridiculous talking points and the risk of public indignity on a scale most of us couldn’t endure.

But it was a bit too rich, so the changes are good, and it was good to see the prime minister co-operate with opposition MPs to get this done.

Harper often mistakes his opponents for blood enemies, sending his legions out to attack them with asinine and insulting talking points, unnecessarily reducing the level of debate.

And the budget omnibus bill is too big — 450 pages! — to allow for proper debate of the many laws it changes.

It guts the Navigable Waters Act, for instance, removing federal protection from a huge number of lakes and rivers, handing responsibility to municipalities that may be too tempted to pave lakes when a big box retailer moves to town.

The Conservatives say other acts will still protect those bodies of water, and they may be right. That’s the kind of thing we would find out in a proper debate at the environment committee, after hearing from witnesses, rather than a rushed session at finance committee.

It is good to reduce the pensions of MPs, but bad to prevent them from earning their pay by giving our laws the debate they need.
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