A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Conflict of Interest.

As the happenings in parliament become ever more bizarre, most of the attention focuses on the banality of the government caucus. But a greater mystery is: why is the opposition letting the Conservatives get away with such abuses? Both Micheal Ignatieff and Bob Rae have danced around all the real issues in Bill C-9, the Budget Implementation Bill, which comes to a critical vote this week. They seem resigned to accept the incidental aspects of the bill which will eviscerate the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as a consequence. And in a radio interview this week, Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale seemed almost pleased that the Conservatives continue to stall on an agreement for full disclosure of the Afghan detainee files. When pressed on any of these issues, Liberals say they don't won't an election now. Their real reason is that many of their number stand in a serious conflict of interest: responsible government versus their own pension benefits.

Let's look a little deeper.
Canada had a general election (the 38th) on June 28th, 2004, almost but not quite six years ago. The election brought about 98 new members the the House of Commons for the first time, 37 for the Conservatives, and 61 for the three other parties. Most of these members are still sitting in today's 40th parliament, and mostly they sit on the opposition side. If they serve a full six years, they will be immediately eligible for a pension, which in most cases will increase their financial gain over their lifetimes by more than half a million dollars per member. “Should a Member retire with less than six years of service, the Member receives a withdrawal allowance in a single payment” (quoted from http://www2.parl.gc.ca/marleaumontpetit/DocumentViewer.aspx?Sec=Ch04&Seq=13&Lang=E ).

So here's the situation. The House is set to adjourn on June 23. If the government is defeated before that date, about one in three of the opposition members (and some government members) are each at risk of a loss of roughly $500,000 in pension benefits. Of course, they will let Mr. Harper do anything rather than suffer that risk. And Mr. Harper knows it very well.
How did we get in this position, one that places so many MPs in a conflict of interest at this time? When the MP pension plan was last revised, two things were generally assumed which are no longer true:
  1. That parliaments last for about four years. To qualify for a pension, an MP should be elected at least twice.
  2. Most people will hold the same career throughout their working years, with few job changes. Their pension earnings should come from their principal job and occupation.
The bedrock principal on which our parliamentary democracy is meant to function requires that the opposition hold the government accountable at all times; when the government loses the confidence of the House, it will be removed from office. An election or a new coalition of existing members will be required to form a new government.. Tragically, this is not happening and will not happen before the autumn of this year due to this conflict of Members' interest.
To prevent this hiatus in responsible government from recurring, a change in the MP pension rules will be required. MP pensions should be payable commencing at age 65, for as little of one year of service, with benefits proportional to the time served as a Member.

As posted by Chris Aikman on his blog at Greenparty/Blogs , perhaps Chris has found the true reason for the Oppositions lack luster performance!

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Alison said...

If there is no election before July, 36 Cons, 16 Bloc, 14 Libs, and 8 New Democrats will qualify for a pension of at least $25,000 a year based on the minimum MP salary - $157,731 per year -regardless of their age. Some will qualify for higher.

The following list of 74 will find themselves without a pension if there is a June election. List is a year old now so it may have changed.

Bloc : Guy Andre, Andre Bellavance, Raynald Blais, France Bonsant, Robert Bouchard, Paule Brunelle, Robert Carrier, Nicole Demers, Johanne Deschamps, Meili Faille, Carole Lavallee, Marc Lemay, Yves Lessard, Yvon Levesque, Serge Menard, Robert Vincent.

Cons : Dean Allison, Rona Ambrose, James Bezan, Gordon Brown, Colin Carrie, Michael Chong, Barry Devolin, Diane Finley, Steven Fletcher, Gary Goodyear, Nina Grewal, Helena Guergis, Russ Hiebert, Brian Jean, Randy Kamp, Ed Komarnicki, Daryl Kramp, Guy Lauzon, Tom Lukiwski, Dave MacKenzie, Ted Menzies, Larry Miller, Rob Moore, Gordon O'Connor, Bev Oda, Pierre Poilievre, Jim Prentice, Joe Preston, Andrew Scheer, Joy Smith, David Tilson, Bradley Trost, Mervin Tweed, Peter Van Loan, Mark Warawa, Jeff Watson.

Libs : Navdeep Bains, Ruby Dhalla, Ujjal Dosanjh, Ken Dryden, Mark Holland, David McGuinty, Yasmin Ratansi, Pablo Rodriguez, Anthony Rota, Michael Savage, Francis Scarpaleggia, Mario Silva, Scott Simms, Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

NDP : Charlie Angus, David Christopherson, Jean Crowder, Nathan Cullen, Peter Julian, Jack Layton, Tony Martin, Bill Siksay.

penlan said...

From Alison's list it looks like the Cons are the ones who have the most to lose on this issue. Poilievre, though, has already achieved his pension so there may be others too.

Greg Fingas said...

According to Alice at Pundits Guide, those pensions are already locked in for all intents and purposes. Even if a campaign were to start today, the campaign period would end after the 28th, and that time would count as MP service for pension purposes.