The head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it isn't too late to dial back MLA pensions in New Brunswick.
"Nothing is permanent in politics," said director Kevin Gaudet.
"And the more that voters raise their voices and join together and let politicians know that they're agitated, the more likely those politicians are to respond."
On Monday, CBC News reported that MLAs have decided not to strike a commission to review their pension plan, two years after quietly voting themselves an 85 per cent increase in their benefits.
'I think often people don't raise their voices and get loud about it because they just don't think they can do anything.'—Kevin Gaudet, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
The politicians now have one of the richest political pension plans in the country.
Gaudet wants the government to strike a citizen's assembly to look at the issue.
"They'll take people off the voters list to get together in a room and to make recommendations on political pay," he said.
"And they very often come up with very reasonable recommendations. They don't actually punish politicians, although we can argue they might, but they don't."
Citizen assembly proposed
Citizen assemblies are still relatively new in Canada, said Gaudet. But the model has been used successfully in other jurisdictions, such as Kingston, Ontario, he said.
"I wonder and worry in part that people get resigned…it's just the same old same old, politicians feathering their beds, lining their pockets if you will at taxpayer expense.
"That story is an old story and I think often people don't raise their voices and get loud about it because they just don't think they can do anything," Gaudet said.
"But I think that federal example from two weeks ago just shows how much power people have if they raise their voices and join together," he said, referring to the federal government's plan to change the national anthem quickly being dropped following public outcry.
In 2008, MLAs hiked their base salary to $85,000 from $45,757. But, they also terminated two tax-free allowances that previously were used to supplement their incomes.
As a result, MLA pension accounts were flooded with millions of dollars because the expense allowances had not been part of the pension plan, prior to being converted into salary.
The move was recommended in an independent report by Justice Patrick Ryan, the province's conflict of interest commissioner, as part of a review of MLA compensation.
Ryan said he knew it would affect pension benefits, but suggested it would be temporary because he had also recommended an outside review of MLA pensions. But the MLAs have declined to launch the pension review, making the increase permanent.
The New Brunswick plan now pays a $30,000 a year pension after eight years of service, up from $16,500 and $76,000 after 20 years, almost double the previous $41,000 under the old guidelines. All pension amounts are fully indexed to inflation, up to six per cent.
The cost of funding the plan has grown by nearly $1 million a year, according to a 2009 actuarial evaluation.
Gaudet said it's unreasonable to ask taxpayers to cover the increased cost, noting two-thirds of the Canadian population don't even have a pension plan, "let a lone one as lucrative as this.
"When people in New Brunswick and across the country are feeling tough economic times and tightening their belts, now is an appropriate time, I believe, for politicians to lead by example.
"And one of the ways to do that would be to bring the New Brunswick pension plan for politicians more in line with the private sector and those people who are having to pay their salaries, I think."