MLA pensions to be trimmed in N.S.

Pensions for Nova Scotia politicians would be trimmed under legislation proposed by the provincial government.

Must serve 5 years over 2 elections to be eligible

Pensions for Nova Scotia politicians would be trimmed under legislation proposed by the provincial government. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia politicians, who now receive among the richest pensions in the country, would see their benefits trimmed under proposed legislation tabled Tuesday by the provincial government.

The government said it was moving to mirror the recommendations forwarded in a report last month by a three-member independent panel appointed by the legislature's Speaker.

Under the current rules, provincial politicians earn a pension of five per cent of their annual salary for every year they serve, up to a maximum of 75 per cent after 15 years.

If the new legislation is passed, the new accrual rate would fall to 3.5 per cent over 20 years, which would drop the maximum pension a politician can earn to 70 per cent of his or her salary.

The change would take effect after the next election, if the legislation is passed.

Premier Darrell Dexter refused to comment on the panel's work, or give an opinion on the government's proposal or whether or not he feels the public will be satisfied with the changes.

"I don't really have an opinion on that," said Dexter. "It's up to the people to make up their own minds, and I'm sure they will."

The panel also called for a change that would allow a politician to start collecting a partial pension after serving two years. But under the government's legislation, politicians will still have to serve five years over two elections, as they are currently required, to be eligible for pensions.

20 years for full pension

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he's comfortable with the changes — especially the provision that holds the line on the minimum time to qualify — and the fact legislature members would have to work 20 years to get a full pension.

"As … you look at the life of an MLA, it's highly unlikely anyone will qualify for a full pension after sitting in the House of Assembly," said McNeil.

The Liberal leader said his party will support the legislation.

The third-place Conservatives also confirmed they will vote for the bill, but party leader Jamie Baillie said the panel missed a "golden opportunity" to recommend a change to a pension system where contributions between legislature members and the government would be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

He also expressed disappointment the government failed to follow a panel recommendation to segregate the pension fund from the general revenues of the province so people could better track contributions.

"To me that's a matter of fairness and transparency to all involved, and it's not happening," Baillie said.

The panel's report said taxpayers pay between 20 to 40 per cent of the accumulated earnings of the average member pension plan. If adopted, it said the the changes would see that figure drop to between 10 to 25 per cent.

Under the proposed legislation, the pension would remain a defined benefit plan where members collect set payments and contribute 10 per cent of their annual salaries.