Liberals want MP pension changes separate from budget bill

The Liberals are asking the Conservative government to keep its upcoming MP pension reform legislation out of any omnibus budget package.

Conservatives plan to reform pensions for parliamentarians

Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale said Wednesday the party wants the Conservative government to keep its upcoming MP pension reform legislation out of any omnibus budget package. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Liberals are asking the Conservative government to keep its upcoming MP pension reform legislation out of any omnibus budget package.

Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale says the party supports pension reform for MPs and senators, and that they want to be able to show clear support for changes that could see MPs contribute more to their pensions and collect them later.

If the government adds the changes to a larger package of legislation, like the next budget implementation bill, there will be other changes MPs have to consider, he said.

"What we hope the government will do is present this package as a stand-alone measure, not lumped in with another omnibus bill on the budget ," he said.

"They shouldn't use the devious device of an omnibus bill to try to camouflage the issue about pensions. We want it in a separate bill so we can vote for it, for the change, clearly and emphatically."

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan has indicated the next bill to put in place last March's federal budget will be another piece of legislation hundreds of pages long.

It could also include changes to public service pensions, another pension the government has said it wants to reform.

According to numbers provided by the Treasury Board Secretariat, the department that controls the federal government's purse strings, Canadian taxpayers put in $24.60 for every dollar MPs and senators contributed to their own retirement accounts in 2011. That includes interest added to the pension account, which is also paid by the taxpayer.

MPs must 'suck it up,' Goodale says

Goodale noted the Liberals said last spring they supported the pension changes rumoured to be coming, including increased contribution rates and an older age at which MPs can start collecting the pension.

"We indicated last spring ... that this was a time when Canadians were under pressure, a lot of Canadians were facing severe demands on themselves in terms of lost jobs, lower incomes and so forth, and members of Parliament have to be prepared to suck it up," Goodale said.

"The government is apparently having a very intense debate within the Conservative caucus about the fine points of the details. But from our point of view, we think that MP pension reform is something that must happen."

New Democrat MPs have been hesitant to back the plan, saying they don't yet know the details, and calling for an outside body to review any changes proposed.

"We've previously indicated that we think it's fair for parliamentarians to move up to a 50-50 cost share when it comes to their pension plan and certainly this house will be seized of this issue in due course," he said.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement said in question period that they'd be dealing with the issue "in due course." 

NDP watching political 'calculus' 

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said his party has no problem looking at MP pensions and that they've already discussed it in caucus. He repeated the call for a panel of experts to study the pensions and recommend changes. Asked whether he expects the government to put the pension changes in an omnibus bill to force the opposition to vote against the changes, Mulcair said he wouldn't speculate as to the motives of the Conservatives.

"But past behaviour would tend to confirm that that would be part of their calculus," he said.

"If they do try to embed it in a 700-page bill that's doing a whole bunch of other things that they know darn well that we'll never be able to vote for, we'll know that it's about a political game again with the Conservatives."

NDP Whip Nycole Turmel says the party is more concerned about getting pensions for those who don't have them. She referred to a change included in the federal budget that sets out a new eligibility rule for Old Age Security (OAS). The government plans to gradually raise the age of eligibility for OAS to 67 years old from 65, starting in 2023.

"There are plenty of employers, plenty of people who don't have pension plans," Turmel said.