Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin may not be fully off public payroll
Suspended senators may still be able to count time toward pensions
Moments after the Senate voted to suspend Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, Stephen Harper's office issued a statement expressing its satisfaction that the trio are no longer on the public payroll.
Not so fast, prime minister.
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At least one of the trio, Duffy, may still be eligible for a disability allowance should he resign for medical reasons.
And although none of the three will be allowed to sit in the Senate, keep their offices, employ staff or conduct any Senate work for the duration of their suspensions, their time in political purgatory may still count toward the six years of service needed to be eligible for a generous parliamentary pension.
At the moment, the Senate's administration can't — or won't — say.
"The information is not available at this time," Senate spokeswoman Annie Joannette said in response to a question about pension eligibility.
Claude Carignan, government leader in the Senate, last week acknowledged he doesn't know the answer either.
As to whether a suspended senator can resign and claim disability pay, Joannette simply didn't respond at all.
Suspension effects unclear
The government and Senate officials, it seems, are still trying to figure out all the ramifications of the unprecedented move Tuesday to suspend the three senators over their questionable expense claims.
The trio are suspended for the duration of the parliamentary sitting, which could continue until 2015 — the same year in which Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau, all appointed in early 2009, would ordinarily be deemed to have put in sufficient time to be eligible for a pension.
Gregory Thomas, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Association which has long railed against the gold-plated parliamentary pension plan, said "there's nothing in the legislation" to suggest the suspensions will have any impact on the trio's pension eligibility, provided they continue to make contributions to the plan.
Duffy, the eldest of the three at 67, would be immediately eligible in 2015 for an annual pension of $58,264, according to the federation.
"There's nothing in the parliamentary pension legislation that contemplates somebody being suspended. So, all it says is that members have to contribute their share of the plan," Thomas said.
"There are provisions for people being expelled," he added, but Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have not been turfed from the Senate altogether.
Disability allowance also possible
Duffy — who suffers from a heart condition and announced he was taking a medical leave of absence just as debate on his proposed suspension began several weeks ago — could potentially benefit even more, Thomas said.
Under the Parliament of Canada Act, a senator who is 65 or older and incapacitated by a proven medical condition, is entitled to receive a disability allowance equal to 70 per cent of his or her annual salary — a comfortable $94,640 per year. The allowance is paid until the senator reaches 75, the age of mandatory retirement from the Senate.
Whether that holds true for a senator who's been suspended without pay and therefore has no salary for the time being in not known. But Thomas suspects Duffy has been building up to making a play for it.
"He's been talking about his medical issues so much that I kind of see that [allowance issue] in the background," said Thomas.
If pushed, he predicted the government would block any bid by Duffy to obtain a disability allowance — but not without a fight or further political embarrassment.
"I don't think Sen. Duffy cares whether he causes the Senate majority any inconvenience or not."