Politics

Dozens of MPs stand to lose access to pensions if they're defeated in an early election

Dozens of members of Parliament could lose access to the generous MP pension plan if they lose their seats in an early election because they would not have the required six years of service.

More than 90 Liberal MPs — including 23 ministers — could lose access to pensions in an early election call

New members of Parliament, including Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, centre, attend a 'Working in the Chamber' orientation session in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa after the 2019 federal election. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Dozens of members of Parliament could lose access to the generous MP pension plan if they lose their seats in an early election because they would not have the required six years of service.

Speculation is running hot in official Ottawa about the exact date of the next general election call. For 142 MPs, a few weeks either way could decide whether they retire with tens of thousands of dollars in pension benefits — or not.

Nobody talks about it but everyone thinks about it, said a Conservative MP elected in 2015 who preferred to remain anonymous.

According to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, MPs have to contribute to the plan for at least six years before they can claim a pension.

For the 142 MPs elected for the first time on October 19, 2015, defeat in an election taking place before October 19, 2021 would deprive them of access to an MP's pension.

At a minimum, they could lose a retirement allowance of just over $32,000 per year starting at age 65. This amount is indexed and becomes more generous based on the number of additional years of service.

Currently, the annual base salary for MPs is $185,800. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries receive more generous salaries and allowances.

According to a count by Radio-Canada, more than half of the Liberal caucus — 92 MPs, including 23 ministers — could lose access to the pension in an early election. Cabinet ministers such as Diane Lebouthillier and Jean-Yves Duclos — who could face tight races in their ridings — are part of that group, along with 31 Conservative MPs, nine Bloc members, seven New Democrats and three Independents.

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier is one of the MPs who could lose access to the pension plan if she's defeated in an October election. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Bloc MP Gabriel Ste-Marie was elected in October 2015 and has nearly six years of service. He told Radio-Canada that his pension is the least of his worries and that elected officials who are only there for the money are in politics for the wrong reason.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie agreed with that statement, saying he didn't run for Parliament to snag a lucrative pension. 

A taboo topic

At least one MP, however, told Radio-Canada on background that the looming pension cut-off date could encourage some of his colleagues to postpone retirement.

For older MPs, it can influence whether they choose to run again, said another federal MP who prefers not to be named.

Geneviève Tellier, professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa, said the whole topic of politicians' pay and pensions is a bit taboo — elected officials don't like talking about it because of the public's perception that they have good salaries.

A member who does not reach six years of service before leaving office receives a lump sum as a retirement allowance, recovering their contributions with interest.

Most of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's caucus will be affected by the pension deadline. Could that influence the PM's own calculations around the date of the next election?

The financial positions of individual MPs should never be taken into account in an election call, said Blaikie.

Tellier told Radio-Canada that strategists in the Prime Minister's Office will focus more on the needs of the party and its chances of winning a majority in the House of Commons than on the financial plights of individual MPs.

Trudeau's team is also aware that it can't wait too long to dissolve Parliament — not if it wants to avoid overlap with municipal elections taking place on November 7 in Quebec.

On Tuesday, federal MPs passed almost unanimously a non-binding motion calling on all sides to avoid an election during the pandemic.

But it might not be easy for the PMO to determine exactly when this health crisis is over.

Behind the scenes, Liberal strategists are hinting that the early window for the start of an election campaign could open in mid-August, with a vote in late September.

That scenario could materialize if efforts to end the pandemic go well and if opposition parties render Parliament dysfunctional, a Liberal source told Radio Canada.

If that fall window doesn't open, Trudeau might be inclined to wait until the next federal budget in 2022 before taking the plunge.

In that case, those 142 MPs would have their guaranteed pensions.

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