Not all MPs get pensions, former parliamentarian cautions

While few would dispute that the pensions provided for MPs are generous, one former MP cautions it would be a mistake to run for office simply for the pension.

MPs need to win more than one election to qualify for generous pensions

Former Liberal MP Glen Pearson, with his daughters last May, cautions it would be a mistake to run for office simply for the pension. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

While few would dispute that the pensions provided for MPs are generous, one former MP cautions it would be a mistake to run for office simply for the pension.

A six-year minimum eligibility means MPs have to win at least two elections — possibly more in a minority government situation.

Former Liberal MP Glen Pearson says that those who have a career before going into politics have to decide whether to give up their highest-earning years to serve the public.

Of course, a winning candidate for federal office immediately earns a salary far beyond that of most Canadians for the years they're in Parliament — just under $158,000 a year (the average family income in Canada in 2010 was $76,600, according to Statistics Canada).

But if they don't make it beyond one election, they've lost out on their highest earning years in their previous career, Pearson points out.

Pearson won a byelection in London, Ont. on Nov. 27, 2006. He was defeated by Conservative MP Susan Truppe on May 2, 2011, giving him four and a half years in office.

Pearson, who is now too old to return to his previous career as a firefighter, often runs into former constituents who refer to what they assume is his huge pension.

Felt it was 'very much worth it'

"I think people don't realize that when somebody leaves another thing to go into politics, they're actually leaving a whole other livelihood behind, a pension scheme they might have been in, or money that they were making from another job. So you sometimes come back and you've actually taken a hit for being in politics," Pearson said.

"I did think about that, but because I was being asked to run for reasons that had to do with Africa and [the Canadian International Development Agency] and things that I really, really believed in, I felt I would take that chance. And I knew there was a chance that I would not get to the six-year stage. Absolutely, I knew that. But for that cause I felt that it was very much worth it, and for representing me and my constituents."

After they've hit six years in the House, MPs qualify at age 55 for a pension based on the average of their best five years of salary.

Assuming the minimum six years of service at the current $158,000 annual salary, a backbench MP stands to receive a pension of more than $28,000 a year.

The pensions are mostly funded by taxpayers. The Conservative government is planning to reform the pensions by having MPs contribute more.

Long-serving parliamentarians or those who earned higher salaries, such as cabinet ministers, receive much more.

Figures from 2011 suggest there are 59 former MPs and senators who receive more than $90,000 a year each. The average annual pension is $60,599 for former members of the Senate and $55,102 for former members of the House of Commons.   Some MPs are elected young and are well positioned for a career after Parliament — with the added comfort of that pension.

Some will qualify before they are 30

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, for example, was first elected June 28, 2004, a few weeks after his 25th birthday. At 33 years old, he has already qualified for the MP pension. The same goes for House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, who was elected the same day and at the same age. There are usually a handful of young MPs elected after each trip to the polls, but the May 2011 election saw a whole crop of New Democrat MPs in their early 20s take seats in the House. If re-elected, they would be set to hit their six-year eligibility and qualify for the pension before any of them hit their 30th birthday.

For those who go on to a career after politics, there are sometimes lucrative consulting jobs available (Pearson says they didn't interest him, so he's a volunteer director at the London foodbank).

But it's not the case for everyone.

Pearson, who is recovering from major surgery to remove a benign tumour from his stomach, says he's happy to have time to spend with his wife and seven children. But the fact that three of them will be in university in the next six years caught him up on election night.

"That was very much on my mind," he said.

with files from CBC News