RM Issue #031206
December 4, 2003
Long faces and long green
By GREG WESTON -- Sun Media
Watching the growing parade of teary-eyed Liberal cabinet ministers announcing their retirements before Paul Martin can fire them, it is certainly comforting to know so many long faces will soon be laughing all the way to the bank.
Seems those whopping pay hikes MPs voted themselves back in 2001 have turned their already gold-plated pensions into solid platinum.
As a result, some Liberal cabinet ministers, and even some regular MPs, will remain in the top 2% of Canadian income earners even after they leave office -- just by cashing their monthly government pension cheques.
Sheila Copps, for instance, when and if she decides to retire, is in line for a parliamentary pension that will literally put more money in her pocket than if she'd won the Cash-for-Life lottery.
According to figures compiled for us by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, if Copps left office next spring, she would get a pension of over $123,000 a year -- more than $10,000 a month, for life -- starting the day she turns 55, three years from now.
This pension bonanza -- courtesy of taxpayers -- was the hidden jackpot of Jean Chretien's gift to himself and his fellow politicians in June of 2001.
At the time, MPs were earning $69,100 plus a tax-free allowance of $22,800.
Using the argument of making MPs' pay completely transparent, the tax-free portion was converted to an equivalent taxable amount that brought the total to about $108,000.
While they were at it, MPs gave themselves an additional raise of roughly 20% to $131,400. Since then, automatic increases have raised their total pay another $7,800 to $139,200.
Well, guess what? Pensions that were previously calculated based on an MP's pay of $69,100 are now based on twice that amount -- $139,200.
The win gets even bigger for the PM, cabinet ministers, opposition party leaders and other parliamentarians above the rank of backbencher.
The enormity of these golden eggs for their golden years may even help to explain why so few Chretien loyalists are apparently heading to the trough with patronage appointments.
According to the CTF's calculations, for example, Transport Minister David Collenette would make almost as much money by retiring from government as he would by taking a top diplomatic post.
Collenette, a staunch Chretien loyalist of many years, has long been rumoured to be in line for an appointment as Canadian high commissioner in London, a job that pays around $125,000 a year.
But the rules say he can't have his pension, and eat his canapes, too. If Collenette simply retires in the next few months, his pension will be about $123,000 a year, plus all the free time in the world.
Likewise, Finance Minister John Manley has announced (in a bit of a snit) he will not run again in the next election. Manley apparently has the option of becoming Canada's next ambassador to Washington, a job which pays about $130,000 a year.
Alternatively, he can head off into the private sector, while collecting his tidy parliamentary pension of $114,000 a year when he turns 55 in another 18 months.
Herb Dhaliwal came into politics a millionaire in 1993, and is now returning to his business, still a millionaire, but with an annual pension of about $70,000.
Don Boudria, who likes to remind people he was once a busboy in the parliamentary restaurant before he discovered politics, certainly won't have to worry about washing dishes to make ends meet in his old age. The day Boudria hits 55, the cheques will start rolling in at the rate of $125,000 a year.
And don't pass the hat for the retiring prime minister. Jean Chretien, who once described politics as just another career, will soon be getting not-just-another pension of roughly $154,000 a year.
In case you're wondering why the opposition parties aren't screaming bloody murder about all this, think Deb Gray.
Remember her? The first Reform party MP elected to the Commons, the one who put stuffed pigs on the Parliament Hill lawn to protest gold-plated pensions?
Seems she changed her mind along the way.
Gray is retiring next year with a yearly pension of over $70,000.