Gold-plated pensions

Brodie Thomas
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When the economy started taking a nose dive in 2008, Canada appeared to be weathering the storm well. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no problem chiding other countries on the world stage for their lax banking regulations.

Now the storm has abated, and at the same time the Harper Conservatives now have a majority.

And suddenly, buoyed by their majority, the Harper Conservatives want to make changes to many of the policies they inherited and which steered us through the storm so well.

At a meeting in Davos, Switzerland last month, Harper hinted to other world leaders that changes are coming to Canada’s old age security social safety net. There’s talk of increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67.

The “A” word is even being tossed about austerity.

Here’s the thing. Austerity by definition means strict or harsh, but it has come to symbolize sweeping spending cuts at all levels of government for the good of everyone.

It’s true with more and more baby-boomers retiring, the strain on the system is going to grow. Canada needs to live within its means.

So before the Harper Conservatives touch one cent of the seniors social security net, they should first address the elephant in the room: the MP’s own gold-plated pension program.

Late in January, The C.D. Howe Institute announced the MP pension plan is facing a shortfall of $1 billion dollars.

That’s not the half of it. This under-funded and irresponsible pension plan is also generous to a fault.

Some of us are lucky to have workplace pensions that match our contributions dollar for dollar. Members of Parliament have their contributions matched by taxpayers 23:1. And the program is still facing this billion-dollar shortfall.

According to the Toronto Star, former Bloc separatist leader Gilles Duceppe is now eligible for $140,765 per year. Should the prime minister choose to retire in 2015, he will be eligible for $223,500 annually.

Serve just six years in the House of Commons and you become eligible for the pension, which you can start drawing at age 55. It’s the original Freedom 55 plan.

The rest of us now appear to be on track for Catch-67: live to age 67 and you might catch a small break from the feds.

If Prime Minister Harper is going to ask seniors to tighten their belts, he should remember that austerity starts at home. Or in this case, in the House.

Organizations: Harper Conservatives, The C.D. Howe Institute, Toronto Star House of Commons Freedom 55

Geographic location: Canada, Davos, Switzerland

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