Before I begin this week’s report I would like to thank the many citizens who respond each week and in particular for the overwhelming response I received from last week’s report on changes to the MP pension plan. One question that a number of citizens raised is what does the MP pension plan moving to a 50/50 cost sharing relationship mean in actual dollars. The answer to this question can vary on account of a number of variables that like most pensions include the overall length of time served, the amount of income an MP earns averaged over a 5 year period, having served for a minimum of 6 years to be eligible for a pension and finally an MP lifespan once being eligible to collect a pension.
In order to provide more context on this question I will provide an example: under the current pension plan, a MP who retires with 9 years of service will be entitled to receive an annual pension of $46,036 per year once they reach retirement age. In order to qualify for that pension, the MP would have contributed roughly $11,665 dollars per year over the nine years for a total paid of just under $105,000. Taxpayers on the other hand would have contributed roughly $68,641 each year over the nine years for a total paid in excess of over $ 617,000. Easy to understand why these pensions have been referred to as “gold plated” since they were introduced in the 1950’s by the Liberal Government of the day.
How does this compare to the revised pension plan with 50/50 cost sharing? As many have asked about my own MP pension I can state that I do not qualify for an MP pension, however for sake of example if an MP served for 9 years under the revised MP pension plan upon retiring they could expect an annual pension of roughly $39,398. Under the revised system instead of paying $11,665 per year the revised amount would be roughly $39,000 per year. Over a 9 year term this amounts to just over $350,000 split equally with taxpayers as opposed to the over $617,000 paid for by taxpayers under the current MP pension plan. While both pension plans are very generous, it is easy to see how 50/50 cost sharing on MP pension plans and in the federal public service pension plan will save taxpayers $2.6 billion over the next 5 years.
Moving forward to this week, debate in Parliament continued on Bill C-518, the private members bill that is summarized by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as a bill to “revoke the taxpayer-funded pension of MPs and Senators convicted of serious crimes against taxpayers”- to confirm I spoke in support of this Bill and will continue to support bill C-518. Another Bill that I have spoken in support of that is in the House this week is Bill C-21, the “Red Tape Reduction Act” that I have heard strong support for from small business owners in Okanagan-Coquihalla. Bill C-44 “The Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act” is also before the House this week. This is a bill I referenced in my October 29th MP report for those looking for further information. Aside from Bill C-518 other private members business in the House includes Bill C-626 “An Act to amend the Statistics Act” and motion M-534 “Child poverty” along with debate on these Bills will also be a number of votes and Parliamentary committee work is also actively underway.
As always if you have a comment, question or concern on any matter before the House of Commons please do not hesitate to contact me at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Next week the House of Common will be back in session as the spring sitting will be underway on Monday, January 26th. Currently the House of Commons is scheduled to sit from January 26th until the end of June with a few break weeks scattered throughout. Normally after the end of June the House would rise and resume in late September– given that this is an election year it is unexpected that the House will sit after June unless a matter arises that results in the Parliament being recalled, a rare occurrence.
As this is the final year for the 41st Parliament it also means the end of what many have called “gold plated” MP Pensions. When I was first elected in 2011 concerns about the MP Pension plan were among some of the topics frequently raised by citizens and in turn I was one of the first Members of Parliament in Ottawa to publicly support changes to the MP Pension plan that were more respectful to taxpayers. Ultimately our Government did make changes that will become implemented for those MP’s elected into what will become the 42nd Parliament. The changes to the MP Pension plan will see a Member of Parliament pension contributions move towards equal 50/50 cost sharing, a change that is also being implemented to the federal public service pensions. I also discovered that some citizens believe a retired Member of Parliament who has qualified for an MP Pension can immediately begin collecting pension benefits upon retirement from Parliament. Under the current rules a qualifying MP cannot begin to collect a pension until they turn 55 although this is also being phased out and newly elected MPs, much like newly hired federal public service workers, will have a new retirement age set at 65. These combined changes to the MP pension plan and the federal public sector pension plan are estimated to save taxpayers $2.6 billion over the next five years.
One other possible change to MP pensions is courtesy of a private members bill from my Conservative colleague MP John Williamson. In the past some Members of Parliament, including Senators, have been convicted of serious criminal acts. Many Canadians have found it offensive when a convicted criminal who was formerly an MP or Senator can continue to collect generous pension payments on behalf of Canadian taxpayers. Worse, there is currently a loophole where an MP or Senator who is facing criminal charges can retire or resigns prior to being convicted so they can be fully entitled to a full Parliamentary pension including benefits for life. Private Members Bill C-518 proposes a mechanism that Members of Parliament and Senators convicted of serious crimes would no longer be entitled to collect a generous taxpayer provided Parliamentary pension and related benefits. This bill is supported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and to date all citizens in Okanagan Coquihalla that I have heard from on this subject. I have previously spoken in support of this Bill in the House of Commons and intend to do so again as this bill returns for debate next week.
I mention changes to both the gold plated MP pension plan and the federal public sector pension plan for a reason. As many citizens will know our Government recently announced increasing the universal child tax benefit and also extending it to children over six years old that will ensure all families working or not will receive more support. Our Government has also proposed tax fairness for families– and to be clear these changes can result in families sending less of their household income to Ottawa. Often those in opposition suggest that Ottawa cannot afford for families to pay less tax back to Ottawa. What is seldom pointed out is that families paying $2.6 billion less over 5 years towards MP and public sector pensions means that some of that money can in fact be returned to Canadian families. As I have mentioned previously we are fortunate in a democracy that the subject of taxes and paying more or less of your money to Ottawa is one of many subjects that is part of healthy democratic discussion and debate. As always I welcome your views on this or any subject before the House, I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
In just over one week the House of Commons will again be in session for the first time in 2015. As 2015 is also an election year, this will be the final sitting of the 41st session of Parliament. As is customary at the end of a year, there have been a number of year end reviews on Parliament, covering a wide range of topics from a variety of media organizations. Most recently the subject of MP voting attendance records was reported on by the Ottawa Citizen. Attendance in the House of Commons is an interesting subject for MPs. It may come as a surprise to some that the House of Commons does not formally report MP attendance records. In fact, within the House it is actually considered unparliamentary to point out or otherwise mention the absence of another MP. As described by the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual: “Allusions to the presence or absence of a Member or Minister in the Chamber are unacceptable.”
This raises the question on how best can citizens keep track of their Member of Parliament’s voting attendance in the House of Commons? One such way is by recorded votes in the House. Surprisingly there is no readily available information of this type from the Parliamentary precinct. In the past an independent website known as “How’d They Vote” would provide helpful information to citizens of this nature however as I observed back in 2012, this website is no longer active. Fortunately two journalists from the Ottawa Citizen did take the time to cover the topic of MP voting records to determine attendance. The results were quite surprising. The good news is that there were five MP’s with perfect one hundred percent voting records and a further sixteen MPs who were all above ninety nine percent. To achieve a 100% vote attendance record meant that an MP would have voted 269 times in 2014. I am proud to be among the five Members of Parliament to achieve a 100% voting record on behalf of the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla.
On the other hand, the ten Members of Parliament with the worst attendance records were all less than 50%- meaning they missed more votes than they attended. The worst record belongs to an MP who voted only 16 times out of the possible 269 votes. One other trend that emerged in the analysis from the Ottawa Citizen is that a proportionately large number of these MPs missing votes most often were independents with no party affiliation. Although political parties are often not portrayed positively the party whip system of ensuring MPs are in the House of Commons to attend votes does on the surface appear to have more success in this area.
It should also be pointed out that there are many valid reasons as to why a Member of Parliament may be away from the House of Commons and miss votes as a result. Parliamentary business and committee work, Ministerial responsibilities, important events in an MP’s home riding, illness or family emergencies are some of the many reasons that account for the diversity of voting records. Members of Parliament are also required to fill out monthly attendance records with the House of Commons that is submitted internally. In my view I believe that vote attendance could be better reported in a more user friendly format so that media or others are not required to take on a project of individually compiling each Member of Parliament’s vote record in order to ascertain attendance; more so when not all sitting days in the House of Commons have votes. Some days there may be many votes whereas other days may have none.
As always I welcome your comments and questions on this or any subject before the House of Commons. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
This week Canadians were shocked and saddened to learn of the brutal and senseless killing of twelve French citizens in a terrorist attack. Of the twelve victims, ten were journalists and two were police officers. Freedom of the press and as well as law and order are two cherished aspects of any just and democratic society. It has been suggested that these murders were planned well in advance and in retaliation to satirical cartoons involving Islam. In turn a debate has ensued from the decision by some media organizations, including the CBC, to refuse to show some of these cartoons to Canadians, out of concern they may be offensive to some.
Since this incident occurred I have heard a large outpour of various comments and concerns from citizens in Okanagan-Coquihalla and elsewhere including some suggested courses of action for Government. I would like to respond to some of the most commonly raised areas of concern.
The subject of the cartoons in question potentially being censored is also a concern I share. Canada, including the CBC, has long had a tradition of satire. Well known CBC shows such as the Rick Mercer Report, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the Royal Canadian Air Farce and others have long used satire to poke comedic fun at many aspects of Canadian life, culture and our identity. It is in my view concerning if our national broadcaster arbitrarily decides that some faiths can be subject to comedic interpretation, whereas others are exempt or otherwise deemed to be “off limits". It can, in effect create division and runs contrary to many of the values we hold dear, which leads to the second and larger point.
We must never forget our successes as a country, that we have built a united and inclusive Canada. Immigration and integration has long been the foundation that has helped to build Canada and while we respect and share great diversity and many different cultures we also have our own unique identity as Canadians. Those who seek to do us harm threaten our unity. Division and exclusion are the weapons of those radicalized in extremist movements, who seek to separate civilized and democratic societies from the values they cherish to instead instil fear and create controls that limit freedom. Freedom, equality and democracy are the greatest threats to extremists and radicalized movements who fear these principles to such an extent they will brutally execute un-armed reporters, aid workers and those who are most vulnerable including women and children. Canada has always stood against tyranny and to protect the rights and freedoms of those who are most vulnerable. I believe these principles are part of what it means to be Canadian. Throughout our history and to this very day we do not turn our back and expect others to make these sacrifices.
There will be those who will disagree with my comments this week as should be expected in any open, free democratic society. This week more than any other, we should embrace our right to disagree and to debate without fear of reprisal or repercussion. However let us also never forget that what makes us stronger as a country is our ability to stand together united as Canadians. The darkest moments of our past have always been when segments of our society have been isolated and excluded from others. A situation that still exists in some countries to this day and can lead to further conflict. We are a nation united and as Canadians we will stand together in our shared freedoms and democracy while we continue to build a stronger Canada. I welcome your comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.