OTTAWA - Conservative backbenchers don't have much of a say when it comes to government legislation, but when it comes to the touchy subject of their pensions, it appears the prime minister has thrown them a bone.
The government made it clear in the last federal budget that it planned to boost the amount federal MPs are required to contribute to their pensions to 50 per cent, up from the current level of 14 per cent.
The MPs themselves, however, are the ones who get to craft and review the proposed changes.
A committee of about a half-dozen MPs, chosen to represent a cross-section of pension beneficiaries, was formed in the spring to go over the details.
The current proposal, a Conservative source said, would raise the eligibility age from 55 to 65 by the end of the government's current term in 2016. When the eligibility for old age security (OAS) increases to 67, so too would MPs' pension eligibility.
The increase to 50 per cent would not happen immediately, but gradually ramp up before 2016.
And there has been great emphasis on not disrupting the pension plans of those who have been operating under the current system. Contributions made to date would be part of one envelope that would still be available at age 55 for those who have been part of the plan. The new system would kick in if an MP is re-elected in 2016.
While there have been lots of questions, MPs recognize the pension train has already left the station.
"This is how you show leadership," said one Conservative MP.
"It falls into a larger discussion of retirement benefits generally," said Ontario MP Bruce Stanton.
"It's hard to have that discussion without looking at our own pensions. These are questions that come up in the riding, and we need to have answers to them."
With the Conservative caucus on track to make peace with the pension changes, they're now prepared to put pressure on the NDP and Liberals to swallow the legislation. Opposing cuts to a more than generous pension plan might prove hard to justify, even if the changes are lumped into a huge omnibus bill.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Tuesday he'll wait to see the legislation, but noted his real concern is what will happen to the pension plans inside the civil service.
"We've been hearing from many civil servants and people who have paid into the system their whole lives, who are very concerned the government's coming after them,"Angus said.
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Top 10 Most Expensive MP Pensions
Welcome to the $3 million club. The following 10 MPs will each receive an estimated total lifetime pension of more than $3 million if they retire in 2019. All the <a href="http://taxpayer.com/sites/default/files/CTFMP-PensionReport-WEB.pdf" target="_hplink">estimates come from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation</a> and are based on an MP retiring in 2019 and ceasing to receive their pension at age 80. The numbers if the MPs retire in 2015 are also included in the caption to each slide.
10. Michael Chong - $3,124,903
Conservative MP Michael Chong would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,684,816 if he were to retire in 2015.
9. Peter Van Loan - $3,194,114
Conservative MP Peter Van Loan would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,462,029 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
8. Rona Ambrose - $3,330,876
Conservative MP Rona Ambrose would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,429,149 if she were to retire in 2015. (CP)
7. Rob Anders - $3,643,873
Conservative MP Rob Anders would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,034,089 if he were to retire in 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
6. Denis Coderre - $3,701,989
Liberal MP Denis Coderre would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,288,821 if he were to retire in 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)
5. Scott Brison - $3,723,666
Liberal MP Scott Brison would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,113,881 if he were to retire in 2015.
4. James Moore - $3,795,386
Conservative MP James Moore would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,893,658 if he were to retire in 2015. (Althia Raj)
3. Gerry Byrne - $3,996,498
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,450,711 if he were to retire in 2015.
2. Jason Kenney - $4,318,507
Conservative MP Jason Kenney would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,416,779 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
1. Stephen Harper - $5,596,474
Prime Minister Stephen Harper would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $5,456,109 if he were to retire in 2015. Harper's numbers are based on the PM not buying back into the program for his service as a Reform Party MP between 1993-1997. In order to make a political statement, Harper did not contribute to the pension program during his time as a Reform MP. After returning to Parliament Hill in 2002, Harper could have retroactively contributed to the program for his service from 1993 to 1997. According to the PMO, Harper has not and will not make those contributions. MPs are not obligated to disclose this information. If Harper were to choose to buy back in for those years, his numbers would change. If he were to buy back in and retire in 2019 he would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $6,216,858 and $6,233,568 if he were to retire in 2015. His numbers also include the special allowance he will receive as Prime Minister. An earlier version of this story used the numbers based on Harper buying back in for the 1993 to 1997 period. After being contacted by the PMO with the prime minister's pledge not to do so, the numbers were updated. (CP)