OTTAWA -- A Liberal senator says the government's plan to reform MP pensions will result in such a drastic cut to take-home pay that some parliamentarians will be left vulnerable to bribery.
Speaking in the Senate Wednesday, Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell said Western industrialized democracies have made huge efforts to pay their politicians well enough to discourage corruption.
"All of our MPs are above reproach, but the pressures of not making enough money can become an issue and that is why [take-home salary] needs to be maintained at a certain level," Mitchell said."We could talk about brown paper bags with cash in it, because there is pressure all the time. That is why pay needs to be absolutely adequate."
Although he acknowledged he was taking an unpopular position and one for which he could be left "politically vulnerable," Mitchell went on to make several points against Conservative plans to increase pension contributions for MPs and senators — legislation that was fast-tracked because of Liberal support in the House of Commons.
The second budget implementation act introduced last week raised MP and senators' contribution rates to 50% over time and hit take-home pay in a big way. Annual contributions for MPs will increase from $11,060 in 2012 to $38,769 by 2017. For Senators, annual contribution rates will increase from $9,261 in 2012 to $32,298 by 2017. MPs earn a base salary of 157,731 while senators receive $132,300.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW SLIDESHOW
How Much Do Our MPs Make?
Here's a rundown of <a href="http://www.parl.gc.ca/ParlInfo/Lists/Salaries.aspx?Menu=HOC-Politic&Section=03d93c58-f843-49b3-9653-84275c23f3fb&Year=2011" target="_hplink">how much our MPs make</a> depending on their position in the House. (Alamy)
MP - $157,731
The base salary for a Member of Parliament is $157,731. Being named to cabinet or other positions nets an MP extra pay. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/scazon/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Scazon</a>)
Government and Opposition Whip - $186,151
NDP MP Nycole Turmel is the Official Opposition Whip. (CP)
Leaders of Other Parties - $211,425
Bob Rae is the interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. (CP)
Minister of State - $214,368
Tim Uppal is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. Ministers of State are essentially junior cabinet ministers. (CP)
Cabinet Minister - $233,247
Jim Flaherty is Minister of Finance. (CP) All ministers also receive a car allowance of $2,122.
Leader of the Opposition - $233,247
As NDP chief, Thomas Mulair is leader of the Official Opposition. He also receives a $2,122 car allowance. (CP)
Speaker of the House - $233,247
Andrew Scheer is currently serving as speaker. On top of his salary, Scheer receives a rent allowance of $3,000 and a car allowance of $1,061. (CP)
Prime Minister - $315,462
As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper also receives a car allowance of $2,112. (AP)
Mitchell argued Wednesday the pay cut is too great to attract the right type of people -- family men and women with mortgages and children in university -- to Parliament Hill.
"I am arguing that a 20 per cent cut overnight, from one day to the next, in take-home pay ... [from $7,200] to $5,800 a month does begin to raise questions about the adequacy of compensation," he said.
"If one gets here and has that mortgage and a couple of kids in university, or one ends up getting a chance to go to Harvard that one had not anticipated, the furnace blows up, the car breaks down, a new one must be bought, one cannot opt out. One cannot stop paying that 25 per cent of one's pay because we are all locked in, period," the Liberal senator said.
Looking at Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau, Mitchell said the 37-year-old father might have children going to university, an expense of $1,500 or so a month in addition to a possible $1,500 mortgage. "That leaves $2,800 a month to pay for the heat, light, food, maybe spend a holiday with the family that has been neglected to some extent because members have been away at least 125 nights," he said.
Mitchell quickly added: "I'm not saying that $5,800 for many Canadians is not a lot of money, but it is not a huge amount of money, and it certainly is difficult for someone at 45 years old, the kind of person one would expect would be desirable as a member of Parliament representing people, to live any kind of quality of life that would reflect the kinds of stress, pressures, responsibilities..."
In an interview with The Huffington Post Canada Thursday, Mitchell said he is not concerned about his own take-home pay and would happily pass the reforms for himself, but that he worries they will create a House of Commons staffed by elites.
The Liberal senator also suggested the Conservatives are lowering wages because they believe "government sucks" and "is not worth anything." Lowering take-home pay diminishes the work that MPs and senators do, Mitchell said.
He told his colleagues Wednesday it was up to senators to speak out against the reforms because politics prevented MPs from doing so. He went on, however, to talk about the unfairness of the changes for senators, suggesting that because they retire later they will not reap the same benefits and should not be forced to contribute the same amount. He also questioned likely Canadian Pension Plan clawbacks and said the government's math doesn't add up.
The Conservative's deputy leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan told Mitchell he shouldn't view the pension plan contributions as a salary reduction but as a salary deferral. "It is money that we contribute and that we put aside to one day withdraw a pension," he said. "This pension, if we compare it to the rest of Canada, is relatively good," he said.
Brazeau told Mitchell that while the legislation affects him "as a Canadian citizen and as a father," his ability to provide for his family will not be affected by the pay reduction.
"I can tell you that whether I get $2,000 less or $5,000 less on my pay, I will spend the same amount of time with my family, because that is a Conservative principle," the father of six said.
As recently as September, Brazeau was entangled in a dispute over child-support payments with the mother of his 18-year-old son. Brazeau told HuffPost he has not seen that son since 2001, but that he cares for two children full-time and sees the other three every second week.
Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.
Related on HuffPost:
The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>
MP And Public Service Pensions
<strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.
The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.
Changes To The Indian Act
The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.
Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks
Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.
Hiring Tax Credit
The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.
New Bridge To U.S.
C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.
Grain Act Amended
The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.
Hazardous Materials Under Health
All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.
Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour
The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.