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Debate begins on stripping errant politicians of pensions

12/10/2013 03:33 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST
Debate begins Tuesday in the House of Commons on a private member's bill that aims to part politicians from their pensions if they're convicted of a crime that carries a potential sentence of at least two years.

Conservative MP John Williamson admits he once called his legislation "the Mike Duffy bill" but adds, "Duffy is part of it, but he's not the only one carrying water on this."  Duffy has not been charged with any crime.

In a phone interview, Williamson said the idea for his bill was spurred by the conviction of former Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne, who is currently serving a prison sentence for fraud stemming from his expense claims while he was a member of the Senate. Lavigne is collecting both an MP's and a senator's pension, despite his conviction.

Since that time, former Conservative Senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau as well as former Liberal Senator Mac Harb, have had to repay inappropriately claimed expense money, and are being investigated by the RCMP.

"I'm counting this bill is going to be popular with the tax-paying public, so I'm hoping it's going to pass," Williamson said.

Williamson says he has the support of Treasury Board President Tony Clement. "Tony has been working with me and has been helpful," he said.

Williamson also pointed to an email sent by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to a constituent who wanted to know the NDP's position on the bill.

NDP is onside

"Please know that the NDP will support this legislation because we believe deeply that Canada's legislators should abide by the law of land," Mulcair wrote.

However, Mulcair added, "We feel that this is a half-hearted attempt by the Conservative government to restore its reputation badly damaged by the growing number of scandals under its watch."

Williamson's bill applies only to federal politicians, although he points out he modelled the bill's language after a similar bill that Nova Scotia passed that has already resulted in one member of the provincial legislature being stripped of his pension after serving six months in prison for fraudulent expense claims.

As long as the crime calls for a potential sentence of at least two years, the politician would lose his or her pension, Williamson says, even if the time served lasts only a few months. Politicians affected by the legislation would be refunded their own pension contributions, with interest, but would not get anything else.  

Williamson said some of his Conservative colleagues would like to see the bill extended to the entire public sector, but, "In a private member's bill I decided to bite off what I could chew"

Many MPs were dismayed when they learned serial killer Russell Williams would be able to collect his $60,000 pension he'd earned after a two-decade-long career in the military. 

Even though the military burned the former air force colonel's uniform and destroyed his medals, it was powerless to stop his pension. Williams was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal sexual assaults and murders of two women while he was serving in the forces.

Sources have told CBC news that the government, angered by the colonel's case, has considered its own bill that would apply to the broader public service.

Williamson's bill, entitled "Revoking Pensions for Convicted Politicians" will be debated today, and one more day about a month from now, before it's sent to a parliamentary committee for further study, and then back to the House of Commons for a final vote.

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