OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s focus on MPs pensions is misguided, the NDP’s interim leader Nycole Turmel said Wednesday.
In a passionate speech to her 101-member caucus, Turmel suggested Harper’s attempt to focus public attention on MPs’ gold-plated pensions rather than upcoming cuts to social programs showed his complete disconnection with average Canadians.
“Stephen Harper has his priority wrong,” Turmel said. “He thinks the most pressing issue is MPs pensions not the retirement security of millions of Canadians.”
“Harper should join me, he should let an arms-length committee take care of MPs’ pensions, it is quick and it is simple. Maybe it would give him time to focus, to finally focus on ensuring any Canadians’ … retirement security,” she said.
The NDP’s house leader Joe Comartin told reporters the NDP doesn’t think MPs pensions should be abolished, but that they should be studied by an independent committee made up of accountants or actuaries who would suggest reforms.
“It’s not clean that MPs study the issue themselves,” Comartin said. “We are in a conflict of interest, it shouldn’t be up to us to decide how the pension system should work for us.”
Harper has suggested he is looking at cutting MPs’ pensions and public sector pensions in the upcoming budget. Conservatives insist their caucus members will back the move.
The attack on MPs pensions has been aided by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which recently launched a new campaign taking aim at what they described as the best pension plan in the world.
Gregory Thomas, the Federation’s federal director, told the Huffington Post his group is not working hand in hand with the Conservative government but pushing forward an issue they have long campaigned against.
“The Conservatives are not using us, we have been fighting this MP pension battle for decades. We have bins of petitions from the 1990s in our office,” Thomas said.
A report by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation found that the pension plan pays itself an astonishing rate of return which translates into taxpayers contributing $23 for ever $1 added by an MP.
Comartin said he wasn’t sure the group’s math was correct.
Thomas said he thinks the NDP’s suggestion of passing the buck to an expert arms-length committee proves the New Democrats aren’t serious about curbing MPs’ perks.
“We are wondering how many superannuated hacks and retired judges and politicians with fat pensions would sit on the commission,” Thomas said. “It’s the classic kick the can down the road, refer it to a committee of experts, have him report back in the summer of 2014.”
Thomas was scheduled to meet with Treasury Board President Tony Clement Wednesday afternoon to speak about MPs’ pensions and balancing the budget.
IN THE FIGHT OF HER LIFE
In her speech Wednesday morning, Turmel told a room filled with NDP MPs and staffers that after spending a career fighting government cuts, she was gearing up for the fight of her life.
The former union leader said she had fought tooth and nail against the Conservatives’ reckless cuts and that she will do no less now.
“I’ve fought long and hard against the Conservatives’ ideas for 20 years,” Turmel, the former national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said.
“I’ve fought alongside all of you to hold the Conservatives to account for their failure on Attawapiskat, on job creation, on helping families get there, and now my friends, I’ll make this reckless Conservative budget the fight of my life,” she said to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the crowd.
The NDP has more seats in the House of Commons than it has ever had, but with a majority Conservative government the party has little chance of convincing the Tories to change course with their austerity budget.
Turmel pledged to fight for working families, for the unemployed, for the preservation of health care — declaring to the provincial premiers that they have an ally in the NDP.
She singled out the workers at Electro-Motive Caterpillar who’ve been told by the company to take a 50 per cent wage cut or lose their jobs.
“This is a company that is shameful, that happily took Stephen Harper’s corporate tax cuts over the years but instead of creating jobs here in Canada they have locked the doors on their own workers,” Turmel said.
“This is really wrong, unacceptable and it proves the complete failure of Stephen Harper’s inaction regarding job creation,” she added.
“We all know very well that these budget cuts won’t hurt the privileged friends of Stephen Harper,” she said, noting that these friends had already received their perks through a corporate tax cut that came into effect this January.
“But the rest of Canadians are right to be worried about the services which will be eliminated and what this will mean for their family's budget,” she said.
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