12/06/2013 10:34 EST | Updated 02/05/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia government to launch review of politicians salaries and pensions

HALIFAX - An independent panel will conduct a review of salaries, pensions and benefits paid to Nova Scotia politicians under legislation tabled Friday.

Premier Stephen McNeil said changes to the House of Assembly Act would allow a three-person panel to also look at housing and constituency allowances, among other benefits.

He said the members of the panel could be announced as early as next week and suggested its membership would come from people with diverse backgrounds instead of being led solely by academics or ex-judges.

"Well, it's my hope that you will be very happy with the people that are brought forward as members of that committee," McNeil told reporters.

The legislation gives the panel until March 31 to complete its work. That changes a previous provision that stipulated reviews were to be completed within 90 days following a general election, which was held Oct. 8.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie expressed disappointment with another review of the compensation paid to politicians, who receive a base salary of $89,234.90.

"Nova Scotia has been down this road with their MLAs many times and nothing ever changes," said Baillie. "My point in the election and same point today is I want real change."

Baillie said the government could start by making substantial changes to the pension plan, which he said is far too rich and should be scrapped.

He has previously said the pensions should be capped and contributions of legislature members and the government matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

McNeil said despite Baillie's criticism he doesn't want to pre-judge what the panel should do.

"The important part of this is to let the committee, which is doing the work, do it and then report back," he said.

The previous NDP government brought in legislation in December 2011 to trim the pension received by legislature members, mirroring a recommendation made a month earlier by a three-member independent panel appointed by the Speaker.

Provincial politicians had earned a pension of five per cent of their annual salary for every year of service, up to a maximum of 75 per cent after 15 years.

The changes supported by both opposition parties changed the plan to 3.5 per cent of a politicians annual salary for every year they serve, up to a maximum of 70 per cent after 20 years.

The panel had said the cut would reduce what taxpayers pay, from 20 to 40 per cent of the accumulated earnings of an average house member's pension to a figure between 10 and 25 per cent.

The changes were implemented after the election and did not affect what serving politicians had accumulated up to that point.