OTTAWA — Sen. Lucie Moncion hopes she will inspire copycats with a motion proposing the Senate ask the House of Commons to draft legislation to implement a pay freeze for parliamentarians during the coronavirus pandemic.
During a speech in the Senate chamber Thursday, Moncion said the proposal, which she admittedly described one that could be view as “a superficial or even symbolic gesture,” can be quantified as additional money that wouldn’t go into politicians’ pockets.
“Given the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the finances of individuals and the state, the government should take steps to ensure that parliamentarians do not get a pay raise,” the Ontario Independent senator said.
“I did a quick calculation, and if you combine the amounts for the Senate and the House of Commons, we’re talking about $1.7 million a year.”
Watch: Senator proposes pandemic pay freeze for parliamentarians. Story continues below video.
Moncion told HuffPost Canada that she believes there’s a general consensus the gesture is an important one for consideration for all public officer holders in all levels of government.
“With people struggling, I think there needs to be something done, not just at the federal level, but I think everywhere in this country,” she said.
The motion follows the decisions some MPs and senators made earlier this year to donate their automatic 2.1 per cent salary increases in April to charities and organizations mobilizing community COVID-19 responses.
Moncion said she split her spring pay bump into donations to help the food bank, hospice, church in her hometown of North Bay, Ont. among other non-profits.
For senators, she said next year’s pay increase is a little bit over $3,000.
Departments make budgets for salaries and pay increases for the upcoming year in the fall. This year’s salary increase was decided last fall, before the pandemic, Moncion said.
With a December deadline around the corner, she told HuffPost now’s the time to table legislation to halt automatic pay increases expected for parliamentarians in the spring.
“Because the pay hikes are set in legislation, it needs legislation to be changed. And if the government wants to go further, that’s fine.”
The gesture is one Ottawa has seen before.
Harper wanted Ottawa to ‘lead by example’
In 2010, parliamentarians opted to waive their automatic pay bumps for three consecutive years in response to the economic crisis.
At the time, Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was saddled with a $53-billion deficit. Harper said his government would “lead by example.” Salaries for cabinet ministers, MPs, and senators were frozen as an austerity measure.
Moncion’s Conservative colleagues suggested a freeze on parliamentarians’ salaries wouldn’t generate much in savings in comparison to the size of the deficit.
Watch: Senator says ‘we can’t beat ourselves up’ over pandemic pay bumps.
The pandemic has prompted the federal government to introduce a suite of emergency spending measures that have raised the deficit to at least $343 billion — a historic high.
Other ideas were suggested.
“If we’re going to take such a drastic measure, it should apply not only to parliamentarians, but also to the entire public service,” said Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais.
“Rather than just do something symbolic,” the Quebec senator said he thinks the Senate’s time is better spent reviewing, improving, and approving bills that help the country’s finances.
Moncion’s motion will be debated in the Senate next week.