Conservative MPs tackle Canadian economy -- and their pensions
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 6:45AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 17, 2012 10:08PM EDT
On the same day MPs argued in the House of Commons over job losses in the Canadian economy, the Conservative caucus spent some time hammering out the details of how to rein in their pensions.
As the system currently stands, $24 of taxpayers’ money goes into the parliamentary pension plan for every $1 an MP contributes. But a new scheme worked out by the Conservative government will balance the contribution split to 50 per cent each, to be phased in over five years, reported CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife.
Fife reported Monday evening that the age at which an MP can begin collecting a pension will rise from 55 to 65 after the next election, which is to be held in 2015. The eligibility age will rise to 67 in 2029.
“We need to take some leadership on this because Canadians know we are trying to pare back on deficits,” said Conservative MP John Weston.
The changes will likely be approved by caucus when they are put to a vote, possibly as early as Wednesday.
Fife reported that some Conservative MPs are unhappy with the proposed changes. However, they were waiting to hear about possible reforms to the special bonus pension for prime ministers. A prime minister who serves four years or more receives a $100,000 bonus pension. For Harper, it would be $104,000 on top of his $119,000 MP’s pension.
“Sources say not a word from the prime minster on this, even though the Prime Minister’s Office said it would be part of the review,” Fife said.
As the Conservative caucus met, they were spurred on by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, which flew a plane over Parliament Hill tailing a banner behind it urging MPs to address the pension issue.
Economy dominates question period
Meanwhile, the opposition parties opened the first question period of the fall session of Parliament by repeatedly questioning the government on its plans to help jobless Canadians and protect Canada’s economy amid international turmoil.
Earlier Monday, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan was light on details when he told reporters the government plans to put forward legislation based on its Economic Action Plan to maintain “Canada’s record of relative strength” on the economy.
During question period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair asked about the government’s plans for its economic strategy in the face of a litany of concerns, from escalating household debt levels to the high dollar’s impact on exporters.
“Canadians deserve better,” Mulcair told the House.
“Does the prime minister have anything to say to the 1.4 million Canadians who are still unemployed? Can he name one specific thing he’s done for them, other than cut off their employment insurance?”
“We’ve done no such thing,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper replied, citing the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs following the economic crisis.
“That is one of the best job creation records in the developed world. That’s why people have such confidence in the Canadian economy.”
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale stood up to ask specifically what the government plans to do for out-of-work young Canadians, for whom “government boasting about the economy rings hollow.”
The prime minster did not address youth unemployment directly, saying Canadians support the Economic Action Plan and accusing the Liberals of failing to provide their own ideas.
Later Monday, Mulcair said his party will continue to hold the government to account on issues such as a record trade deficit, which was $2.3 billion in July, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in southwestern Ontario.
“That’s the discussion we want to have with the Conservatives,” Mulcair said. “I asked Stephen Harper (during question period) what concrete ideas he has on the subject over the past three months. Nothing. Zero response on the issue of the economy and jobs.”
Mulcair also defended his party from claims by the Conservatives that it is proposing a “carbon tax,” similar to the much-criticized and poorly understood proposal the Liberals put forward during the 2008 election campaign.
“We were against it,” Mulcair said. “We came out in favour of cap-and-trade.”
Earlier Monday, Van Loan said the federal government is focused on "maintaining Canada's record of relative strength" on the economy, as he outlined his party's plan for the fall session of Parliament.
Van Loan talked to reporters in the House of Commons just hours before lawmakers returned to the legislature after their 12-week summer break.
"The cornerstone of our work in the House of Commons ... will put into place outstanding items from the Economic Action Plan 2012 that are remain to be legislated," he said, explaining that those items include a small business hiring tax credit.
When he was pressed to detail when that legislation might be introduced, and exactly what else it might contain or how sweeping it might be, Van Loan said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty would be the one to answer those questions.
In his remarks, Van Loan also flagged several pieces of legislation the government intends to press ahead with in the coming months including Bill C37, which doubles the surcharge convicted criminals must pay their victims as well as the law designed to speed the removal of foreign criminals from Canada, Bill C43.
Other bills will deal law-and-order issues including legislation to "ensure that the RCMP is fully accountable and transparent to Canadians," Van Loan said.
Jobs and the economy remain top priorities, however, as the Government presses ahead with its Economic Action Plan 2012.
"The plan is working," he said, noting that, since the end of the global economic downturn, "Canada has posted the strongest job creation record in the G7."
Van Loan also said that during the summer break, Conservative MPs heard from Canadians who told them they want lawmakers to avoid politics of obstruction.
"We intend to conduct the business of Government in a productive, orderly and hard-working fashion," Van Loan said.
Speaking to reporters in the Commons a short while later, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said his party heard from Canadians too, who communicated their own frustration with partisan politics during the last session.
"We're ready to take their fight, their voices back to Ottawa," Cullen said.
"Now we're concerned ... they are planning to do that all over again," Cullen added, referring to the next budget implementation legislation.
"Our message is this: It doesn't have to be this way, there are things we can accomplish together," he said.
The opposition parties struggled to impede passage of the last budget implementation legislation, with its sweeping amendments to more than 70 pieces of legislation including environmental protection and employment insurance. The legislation ultimately passed, after a marathon vote, right before the summer recess.
Harper was the target of fierce criticism for what opponents are still calling a "Trojan horse" bill, but after months of relative political calm since then, he has seen his party's approval ratings creep back up.
Cullen said the NDP intends to bridge that gap in the coming months, by proposing positive solutions to issues ranging from strengthening the economy, handling Canada's natural resources and reforming public pensions and employment insurance.
"We're not waiting until 2015 to show Canadians we have a talented, dynamic, cabinet-ready team," Cullen said.