Ex-MPs could cost Canadians $220M in pensions, severances

Peter MacKay's former riding goes to Liberal Sean Fraser
Peter MacKay's former riding goes to Liberal Sean Fraser

Giving MPs the pink slip is going to cost Canadians an estimated $220 million, according to figures released this week.

There were 180 MPs who either didn’t run or were defeated in Monday’s election and are now set to collect very generous pensions and severances, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said in its report.

About $5.3 million per year will go out in pension payments to MPs who failed to get re-elected or retired, collectively totalling $209 million by the time they all reach 90 years of age, the report’s author Aaron Wudrick found.

Twenty-one of the former MPs are expected to collect more than $3 million each in lifetime pension earnings thanks, in part, to a plan that had taxpayers contribute $17 for every $1 an MP put in.

At the top of the list is Peter MacKay, who stepped down earlier this year after 18 years and four months in the House of Commons, where he held high-profile posts including Foreign Affairs, National Defence, Justice and Attorney General.

The 50-year-old could collect up to $5.9 million on his total contributions of $254,449.

MP pensions accrue at between 3 and 5 per cent per year — more if they serve as cabinet ministers, party leaders or committee chairs.

The CTF’s lifetime estimates are based on pension payments up to age 90, using a “conservative” annual indexation of 2 per cent.

So Liberal Gerry Byrne, who served as MP for 19 years and six months, contributed $211,504 to his pension. By age 90, he will have collected $5.2 million.

Because they are under the pension kick-in age of 55, MacKay and Byrne also stand to collect severance cheques: $123,750 and $86,650, respectively, or half their annual salary.

In fact, 27 MPs will receive an estimated total of just over $11 million in severance payments even though they chose to leave the job, CTF calculations show.

And perhaps those who were sent packing shouldn’t be compensated with severance either, Wudrick says.

“It isn’t fired without cause, it’s fired with cause — people don’t want you anymore,” he says. “You’re elected — it’s like voters are handing you a four-year fixed-term contract.”

Regardless, he says, the fact they receive a half-year salary seems overly generous, especially when many of the departing MPs only served one term.

But Canadians won’t have to be so generous with the current crop of MPs thanks to pension reforms passed by Parliament in 2012.

MPs’ contributions have been gradually increasing so that by Jan. 1, 2017, they will reach a more equitable ratio, much closer to the type of scheme typical in the private sector: at that point, taxpayers will end up paying about $1.60 for every $1 an elected official contributes. The full-pension age has also been raised to 65 from 55.

For its report, the CTF used information from the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act and from the MPs’ official biographies.