When it comes to the thorny issue of MP compensation – specifically a potential pay raise and a reform of their lucrative pension plans – a clear three-way divide has emerged along party lines.
The New Democrats say they would put the decision in the hands of a neutral third party, arguing that MPs should not be allowed to set their own wages or decide the structure of their pensions.
The Liberals say Canadians are hurting as a result of the economic downturn and MPs should not be immune. They would extend a three-year freeze on their $158,000 salary when it comes to an and in April. And they would accept a restructuring of the pension plans that, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, sees Canadians contribute $24 for every dollar contributed by the politicians.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, have made it clear that pension reform is coming. Treasury Board President Tony Clement indicated this week that it will be included in an omnibus budget bill to be tabled this fall. But on the salary question, the Conservatives don’t appear to have an opinion.
When The Globe and Mail asked MPs before and after the daily Question Period on Friday whether they agreed with the extension of the salary freeze, most Conservative politicians ran away, some literally, without responding. And those who replied were less than definitive.
“Hmmm, I will have to think about that,” said Greg Rickford, the Conservative MP for Kenora, Ont., said as he ducked into a washroom.
“Extending the freeze, well wages have been frozen for the last years so the discussion around whether we should be implementing and returning to the system we had before is what’s before us,” said Rick Dykstra, the Conservative who represents St. Catharines, Ont.
“I don’t know, it is what it is,” said Randy Hoback, the Conservative from Prince Albert, Sask. “Nobody is here for the pay or the pension. I know it’s part of it. But a lot of us are here for other reasons.”
The response was much more clear from New Democrats. They echoed the party line established by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair when he was asked about MPs’ salaries earlier in the week.
Nathan Cullen, the NDP House Leader said his party recognizes there an inherent conflict of interest around the question not just of salaries but also of pensions. “We don’t see why MPs should be the one making the decisions about what kind of salaries we earn,” said Mr. Cullen. “It should be an independent, arm’s-length body from us.”
And the Liberals, like the New Democrats, appear to have come to a unified decision about what should happen in terms of MP remuneration.
“I think most people would say to us, look, this is still tough times,” said Geoff Regan, the Liberal MP for Halifax West. “I’m watching what’s happening in the world economically. I’m still very worried. I think most Canadians are very worried. We’re not exactly living in boom times. So I don’t have a problem with extending the freeze.”
His caucus colleague and former party leader, Stéphane Dion, agreed. “We are ready to make the sacrifices. We have all said that,” said Mr. Dion. “Canadians are making a lot of sacrifices and we think MPs should do the same.”