Suspended senators will keep right to collect parliamentary pensions

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy leave the Senate by a back door on October 22, 2013. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

Treasury Board President Tony Clement says the government will prevent three senators who were suspended without pay from counting the time spent on suspension as part of the qualifying period for a parliamentary pension.

Conservatives in both the Senate and the House of Commons were surprised Thursday to learn that this week’s suspension of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau does not automatically mean they will stop accruing the time toward the pension benefits.

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Annie Joannette, a Senate spokeswoman, said the Senate administration has been advised by the Treasury Board Secretariat that, under the Parliament of Canada Act, suspended senators are required to continue making their pension contributions. “And therefore the period of suspension counts as pensionable service,” Ms. Joannette said in an e-mail Thursday.

Senators must spend at least six years as parliamentarians before they can apply for pension benefits. Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau, who were found to have submitted questionable expense claims, were all appointed to the Senate in January, 2009, which means they will have served six years by January, 2015.

According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, if Mr. Brazeau, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Duffy retire as soon as they have served their six years, they will be able to collect about $24,000 annually once they start drawing their pensions.

Retired senators may collect their pensions at the age of 55. So Mr. Duffy, who is 67, and Ms. Wallin, who is 60, will be able to collect the benefits at the start of 2015 if they choose to retire at that time. Mr. Brazeau, who turns 39 next Monday, will have to wait until 2029.

But Mr. Clement said he will make sure that the time spent under suspension does not count as pensionable time for the three disgraced senators, even if he has to change regulations.

Government leader in the Senate Claude Carignan’s motion that passed Tuesday to suspend the senators was clear in its intent to stop them from collecting money from the public payroll, Mr. Clement said, and “we will make sure that things conform to the spirit as well as the letter of the Senate resolution.”

A lawyer for Ms. Wallin has told the media that his client would consider taking the steps necessary to prevent the government from depriving her of her pension. But, Mr. Clement said, if the suspended senators try to put up a legal fight, “we’ll see them in court.”

Mr. Carignan said he too will study the options to ensure that the intent of the motion is applied.

“If we have technical problems, little technicalities,” he told reporters “… we will study this legal advice and we will see in a few days or weeks what kind of position we will take in the future on this particular part of the motion.”

There is no rush to get it worked out, Mr. Carignan said.

That came as a surprise to James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, who pointed out that the Conservatives had shut down debate about the suspensions to hustle Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau out the door.

“I gave up a couple of weeks ago trying to predict what they are doing,” Mr. Cowan said. “They are making this up as they go along and this is just the latest chapter.”

With a report from Daniel Leblanc

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