By Thom Corbett
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and I have something in common.
Both of us worked for the National Citizens Coalition where “gold-plated” MP pensions were ridiculed on billboards and in radio commercials.
But, our commonality ends there. I can look forward to receiving $540 a month in Old Age Security after working for 40 years while Harper will pocket $18,626 a month as one of those “MP pension pigs” that the NCC use to mock. And that is if he retires in 2015 after less than 20 years in Parliament.
Harper was president of the NCC, the organization that ran billboards featuring a pig lounging in a feeding trough filled with cash and little piggy feet holding a glass of champagne. We also ran radio ads called “It’s Time to Chop the Pork”, which included a chorus of squealing piggies in the background.
Although Harper left the NCC behind to become prime minister, he also seems to have left behind the indignation his former employer expressed when it came to gold-plated MP pensions.
Instead, Harper now wants to cut seniors’ pensions. One of his ministers in charge of cutting paltry seniors pensions, Diane Finley, seems to share Harper’s disdain for the nickel-plated pensions of seniors.
On the CBC program The House, on February 4, Finley said that seniors should not be looking forward to public pensions but that they should look elsewhere for retirement money. She said she has taken other action to prepare for her own retirement. She didn’t mention that her plans include a gold-plated pension, that for seven years of work, she could retire today and receive a pension of around $3,000 a month. While the rest of us get $540 a month.
No doubt Minister Finley is also socking other money aside for retirement thanks to the $233,247 she makes every year as a cabinet minister. Then there is the matter of the Senate seat her hubby warms which sees him bringing home more bacon. He is a former campaign manager with the Conservative party and now receives a taxpayer-funded yearly salary of $132,300. With a combined taxpayer paid salary of $365,547 a year, this power couple makes as much as a seniors’ home filled with 56 seniors living on an OAS pension.
So while seniors eat Kraft Dinner, the Finleys could be dining on caviar. The seniors would be drinking tap water while the Finleys sip Champagne. While some seniors stare at dingy walls, the Finleys could be living in a million-dollar mansion. Now, I don’t know what the Finleys living arrangements are—maybe they also stare at the walls inside a dingy apartment.
And while seniors save Air Miles to visit their children once a year, Minister Finley qualifies for 64 return airline tickets every year to jet set anywhere in Canada. She can visit her home riding or fly off to Banff for a skiing trip, watch icebergs in Newfoundland, or campaign for her party in a by-election.
So, as Harper, Finley, and other MP pension pigs get ready to take their knives to seniors’ pensions, one wonders why these folks are so mean-spirited?
It’s not that seniors are gobbling up the country’s resources. While nickel-plated senior pensions eat up 2.4 percent of our economy, future costs will only reach 3.2 percent before they begin to drop again. So this can’t be the problem.
Perhaps the problem is those billions of dollars Harper and his band of little piggies have handed over to their corporate drinking buddies in the form of tax cuts. You know, to corporations such as Caterpillar, who were beneficiaries of a $5-million tax break for buyers of products from their Electro-Motive plant in London.
Maybe this $5 million was a taxpayer-funded fee for Caterpillar allowing Harper to use their facility to stage a campaign speech during the 2008 election. A speech where he praised these good corporate citizens and announced another $1 billion in tax breaks for other corporations.
That plant is empty now. The company wanted their 465 workers to accept a “take it or leave it” 50 percent salary cut which would knock them down to $16.50 an hour. That would put them a few bucks above the minimum wage. The workers refused to “take it”, so the company decided to leave and head for the United States where hungry and homeless workers would slave for the minimum wage.
But you have to feel sorry for Harper’s corporate buddies at Caterpillar. The company’s profits rose only 83 percent last year to finish at a paltry $4.9 billion. And their poor CEO had to take a wage cut and is forced to live on only $10.4 million a year. So why couldn’t the workers live on $16.50 an hour when Mr. CEO has to get by on about $5,000 per hour? Of course, he does have a corporate jet and other perks so that should soften the blow for him.
So, I guess it’s easy to see why seniors must contend with a cut to their pensions. They must go hungry so corporations can stuff their bank accounts with billions in Harper tax cuts.
Not to mention that Harper must also look after his own retirement plans. As history shows, when prime ministers and many MPs leave office, they usually end up working for the same corporations that profit from government tax cuts. Sort of like that old cliché, “You scratched our back and now we want to scratch yours.”
We can expect that when Harper leaves his cushy government job he will end up working for one or more of those corporations and easily take home $1 million a year. In which case, his pension of $18,626 a month or $223,517 a year would be chump change.
But, when our prime minister leaves with his chump change pension, the biggest chumps will be the taxpayers. Those of us making $540 a month. If all the present MPs join Harper and leave office in 2015 (that would be nice) they would end up with $262 million in cumulative pensions. If you count all the MPs who have retired in the past or were booted out in elections, then their combined pensions reach into the billions of dollars. A whole town full of pension pigs.
And these pensions grow every year. While private pensions have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, the MPs guarantee that their pensions rise every year. Paid for by the taxpayers.
And while Prime Minister Harper and Minister Finley say cuts are necessary because the government must fund OAS pensions out of “general revenue”, MPs contribute as little as $10,990 a year towards their own pensions. But taxpayers must contribute (for every MP), $248,668 a year. And this is also funded out of “general revenue”.
While Harper, Finley, and other Conservative pension pigs are determined to cut paltry seniors’ pensions, they may also make small cuts to their own pensions. As a smokescreen. But don’t expect them to cut much because MPs from all parties have cried like little pigs when cuts have been proposed in the past.
If MPs were truly public servants, instead of expecting the public to serve them, they would lead the way by receiving the same pensions as the taxpaying public. Don’t hold your breath for this to happen.
Unless you and I, the people who are paying for the MPs’ pensions, start shouting at the top of our breath, Harper, Finley, and other MP pension pigs will be oinking all the way to the bank.
While seniors roll pennies that they have put into piggy banks to purchase some luxuries. You know, to buy food. Or pay the power bill.
Thom Corbett is the former executive director of Ontarians for Responsible Government, the Ontario project of the National Citizens Coalition. He left NCC to work with the Reform party in Ottawa and is now an unsalaried pastor in Nova Scotia, where he rolls pennies in his spare time.