Quitting federal politics, Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney will get multimillion-dollar pensions

By Jason Fekete, Ottawa Citizen

As Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney count down the days before exiting federal politics, they can start adding up the several millions of dollars they’re ultimately in line to receive from the parliamentary pension plan.

It’s an enormous amount of money for two MPs who, in the 1990s, labelled the pension scheme as “obscene” and came from a Reform Party that had fought against a lucrative “gold-plated” pension plan.

At the same time, Harper could be forfeiting potentially $1 million to $2 million in additional pay after drastically cutting the benefits from the separate prime minister’s pension plan in 2012 — part of a series of Conservative pension reforms that also forced MPs to triple their contributions and increased the retirement age.

Both Harper and Kenney are slated to receive more than $120,000 in annual MP pension pay at age 55 (in Harper’s case, it would kick in immediately after he resigns) and well over $5 million in total payments assuming they live to age 90, according to figures calculated by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“It’s quite generous — but we are happy to see that reforms are now in place that will see MPs pay for a much bigger portion of their own pensions,” said Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The former prime minister is expected to resign as MP for Calgary Heritage before the fall sitting of the House of Commons begins Sept. 19.

Kenney, who has jumped to provincial politics to unite the right in Canada, has said he’ll resign his Calgary Midnapore seat by the time the Progressive Conservative leadership race officially begins Oct. 1.

Harper, 57, is set to receive about $127,000 in annual MP pension payments once he resigns his seat (assuming he quits around Sept. 18), increasing to about $134,000 per year at age 60, when factoring in inflationary increases, according to the taxpayers federation.

In total, Harper’s MP pension pay would add up to roughly $5.5 million up to age 90 (factoring in for inflationary increases to the payments).

Harper could not be reached for comment.

Kenney, 48, is slated to receive about $121,000 per year in MP pension payments at age 55 (increasing to about $148,000 at age 60), says the CTF.

Add it up and Kenney — who was first elected in 1997 and served in cabinet for nearly a decade — is in line to receive potentially $6.3 million in total MP pension payments up to age 90.

Kenney said he refused to enter the pension plan when elected in 1997, but noted that all MPs were forced into the plan following legislation adopted by Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government.

The Calgary MP said he advocated for many years for changes to the MP pension plan, dating back to his days with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in the mid-1990s before being elected to Parliament.

The pension reforms adopted by the Conservative government have made the plan less generous and finally resulted in changes he and other Reform MPs called for over many years, he said.

“I have long fought for reform of the MP pension plan,” Kenney said in an emailed statement to the Ottawa Citizen.

“The only way I could have avoided participating in the MP pension plan would have been not to run for Parliament. If MPs dedicated to MP pension reform had not run, the plan never would have been reformed. I am proud of this and many other achievements in my 19 years in Parliament.”

Kenney said that if he holds a position in the public sector, such as being a member of the Canada legislature, once he’s scheduled to start receiving MP pension pay, he would contribute the full amount of any benefits received to charities focused on poverty reduction.

The only way I could have avoided participating in the MP pension plan would have been not to run for Parliament

“I would be happy to do so in a publicly verifiable way, and to release my tax returns as well,” he said.

Harper, meanwhile, can also start collecting a separate prime minister’s pension once he turns age 67, estimated by the CTF to be about $58,000 per year, potentially adding up to an additional $1.6 million if the former prime minister lives to age 90 (includes estimated inflationary increases).

Yet, the total PM’s pension that Harper is scheduled to receive will be significantly less because of reforms passed in 2012 by the former Conservative government that sliced the additional pension entitlements paid to prime ministers who serve four years or more in office.

The taxpayers federation believes Harper could lose out on potentially $2 million by having cut back the prime minister’s pension benefits.

Prior to the changes, prime ministers who served four years or longer received two-thirds of their additional PM salary (which is on top of their base MP pay) once they were no longer an MP or reached age 65, whichever came later.

Following the reforms, Harper and successive prime ministers now have their additional pension calculated at a far less lucrative rate of three per cent of the prime minister’s salary per year of service, and they must also wait until age 67, at the earliest, before they can collect it.

Under the broader reforms adopted by the Conservative government, annual pension contributions for MPs are to increase to nearly $39,000 by 2017 – from about $11,000 at the time of the changes – bringing parliamentarians’ contributions up to a 50-50 split between the government and the individual MP.

Members of Parliament will now also have to wait until age 65 to collect their full pension, instead of 55.





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