Canada’s Conservative government has made many promises over the years, some of which have simply slid into the slipstream of political darkness, while others have conveniently been cut up into bite-size, chewable pieces that our politicians can easily swallow.  Of course, when it comes to the world of the shrewd, we shouldn’t expect anything less.  If we were completely honest with ourselves, we would assume that the realization of any political promise (especially those sprinkled lavishly along the campaign trail) does not reality make.  This year however, the Conservative government seems to be tackling some of its pre-election campaign pledges to strengthen the Canadian economy by reassessing the federal budget.  Even if, (surprise surprise) the effectiveness goes hand-in-hand with other, less favorable legislations… (But hey, we’ll take whatever we can get, right?)  While Canada struggles to wriggle free from the clasp of a worldwide recession, all things fiscal continue to dominate the political arena and, albeit, public discernment.  At the forefront of Canadian concern, we see the economy affecting all aspects of society.  The reality of budget balancing, fiscal management, federal spending and taxes, is therefore not only imperative but also fundamental, (as it speaks directly to our democratic consciousness).  However, while the dream of Canadian equality appears to be dwindling in the face of our increasingly stratified culture, redemption by the Conservatives seems like a tall order to fill.

Wrapped up lavishly in a 443-page federal budget omnibus bill, 64 pieces of legislation, (touching on everything from environmental rules, to business tax breaks, to judge’s salaries and employees’ take-home pay) reveals the more demure, democratic side of parliament (perhaps a consequence of public pressure from media, nonprofits and other government-regulating groups).  Pension reform has been the thrust of that impetus, which, if carried out successfully, will consequently save our government over $2.6 billion.  So just how does it do it?  Well, firstly by removing some of the financial onus off of the crestfallen taxpayer’s shoulders. This means making those platinum-plated retirement plans for federal employees far less generous.

The move to self-regulate, disperse, change and equalize comes at a ripe hour.  Many Canadians have no pensions whatsoever, while the rest of us can only dream of receiving such hefty sums upon retirement, (which, by the way, the Conservatives have increased by two years). The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was recently quoted saying that Canada’s MPs have the best pension fund “on the planet,” the bulk of which is contributed by the taxpayer, albeit padded lavishly by kush legislation that ensures maximum growth and protection.  Currently, our government subsidizes the majority of government pensions, dishing out six times the amount paid by MPs into the plan.  However statistics released last June by the CTF tallied an even greater cost disparity between the taxpayer and the MP, tipping the scales at a staggering 24:1 ratio.

If we were to break it all down into laymen’s terms, the reality of government expenditure on things like federal employee pension plans would come as a dreadful surprise.  Presently each MP makes just under $158,000 a year and, following the current legislation, after only six years of sitting in the House, at 55 years of age, each MP qualifies for a pension based on the average of his or her best five years of salary.  This means Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be eligible to collect a pension of at least $223,500 per year by 2015, while Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, (if he continues as party leader) can collect a pension of at least $71,400 per annum.   NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault on the other hand, who was elected last year at the age of 19, can collect a pension of $40,000 per year if he retires at the age of 27, while twenty more MPs will be able to collect over $100,000 a year if they retire or lose after the following election.  This of course, is not taking into account the guaranteed 10.4 per cent interest rate, which, (by the way) outperforms the Canada Pension Plan by 60 per cent over the last 10 years.  Based on the interest rate return, taxpayers are therefore paying an additional $248,668 into the fund, per MP.  If we combine dollar contribution and the guaranteed interest rate, we see that our input into these funds, amounts to a staggering $102 million a year.  Yes, we may not know it, but we are indeed making those deep politician pockets, even deeper.  Without a doubt, this sham is an exploitation of magnanimously epic proportions, highlighting a severely misplaced trust in our hallowed conviction of all things “democratic.”  So while our government doth protests that it is attempting to make the necessary changes, one has to wonder, what other undemocratic elements plague this administration?

Looking at the upside of Bill C-45, Canadians can be somewhat pleased that parliamentarians will soon share the cost of their pension contributions on a 50-50 basis with taxpayers, (which means that Harper himself would be giving up at least $70,000 a year in eventual pension payments). However, despite the progressions, there is an undercurrent of dubiousness that seems to mock Bill-C45, calling into question the very democratic nature of our own government.  For example, it is uncertain how much MP’s and senator’s salaries might increase to compensate for the proposed pension contribution requirements, while those already serving will not have to worry about any pension eligibility change.  Yet critics argue that some of the other major changes presented in the bill are also inherently inequitable, such as the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the elimination of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, the removal of the federal board for Employment Insurance premium rates, and the Merchant Seamen Compensation Board.  And while the word, “undemocratic” seems almost offensive to Canadians, it may very well be because we live, for the most part, under a veil of political ignorance and apathy.  The truth is, governments are like businesses, predominately ruled by personal gain, self-interest and profit and ours is no different.  This is why it is more important than ever for Canadians to speak out and have a voice in local and federal government.  We must understand and appreciate the power of collective knowledge, activity, awareness and engagement that can ultimately affect  the very landscape of our own political future.

-Elizabeth Cucnik



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