By Gregory Thomas
When Canadians discovered back in 2010 that serial child-killer Clifford Olson was banking over $14,000 a year in cheques from Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, many of us went nuts.
So loud was the outcry — 46,000 signed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation petition demanding Olson’s benefits be cancelled — that before the year was ended, Parliament changed the law: Federal inmates lost their OAS and GIC benefits. But Parliament’s tough-love approach to elderly crooks doesn’t extend to crooked federal politicians. They get to keep their Parliamentary pensions, even if they’ve been convicted of ripping off taxpayers.
A private member’s bill currently before Parliament— Bill C-518— would eliminate Parliamentary pension eligibility for any MP or senator convicted of a serious crime while serving in office. The bill would apply to any of the senators currently under RCMP investigation for their faulty expenses, if any of them are charged, tried and convicted.
A case in point: in August, the parole board denied an application from former Liberal MP and senator Raymond Lavigne for early release.
Lavigne has served just two months of his six-month jail sentence for fraud and breach of trust for running ridiculous charges through his Senate expense account. He wanted out of the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre where he’s been enjoying taxpayers’ hospitality.
You see, beyond the free jail food and, OK, cramped accommodations, Lavigne is still collecting his $67,000 annual Parliamentary pension — the gift of a grateful nation for a lifetime of devoted service. If he lives to age 90— which is the average life expectancy of those well-maintained members of the Parliamentary pension plan — former senator Lavigne will pocket $2 million in pension.
If you’re wondering why we now have four senators under criminal investigation, one reason might be that we keep sending cheques to former politicians like Lavigne, who have actually been convicted of ripping off taxpayers.
After the RCMP charged senator Lavigne in 2007, he continued collecting his salary, banking over half a million dollars in Senate pay and padding his pension entitlements, until he was finally convicted in 2011. He also charged over $400,000 in office and travel expenses.
In his final three weeks as a Senator, the month he was convicted, Lavigne charged $5,908 in office expenses, $1,514 in living expenses, $1,486 in travel expenses and pocketed $7,486 in salary.
Then Lavigne resigned his seat, just before the Senate could vote to expel him and terminate his Parliamentary pension. Right now, it’s not enough that a Senator or an MP be convicted of a serious crime while in office. They actually have to be formally expelled. By resigning and making an early exit, Lavigne disproved the adage that quitters never win. He’ll collect $67,000 a year for life.
The formal title of Bill C-518 is ‘An Act to Amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.’ When the bill’s sponsor, New Brunswick Conservative MP John Williamson tabled it in June, he told the Commons he has an alternative title for it: He calls it the “protecting taxpayers and revoking pensions of convicted politicians act.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the Harper government borrowed the idea and inserted this bill into next month’s Speech from the Throne? What better way to send a message to senators than having the Governor General read it out loud in the Senate chamber?
Gregory Thomas is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.