Conservative ministers are fanning out across the country this week, warning the long-term costs of Old Age Security must be curtailed in this year's budget in order to be fair to young Canadians who will be paying the tax bill when most baby boomers are retired.
But one minister, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, was grilled Thursday as to how he could have the "moral authority" to cut pensions for average Canadians while MPs continue to enjoy far superior pensions funded by taxpayers.
Until now, federal ministers have been extremely coy as to whether they are planning to touch the MP pension scheme. There have been closed door meetings of Conservative MPs and Senators to discuss options, but no clear plans have emerged.
Meanwhile the cost of the MP pension plan has come under heightened scrutiny since the Conservatives started talking about changes to OAS and public sector pensions.
In an interview Thursday morning with host Bill Good on Vancouver's CKNW radio, Mr. Clement acknowledged the government can't act on some pensions without touching MP pensions.
Below is a transcript of the part of the interview dealing with MP pensions.
Bill Good: You and your colleagues have pensions that greatly outdo anything an average Canadian can dream of. Will you commit to dramatically cutting and redefining your own pensions before you contemplate cutting pensions for ordinary Canadians?
Tony Clement: We've said that these issues are on the table, are being looked at... It's all about balance. We've got to be fair to employee – in this case the MP – and we've also got to be fair to the taxpayer. And that's why we're looking at options. And any conclusions we reach will be part of the ongoing debate.
Good: But if you don't redefine your own pensions, you'll have no moral authority to ask people to work an extra two or three years to be eligible for frankly, meagre benefits.
Clement: Right. So, I think the premise in your question is that we're not going to act on MP pensions, but we're going to act on other pensions and I guess what I'm telling you is we understand that argument, we understand that debate. We want to be fair to taxpayer, we also want to be fair to the MP, and that's why we're examining the options.
Good: But you've been more than fair to the MPs over the years.
Clement: I would say that it's been, look, I'm not here to judge my own pension, ok? But at the same time, I think we have heard from people to say 'Look, if you're going to examine, let's say, public service pensions, it is also an appropriate time to examine some of the provisions in the MP pensions.' And that's what we've committed to do.
Good: But there's a distinction between public-service pensions and MP's pensions.
Clement: What would be the distinction?
Good: Well, the distinction would be the public-service worker pays more money into the pension plan over the years, a greater percentage of their income, than MPs do.
Good: And generally speaking, they're not as big.
Clement: Well, the other distinction is that the public servant has a lot more security of position than an MP has.
Good: He has to work a lot more than six years to be eligible too.
Clement: No. They have to work two years to be eligible actually.
Good: But not for a full pension.
Clement: Well, I'm just telling you. You said they have to work more than six years. And I'm saying no they have to work two years, whereas MPs have to work six years. So there are differences in the pension. Let me go back to my point which I as trying to make which is look, we understand that debate. We're not oblivious to it and we are looking at our options, but it will be a balance, just like it has to be in other areas of our economy between what an employee has a right to expect and what taxpayers have a right to expect. I think that's the only thing I can answer right now until we actually come to some decisions that we are willing to communicate.