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SOCI - Standing Committee

Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 7 - Fifth Report of the Committee

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the honour to present its


Your Committee, to which was referred Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, has, in obedience to the Order of Reference of Monday, March 29, 2004, examined the said Bill and now reports the same without amendment.

Your Committee appends to this report certain observations on the Bill.

Respectfully submitted,


For the Chair


to the Fifth Report
of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs,
Science and Technology

Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, is intended to allow retired parliamentarians aged between 50 and 55 to continue receiving health, dental and life insurance benefits, even though they are not entitled to their pension during that period as the Act specifies that MP pensions cannot be paid until the retiree has reached age 55.

To justify this amendment, it was argued before the Committee that the benefits for retired Parliamentarians are essentially identical to the benefits provided to retired public servants. In actual fact, public servants have an option to retire as early as age 50, suffering a penalty in the form of a reduced pension but continuing their benefit plan coverage. This option is not available to Parliamentarians due to the terms of the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.

Proponents of Bill C-24 suggest that it fills a gap in coverage and brings retirement benefits for Parliamentarians in line with those of public servants. Witnesses appearing before the Committee, however, disagreed. Individuals who have left the public service do not have the option of benefit plan coverage between the ages of 50 and 55 prior to receiving their pensions. In essence, it was argued that the government is legislating a double standard: one for former Parliamentarians and one for retired public servants. The Committee was also informed that the vast majority of private plans require that retirees be in receipt of their pension before any health or dental benefits become available.

The Committee understands that the impetus for this Bill lay in the circumstances of one particular Member of Parliament, but that others are also affected. While we are supportive of the specific case, the Committee does have concerns about the process followed; in particular, the use of legislation that amends legislation of general application and impacts a broad policy area, with little debate or public input, when other means may have been available to address an individual situation.

Unfortunately, the Bill's underlying objectives and overall impact were not addressed in any detail in the House of Commons, where it was passed pursuant to the terms of a House Order at all stages in less than one hour, with minimal debate and without committee review. At the very least, other non-legislative options should have been considered to accommodate a unique situation, such as an Order in Council or through internal administrative means. If there is a legislative oversight or gap, it ought to be addressed in the regular legislative course. The amendments contemplated in this Bill could be presented as part of omnibus legislation or in the context of future revisions to the Parliament of Canada Act, or to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, thereby ensuring that they are analyzed and debated in a thorough manner with greater public participation and input.

The long-term ramifications of this bill are also unclear. Witnesses suggested that it might, for example, set a precedent that could impact future public service collective bargaining. The extension of these benefits to Parliamentarians could result in nearly half a million federal employees requesting similar pre-pension health and dental benefits.

The Committee is particularly concerned about public perception of legislation that is ``fast-tracked,'' a concern that is amplified when a bill addresses compensation or benefits for Parliamentarians. It is even more troublesome in this instance, as we are asked to approve increased healthcare benefits for Parliamentarians at a time when broader public healthcare issues desperately need to be addressed by government. While such bills may be eminently defendable and necessary, we must be more sensitive to the added cynicism they may engender among Canadians.

The dilemma facing the Committee was that we sympathize with the situation of the individual retiring Parliamentarian, who wishes to have continuous coverage and appears to have been caught in an inadvertently created gap, but at the same time the Committee is concerned that this legislation appears to be providing Parliamentarians with benefits which are superior to those available to civil servants when that was not the stated intention.

A better approach might have been to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act to permit former Parliamentarians to take a reduced pension prior to age 55 and receive plan coverage, making the system and choices more comparable to those available to former civil servants.

That was not an option open to the Committee, but is one, which we suggest for future consideration.

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