Senators Gone Wild!

Oh, the life of a Canadian Senator. A nice little base salary of $135,200 per year. A guaranteed job for as long as you want it until age 75. A strenuous “workload” that fills three days a week, 29 weeks a year. And a chance to work outside and earn extra cash. That’s right. A Toronto Star article from July says that all but 17 of the 101 Senators had outside gigs, including a full-time doctor, several lawyers, members of numerous boards of directors, etc. All for doing a job that most Canadians wouldn’t even know how to describe.

But, wait. There’s more! If that isn’t enough to make you want to apply for the position right this second, Senators also enjoy generous expense allowances, too. Apparently, however, all those perks still aren’t enough for several Senators, some of whom decided a few extra expense claims would help get them through the lean times.

Hence, the ongoing revelations about several Senators who allegedly submitted questionable expense claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in overpayments. One Liberal Senator, Raymond Lavigne, was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust back in 2011 after claiming $315,000 in dubious travel expenses.

I hope he enjoyed all that travelling, as he’s doing much less at the moment. Currently, Lavigne is serving a six-month sentence at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, after which he’ll be under house arrest for another half-a-year. It could have been worse, as the former Senator might have been sentenced to up to 14 years in prison for his misdeeds.

Although he forfeited his $100,000+ salary when he resigned from the Senate, Lavigne still has one ace in the hole. That’s the $67,611 annual pension he receives for the time he spent doing whatever he did in the Senate (other than claim travel expenses).

Just in case you didn’t get that, a former Senator who was convicted of fraud is collecting nearly $70,000 a year in pensions, paid for with your hard-earned tax dollars.

Does this make you angry? You’re not alone. In fact, one determined Member of Parliament, John Williamson, a Conservative from the riding of New Brunswick Southwest, is so appalled, he’s introduced a Private Members Bill that was brought to my attention recently.

Bill C-518, also known as the Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act, intends to do just what it says. If passed, politicians who are convicted of a crime would no longer be able to collect their pensions. Pretty simple, huh? So simple, it makes you wonder why nothing’s ever been done about this egregious situation before.

In a letter to supporters of the bill, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation explains why it’s backing Williamson’s motion and urging fellow Canadians to sign a petition showing their support, as well: “Liberal Senator Mac Harb resigned from the Senate last week. He will immediately start to collect a six-figure pension for his time as MP and Senator.

 Harb, along with Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau have all had their expense claims referred to the RCMP for further investigation. If charged and convicted of defrauding taxpayers, these Senators might have to serve hard time, but they won’t lose their generous parliamentary pensions if they resign before being convicted. (The three former Conservative Senators need to stick around until January 2015 to qualify for a pension).”

The CTF goes on to explain that, “

Resigning before being convicted is known as the “Lavigne maneuver.’” Yes, that’s right. They actually have a name for the procedure used by the above-mentioned Lavigne, whose exploits we’ve already recounted.

The Taxpayers Federation fears that, “Others will continue to enact the “Lavigne maneuver” unless we change the law.” That’s where Bill C-518 comes in. As the CTF argues, this bill “would take away the pensions from people like Lavigne or any federal politician who is charged and convicted of defrauding taxpayers.

 The bill specifically states that any conviction of those who were MPs or Senators on June 3, 2013 will result in loss of their parliamentary pension, meaning that as long as the bill passes, Harb and others, if they are convicted, would lose their pensions, even if they resign.

”

The Federation says, “We need your help to make this bill a law. We need the Harper government to adopt Mr. Williamson’s private members bill as a government bill and pass it as soon as Parliament resumes this fall.”

One way you can show your support is to sign Williamson’s petition. If you’re interested, visit  www.johnwilliamsonmp.com/C-518_Petition.pdf to view and sign the petition. You can also email Williamson directly, along with your local MP, the Prime Minister, or anyone else you can think of in Ottawa.

As I said before, the whole concept of this bill seems so simple, it’s hard to believe there aren’t already rules in place preventing convicted former federal politicians from collecting government pensions. Of course, whether the bill actually gets passed is another question entirely. As a website called hillwatch.com notes, only about 1.5% of Private Members Bills from 1993-2006 ever got passed, so the chances are slim. At the very least, however, it’s pushed the issue into the public awareness, which is a good start.

In the meantime, Lavigne will continue to enjoy his annual pension, long after his time in the Senate has become a distant memory. And, of course, taxpayers will also be on the hook for his jail time, too. I’m not sure what it costs to house a criminal at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, a provincial facility, but if it’s anything like a federal penitentiary, Lavigne is being well taken care of.

According to Corrections Canada, last year it cost just under $114,000 a year – or $312 per day – to incarcerate each federal inmate, more than the cost of staying at many all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. In this case, however, we hope Lavigne won’t be eligible to submit any bogus travel expenses for his time at the Ottawa-Carleton Crowbar Hilton. If he is, then John Williamson might have to come up with a whole new bill to deal with that.

Oh, the life of a Canadian Senator.