Generous pensions for retiring MLAs panned

As more MLAs announce their retirement, critics take aim at their generous pension plan.

VICTORIA – Veteran B.C. Liberal MLA Murray Coell has added his name to the list of politicians retiring from the B.C. legislature, as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation renewed its criticism of the MLA pension plan.

Coell, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands since 1996, announced Wednesday he will not stand for re-election next spring. Surrey-Tynehead MLA Dave Hayer announced the same decision earlier this week, joining Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Harry Bloy, Vancouver-Fraserview MLA Kash Heed and Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger in retirement from the B.C. Liberal caucus effective May 2013.

On the NDP side, New Westminster MLA Dawn Black and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Mike Sather have indicated they will complete their current terms and retire. More retirements are expected in both parties.

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman used Hayer’s departure as an example of what the CTF calls gold-plated pension payouts available since the MLA plan was reinstated in 2007. The CTF calculates that Hayer will likely collect $47,600 the year he turns 65, increasing to $62,900 a year by the time he is 80 due to inflation protection.

Coell served in several cabinet posts, most recently as labour minister after the 2009 election. Since pensions are based on an MLA’s highest three earning years, Bateman calculates that Coell’s pension will kick in at $89,000 a year.

The CTF says taxpayers contribute $4 for each dollar paid by politicians. MLAs must serve six years to be eligible. If defeated before then, they get a 15-month severance.

The return of the pension plan for B.C. MLAs was overshadowed by steep pay increases they voted for themselves in 2007. The B.C. Liberal government adopted the recommendations of an independent committee that increased base pay for a backbench MLA 29 per cent to $98,000, with automatic cost-of-living increases that bring the current base pay to nearly $102,000.

In response to public pressure, the previous MLA pension plan was scrapped by former NDP premier Mike Harcourt in 1996. A group retirement savings plan was set up that matched MLA contributions dollar for dollar, a system the CTF says was fair.

The 2007 return of the indexed, defined-benefit pension was originally opposed by the NDP, but former leader Carole James reversed her position and supported it after pressure from caucus members.

The current plan allowed long-serving MLAs to buy back the years they lost when the more modest plan was in place. Most, including Premier Christy Clark, did so, at a cost of more than $20 million to taxpayers.

Tom Fletcher, Black Press