One of the country’s leading economic watchdogs is raising alarms over the cost to taxpayers of government pensions accrued by defeated and retiring MLAs in B.C.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) estimates that cost at approximately $27 million over the lifetime of outgoing MLAs, who include former deputy premier and finance minister Carole James, and former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.
Federation calculations estimate James’ annual pension at $82,000 per year, after serving 15 years in office. The annual pension for Weaver, who served for over seven years, is estimated at $31,000 per year.
James, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease earlier this year, stepped down for health reasons. Weaver announced his intention to step down as Green leader in 2019 due to a family health issue, and did not seek re-election.
“While we wish these [defeated and retiring] politicians well as they chart a new career course, taxpayers need to know the cost of these pensions,” Kris Sims, B.C. director of the CTF, said in a release. “These pensions simply aren’t affordable for taxpayers. Premier John Horgan needs to reform the MLA pension plan.”
The CTF pointed to the $1 personal to $4 public contribution breakdown as another reason to overhaul the program. “Most Canadians are lucky if their employer matches a dollar-for-dollar RRSP. There’s no justification for taxpayers to put in $4 for every $1 an MLA chips in,” Sims said.
Retiring Island MLAs due to receive a government pension include former transportation and infrastructure minister Claire Trevena (North Island) and former Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister Scott Fraser, (Mid-Island-Pacific Rim) whose pensions are both estimated at $80,000 per year after 15 years in office.
The CTF did not include an estimated payout for Liberal candidate and two-term MLA Michelle Stilwell, who lost in Parksville-Qualicum by less than 1,000 votes to the NDP’s Adam Walker in last Saturday’s election. If Stilwell remains defeated after mail-in ballots are counted, she would eventually be eligible for a pension of $28,000 per year, having served since May 2013 and been a cabinet minister.
The highest pension amount calculated by the CTF was for BC Liberal Rich Coleman, the longtime Liberal cabinet minister and 24-year MLA, who stands to make roughly $109,000 per year. Fellow Liberal Linda Reid, the former Speaker of the House and 29-year MLA, will receive an estimated $107,000 per year.
Much like other public service plans, MLA pensions are calculated taking the average of their highest earning years and factoring in years of service. The annual payments are no more than 70 per cent of their highest earning year.
MLAs not returning to the legislature are also allowed to collect the equivalent of their salaries for up to 15 months while searching for a new job, and can receive up to $9,000 for skills training.
Editor’s note: The updated figures contained in this story have been corrected from the information provided Oct. 28 by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.