The House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa is pictured September 14, 2012.
Credits: Reuters/CHRIS WATTIE
Once upon a time, back when newspapers were a licence to print money, journalists from all major news organizations — myself included — seemed to be flying around the world on their proprietor’s dime and vicariously living the good life of, well, politicians.
These were called the good old days.
And, like all good old days, they’re gone.
Just as video killed the radio star, the Internet is trying its best to kill newspapers as a tactile entity, resulting in web-driven strategies, advertising migration, staff downsizings, tighter-than-tight budgets, travel cutbacks, and the elimination of some staff perquisites once taken largely for granted. It wasn’t personal, it was business.
Unlike government, however, private enterprise either cuts up its credit card, redefines its priorities, or ends up in the toilet. But governments seem to have a hard time following suit. Their real world is different than our real world.
Exactly 12 years ago, as many know, I quit Sun Media as its national affairs columnist in Ottawa, cashed out my pension, and set out in a failed attempt to become a federal politician with the fledgling Canadian Alliance in order to teach the Liberal government a little respect for the taxpayer.
I may have done stupider things in my life, but none come to mind.
After almost a quarter-century at Sun Media, the cash value of my pension plan was certainly not grandiose, but it was nevertheless adequate. And because I believed the hype about the hi-tech world, I invested it all in the dot.com industry and waited to become rich.
It ended up like the good old days. Gone.
Now, if I had won the Alliance nomination in the federal riding of Nepean-Carleton back in 2000, and if I had beaten Liberal incumbent David Pratt, then defence minister — yes, I know ... if my aunt had nuts she’d be my uncle — I would likely still be in the House of Commons and, trust me, you would have never heard of Pierre Poilievre, the current Tory incumbent.
And I would have already qualified for a pension like none other in Canada, and therefore have secured a retirement life on Easy Street.
For every buck I put in from my meagre parliamentary salary of $157,731 — plus the additional stipend of $75,516 that I’d be making as a tough-on-crime Minister of Public Safety — you, the taxpayer, would have put in $24.
Would I care that it would take a “regular” Canadian nearly 30 years to save a nest egg equivalent to the one I would have received after only six years in the House of Commons?
Would I care that a “regular” Canadian would have to save $129,000 a year over six years to receive the annual minimum backbencher pension of $55,000 that I would have “earned” for my annual contribution of $10,900 over the same period of time?
Of course, I’d care. Remember, I’d now be a politician, and all politicians care about their constituents.
After all, isn’t the economy Priority One? The debt and deficit have to be managed. The civil service has to be trimmed. These are tough times that must be shared.
But let’s not rush into this new 50/50 contribution scheme for MP pensions.
After all, if I had actually been elected, I would only have 12 years in the Commons, and the more time served is more pension gained. By now, I’d be overtaken by greed and self-obsession, of course, which seems to be chronic on the Hill.
No, as public safety minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government (sorry Vic Toews), I’d be demanding the new scheme be phased in, say over five years, and the present system be locked in for all who are now diligently serving the Canadian people in the House of Commons and the Senate.
That way it would not affect my accrued entitlements and future payouts, nor the entitlements and payouts to any of my honourable friends who are trapped in the same boat for responding to the plaintive call to public service.
No, let the next batch of politicians and senators feel the pain that must be felt to set an example for the public.
After all, someone has to be able to say to the Canadian people that the good old days are gone on Parliament Hill, too. And it might as well be the Class of 2015.
Besides, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is expected to lift the three-year wage freeze on MPs, as if it is somehow deserved at a time when so many Canadians have seen their wages diminish.
That should soothe some of the pain.
— Bonokoski is QMI Agency’s national editorial writer