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Local MP re-introduces bill aimed at convicted politicians - Feb. 11, 2014

Barb Rayner
Saint Andrews
A private member’s bill introduced by New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson would take away parliamentary pensions from any MP or senator convicted of a serious crime.
Bill C-518, Protecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians Act, was first introduced last June and Williamson said he tabled it in direct response to the Senate expenses scandal.
Last week, former Liberal Senator Mac Harb and suspended Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau have been charged with one count each of fraud and breach of trust related to inappropriate Senate expenses.
The RCMP claims they defrauded taxpayers by claiming travel and living expenses to which they were not entitled and said that more senators are still being investigated.
The bill introduced by Williamson would close a loophole that currently permits an MP or senator to receive a taxpayer-funded retirement pension after being convicted of stealing from taxpayers.
It was first debated in June and the second debate on the bill is slated for Feb. 27.
“The first hour of debate went well and I am sensing there is going to be support coming from other parties as well,” said the MP in a telephone interview from Ottawa this week.
Following the second debate there will be a vote and, if the bill is approved, it will then be referred to a committee for study and input and Williamson is hoping it will be law before the next election in 2015.
The current rules are already set up to take away an MP or senator’s pension if they are booted from office for being convicted of certain crimes.
However, explained Williamson, if they resign before a judge hands down a conviction, their pension remains intact and that disgraced politician qualifies to receive a pension largely paid for by the very citizens that were betrayed.
“This is a loophole that should not exist. It should be repealed. The rules were intended to revoke a publicly funded pension from politicians who steal from the people they were supposed to represent.”
Williamson was the national director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in 2007 when former Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne was found guilty of breach of trust and fraud and, even though he served six months in jail, Lavigne receives a generous parliamentary pension.
“Lavigne technically resigned as a senator before he was kicked out and when a senator resigns – according to the rules – he gets to hold on to his pension for life. This is because only if a senator or MP is forced from office for breaking the law or is otherwise disqualified will that lawmaker lose the parliamentary pension.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation calculates that Lavigne is receiving $67,000 a year from his parliamentary pension which, said Williamson, is more than most working families earn from honest work in a full-time job.
More recently, Harb retired from the Senate after alleged rule breaking and misusing tax dollars - and Williamson said he qualifies for a pension estimated to be more than $100,000 a year.
“Should he be convicted, he will be in the same boat as disgraced ex-Senator Lavigne with taxpayers again footing his retirement pension. This is completely unacceptable.
“In addition, two suspended senators are also under investigation for wrongdoing and another has been charged for fraud and breach of trust.”
Williamson wants to change the law to ensure these former and suspended senators under investigation do not collect a parliamentary pension.
“It is time to get rid of the loophole that lets crooked politicians keep their pensions if they are convicted of a crime but quit before they can be fired.”
Bill C-518 will add a clause to the current law to take into account the situation where a senator or MP is convicted of an offence that occurred while that individual was in office. The current law states that a senator or MP will receive their pension contributions plus interest as a lump sum when they cease to be a senator or MP by reason of disqualification or are expelled.
“Whenever a senator or MP is found to have committed crimes while in office – whether or not they are still holding office - they should lose the pension.
“Bill C-518 will make that change and second, this bill will make sure that it will be applied to all future convictions of politicians including for crimes committed in the recent past.
“That’s why this bill includes a section stating the reform will apply to any lawmaker that is or was an MP or senator convicted of a serious crime after Jun. 3 2013 when the bill was introduced in parliament.”

barb@stcroixcourier.ca