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$800,000 per Lucky MLA

BC Libs' pension grab offered a fat target. The NDP whiffed.

By David Schreck 18 May 2007 | TheTyee.ca

David Schreck, a former NDP advisor to the premier and a management and economic consultant, publishes his political newsletter StrategicThoughts.com here.

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I'm richer!

A retroactive pension windfall worth an average of more than $800,000 per member will go to just 41 lucky MLAs, almost all of them BC Liberals!

An MLA must serve six or more years after June 19, 1996, in order to qualify for the new pension; as of May 12, 2009, the date of the next election, only 5 NDP MLAs will have the required service, but 36 of the Liberal MLAs will be fully vested. The NDP's Leonard Krog, who was first elected in 1991 but not re-elected until 2005, will not qualify for the new pension unless he is re-elected. Only Corky Evans, Mike Farnworth, Sue Hammell, Jenny Kwan and Harry Lali have the necessary years of service without winning another election.

When he introduced Bill 37 to implement some of the recommendations made by Campbell's hand-picked commission, government House Leader Mike de Jong said: "With respect to one-time costs related to the pension buyback, I'm advised that, assuming all eligible individuals choose to exercise their full buyback rights, the total one-time cost would be $42 million, of which individuals would contribute $8 million." That provision of retroactive pensions benefits will cost taxpayers $4 for every $1 paid by MLAs. It also means that the 41 MLAs who are eligible to buy back service can claim an average taxpayer paid windfall of $829,268 ($34 million divided by 41). With the biggest salary and continuous service since June 19, 1996, Gordon Campbell will get more than that.

The pension figures make it clear why there could be division within the NDP caucus. If all members of the caucus signed the waiver and rejected the entire package, it might increase the chances that many of them could be re-elected. Current polling numbers suggest that 20 of the 33 NDP MLAs would lose their seats if an election were held today; they don't have to worry about ever receiving a pension because they won't have the necessary 6 years' service. In protecting the windfall for five of their colleagues, the NDP caucus may have assured that several times that number go down to certain defeat.

Laughing to the bank

The issue that cuts so deeply for the NDP has the Liberals laughing all the way to the bank. Campbell's commission provided political cover for the outrageous 29 per cent pay increase, plus the retroactive pension windfall for 75 per cent of the Liberal caucus, that is almost like winning the lottery, only in this case they got to pick their numbers after the draw. It is an example of stunning political stupidity that the NDP caucus rendered itself impotent on this issue instead of taking it to the public.

Since the release of the report from Campbell's Commission on May 1, only one news release came from the NDP caucus on the issue, and that was with respect to donating their raise to charity. Invitations to be interviewed by news media or on talk shows were refused; there was no fight-back campaign. They blew the opportunity to criticize the commission which did not reflect the diversity of British Columbians, which was unilaterally appointed by the premier, which demonstrated contempt for the public and which was racked with internal divisions.

Maybe good manners got in the way of protecting Campbell's political shield. The NDP caucus also blew the opportunity to demonstrate leadership for the public, which is understandably angry with the money grab, and they failed to offer an alternative. Word from Victoria is that the proposal to deal with MLA pay and pensions will be in the party's 2009 election platform. Why would they want to remind people of their blundering?

The best the NDP can hope for is that voters recognize that Campbell is responsible for the money grab, while forgetting the ham-handed way the NDP caucus behaved.

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