Retiring Richmond South Centre MLA Linda Reid is in line for a $108,000-per-year pension, an estimated $2.6 million by age 85, which will cost taxpayers $4 for every $1 she paid into the plan, according to calculations by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
That is the biggest single payout among the estimated $27 million in MLA pension obligations racked up by 25 B.C. politicians who retired before the 2020 election or were defeated, and before the political spotlight fades the taxpayers federation is taking the occasion to make its usual post-ballot call for reform of the plan.
“I think at the very least, taxpayers, ratepayers and voters should know what they’re paying into,” said Kris Sims, B.C. director for the taxpayers federation, and “one to four, that’s pretty gold-plated.”
“Most of us are lucky if our employer gives us a one-to-one (RRSP),” and the federation is lobbying government, as the federation has after elections for about 20 years, to consider scaling back its pension plan closer to that range.
Premier-elect John Horgan didn’t respond to an interview request but his press secretary, Jen Holmwood, did reply with a statement that “government is not presently contemplating any changes to the system.”
“MLA compensation and pensions were set according to the recommendations of an independent commission that surveyed the public and reviewed comparable salaries and pensions in other sectors,” Holmwood said.
By contrast, the incoming B.C. Liberal caucus expects pension reform “is definitely something we anticipate coming up as a discussion” once the legislature resumes, according to a statement from director of communications Carlie Pochynok.
However, while MLA pensions are “more lucrative than what most people get,” political scientist Hamish Telford argues that other elements of the job have to be factored in to considerations, starting with the fact politicians “put their job on the line every couple of years for a popularity contest.”
Telford, an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, added that while MLA salaries, that start at $111,000 and rise to $166,536 for cabinet ministers and $211,000 for premier, are high compared with B.C.’s median family income of $84,850 in 2019, they aren’t exorbitant when measured against comparable professions or executive pay.
That scale “puts the premier almost into the one-per-cent,” Telford said, “but for the scope of work that a premier is doing, the pay is very, very low. So the pension plans are, in a sense, deferred income.”
Simon Fraser University political scientist Stewart Prest said B.C.’s MLA pension plan is “on the more generous side,” but, generally, governments “need to make sure that people who are making the choice to get involved don’t feel like they’re sacrificing their long-term security to do so.”
Sims, however, argued that her group’s position isn’t personal, they recognize a lot of MLAs do a good job in a difficult occupation, “it’s strictly about dollars.”
“We’re not asking to get rid of pensions altogether, we’re asking for reform,” she said.
Three now-former MLAs on the federation’s list didn’t qualify for pensions because they served less than the required six years, Joan Isaacs who lost her seat in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain; Jas Johal in Richmond-Queensborough; and former Coast Capital Credit Union executive Tracy Redies who didn’t run again.
Sims said their estimates were based on retirees collecting on pensions starting at age 65, extending to age 85.
The lowest amount would be to retiring Linda Larson at $26,000 per year for a “lifetime” benefit of $338,000; the next highest would be to former Langley East MLA Rich Coleman who is in line for $101,000 per year, up to $2.4 million over his lifetime.
Retiring NDP cabinet ministers Carole James, Shane Simpson, Scott Fraser and Shane Simpson are all up for an estimated $87,000 per year, or $2.1 million over their lives, according to the federation’s calculations.
Former Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness, who was forced to resign from the B.C. Liberal party and defeated, can collect an estimated $28,000 per year for a total of $702,000 over his lifetime.
Andrew Weaver, the one-time Green party leader, is due for an estimated $34,000 per year, or $826,000 to age 85.
Now-retired West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan took issue with the federation’s accuracy with its calculation that he is due $84,000 per year, likely owing to his unique case of being elected at age 68 in 2001.
“My pension is 1,000 bucks a month, after 19-and-a-half years,” Sultan said, “That’s my case, I can’t really speak for the other folks.”
However, Sultan, now 87, entered politics after a career in banking and mining investment and said, “you don’t have to pay me to do this job, I would pay you to do it, because this is one of the most wonderful experiences and most rewarding,” though he acknowledged that would be “a rather impractical idea.”