Pension tab estimated at $227 billion
By Gregory Thomas
When you raise the issue around the water cooler about how we pay our politicians in Ottawa, it rarely takes long before you hear a rant about their platinum-plated pensions.
And for good reason; the over $100 million taxpayers kick in each year is not chump change. But, it’s the tip of the pension iceberg in Ottawa – a tip that needs to be sliced off in order to address the real government pension costs that are quietly eating away at Canadian pocketbooks.
This will be the first, and very necessary step, to gain the moral high-ground required in reforming public sector pensions.
Taxpayers contribute $102.7 million annually to the pensions of MPs and Senators. This number dwarfs the mere $4.4 million paid in by the politicians themselves, a ratio of $23.30 in taxpayer funding for every $1 paid by the people who will receive the pensions.
Many backbench MPs defeated in last year’s election started collecting $33,000 in annual pension at age 55 for just seven years of service.
While not quite as generous as the politicians, even senior government bureaucrats have gotten in on the act. Taxpayers put $80 million into their pension plan in 2010, while senior bureaucrats contributed $11 million, a staggering $7.27 to $1 ratio.
The estimated $100 million taxpayers kick in each year is not chump change. But, it’s the tip of the pension iceberg in Ottawa – a tip that needs to be sliced off in order to address the real government pension costs that are quietly eating away at Canadian pocketbooks.
When it comes to pensions, there may only be a small number of MPs, senators and senior bureaucrats. Fattening up their pensions cost taxpayers less than $200 million annually. The pensions of the entire federal government payroll, on the other hand, are a big problem.
Taxpayers understand there is no free lunch. They also understand that government employees want to put money aside for retirement. Matching both MP and bureaucrat contributions dollar-for-dollar in a pooled registered pension plan, an RRSP, or a tax-free savings account seems more appropriate in today’s reality – maybe even still generous.
Nevertheless, reform is necessary to reign in the exploding pension liabilities that are being foisted upon taxpayers, both from politicians and bureaucrats alike.
The federal public service pension plan had 561,395 members in 2010 – 317,088 active members and 179,670 retirees collecting pension. Newly retired government workers collected an average of $35,644 annually, retiring as early as 55.
Total pension payments were $5 billion while total contributions from federal government employees reached $1.52 and taxpayers threw in another $2.8 billion. Compared to the outrageous pension schemes for politicians and senior bureaucrats, the half-million or so federal employees appear to be a bargain. Taxpayers paid only $1.84 for every $1 they paid into their retirement savings. It does not seem fair that somebody retires at and collects only $8,300 in annual benefits.
The worst news about government employee pensions is the total tab. Taxpayers are on the hook for $147 billion in lifetime pension benefits for these half-million federal employees. That’s roughly equal to the entire assets of the Canada Pension Plan. This plan is meant to eventually support nearly every one of the 34 million Canadians.
The C.D. Howe Institute actually says the news is even worse. It claims the government is underestimating its obligations for bureaucrat pensions and that unfunded liability is more like $227 billion.
Gregory Thomas is the Federal and Ontario Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Markham began his journalism career writing columns in the mid-1980s for Western People Magazine, then reported for a small Saskatchewan daily. He has spent most of his career in media and communications, likes to dabble in politics, was actively involved in economic development for many years, thinks that what goes on in the community is just as important as what happens provincially and nationally, and has a soft spot for small business (big business, not so much). Markham is a bit of a contrarian and usually has a unique take on the events of the day.