Fire Your Politician, Just Don’t Forget the Severance

You're all fired!
You’re all fired!

In case you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a Federal election here in Canada, with all the low-balling, mud-slinging and attack ads that go with it. The race is tight, with our three major parties in a dead-heat for who will form our next government. Nothing is certain, except that a number of our current politicians will be out of a job come October 19, 2015.

We all know that being a politician is a unique gig. After all, where else can employees vote on their own pay increase. It’s also a job that does not require any previous experience or education (although incumbents will argue that this is a definite asset) and can be extremely well compensated. In fact, a member of the House of Commons annually receives:

  • $167,400
  • Full group benefits
  • Relocation expenses for setting up their primary or secondary residents in the National Capital Region
  • Pension

These amounts are also adjusted based on the Member’s responsibilities, with key personnel receiving the following in addition to their base salary:

  • Prime Minister – $167,400
  • Speaker of the House – $80,100
  • Leader of the Opposition – $80,100
  • Ministers – $60,000
  • Leader of Other Parties – $56,800

Also unique to the job are our politicians generous severance packages. This election year, if a member of the House of Commons fails in their re-election bid, they will receive 50% of their annual pay, regardless of service and even if the Member decides not run for office.  Remember John Baird, the Foreign Affairs Minister who resigned last March? Based on these calculations he will receive $113,700 in severance for service to the government of Canada. This compensation however pales in comparison to members of the Alberta Legislature, where MLAs received 3 months wages for every year of public service. Thankfully this law has now been changed, but with Alberta cleaning house in last spring’s election, some multi-term members of the legislature received severance compensation in excess of $800,000! I can’t think of another industry where I can walk into my bosses office, hand her a letter of resignation, and ask for my six-figure severance cheque.

But how does severance for our politicians work, exactly? Well in truth, politicians are not really employees in a traditional sense, they’re “members”. They also don’t receive a “salary”, but rather a “sessional allowance”. Although I’m unfamiliar with any authority on this, I would argue that employment statutes such as the Canada Labour Code as well as  common law principles concerning employment relationships would not apply.

Rather, parliamentarians have the unique authority to pass laws concerning their own compensation and “employment rights”. So benefits such compensation, pension and severance for resigning members would have all been proposed, debated and passed under laws such as the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.

Where else could you find a job perk like that?!

David M. Brown
Kent Employment Law
Twitter: @davidmjbrown

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