OTTAWA - The NDP is calling for an independent review of MPs' generous pension plan.
Interim leader Nycole Turmel suggested Wednesday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is wasting his time pondering the matter and should turn it over to outside pension experts.
She said Harper's time would be better spent focusing on how to improve retirement security for all Canadians.
"Stephen Harper has his priorities wrong," she told her caucus. "He thinks the most pressing issue right now is MP pensions, not the retirement security of millions of Canadians.
"I came here to fight for better pensions for all Canadians and Stephen Harper should join me. He should let an arms-length committee take care of MP pensions. It's quick, it's simple. Maybe it will give him time to finally focus on ensuring every Canadian can retire in security."
Harper has confirmed that the MP pension plan — along with the somewhat less-generous plan for federal public servants — is being reviewed as his government prepares to deliver a budget that is supposed to dramatically cut costs.
The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation says MPs have the best-performing pension in the world and argues that it is a ripoff.
NDP House leader Joe Comartin disputed the federation's calculations on the richness of the plan. But he acknowledged MPs are in a conflict of interest when it comes to their own pensions; hence the need for an independent evaluation.
Turmel raised the issue as she attempted to rally New Democrat troops for Monday's resumption of Parliament.
MPs are eligible for a pension after serving at least six years and can start collecting it at age 55.
The taxpayers' federation says taxpayers contribute $102 million annually to the MP pension fund, coughing up $23 for every $1 contributed by MPs. The fund is protected from market fluctuations, with an interest rate of 10.4 per cent guaranteed by law.
The federation calculates that more than 20 MPs would be eligible to collect an annual pension of more than $100,000 if they were to lose their seats in the next election in 2015 or retire. Harper would be eligible to collect an annual pension of at least $223,500, while interim Liberal leader Bob Rae would be entitled to at least $71,400 a year.
Comartin said the NDP doesn't believe the federation's calculations are accurate. He said an independent study of MP pensions about 13 years ago found taxpayers contribute $5 or $6 for every $1 contributed by MPs.
In her speech, Turmel attempted to rally the caucus with a rousing call to "fight for families" during the next sitting of Parliament, particularly in the upcoming budget. She reiterated her priorities: more health-care funding, poverty reduction among aboriginal Canadians and support for workers who lose their jobs or whose wages and benefits are under attack.
"I'll make this next Conservative budget the fight of my life," she proclaimed.
However, the NDP will have less ability to influence the next budget, expected in February or March, than it's had over the last eight years of minority governments. This will be the Harper government's first majority budget, in which it does not need the support of at least one opposition party to ensure its passage.
Still, caucus chair Peter Julian said the NDP can influence the content of the budget by rallying public opinion.
"Our job is to make sure that those voices of those families from coast to coast to coast are heard in the House of Commons," he said.
"I think for the Conservatives to simply say, 'We don't have to care about Canadians, we don't have to care about public opinion,' would be a serious mistake. They have to pay heed to public opinion and we're going to make sure that they know full well what Canadian families are thinking."
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