Politics

Opposition set to amend election bill to curb MP pension eligibility

An attempt by the Liberals to avoid holding the 2025 federal election on a date that conflicts with a religious festival appears set to be overruled by the Opposition, following claims that the new date sets up a financial conflict of interest for MPs first elected in 2019.

The current election law says that unless Parliament is dissolved early, the next federal election “must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election” — Monday, October 20, 2025.

That date conflicts with Diwali, the religious festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in South Asian communities.

Bill C-65, the Electoral Participation Act introduced last March, proposes a one-time change to move voting day a week later, to Oct. 27.

But holding the election on that date would also mean that up to 80 MPs — those who were first elected in the 2019 general election — would have served the six years required to qualify for a parliamentary pension, even if they don’t run and win their seats in the next campaign.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper called the proposed change to the timing of the next election ‘cynical and dishonest.’ (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“It ought to be called the loser Liberal pension protection act,” Conservative MP Michael Cooper said as Commons debate kicked off on C-65 at second reading Friday morning. He accused the Liberal government of changing the date so that MPs who don’t run again or lose their seats can “pad their pockets at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.”

“It’s about as cynical and dishonest as it gets,” the Alberta MP said.

Not so, the Liberals insist. 

The bill, which was drafted jointly with the New Democrats to fulfil more of the conditions of their ongoing supply and confidence agreement, is supposed to make it easier for Canadians to vote — and not only by avoiding significant holidays.

‘This is all good stuff’

For example, it adds additional days to vote in advance polls. It also sets up new offices at post-secondary institutions, where eligible voters may be studying temporarily in a riding where they don’t live.

“We should all be concerned about how it is we can get more people voting,” said Manitoba Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux. As parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, he urged MPs in the Commons Friday to vote in favour.

The legislation also seeks to curb foreign interference with new prohibitions on spreading false or misleading information or accepting foreign financial contributions. The commissioner of Canada Elections would also gain new enforcement powers for “any conspiracy or attempt to commit, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to” Elections Act violations.

“This is all good stuff,” Lamoureux said, urging the House to pass the bill “relatively quickly” so that it can move to the procedure and House affairs committee for a detailed review by all parties.

But it now appears the bill won’t emerge from that review intact.

NDP amendment to spike date change

“Canadians don’t want to see members of Parliament putting forward legislation that personally benefits their own pensions,” said MP Lisa Marie Barron, the NDP critic for democratic institutions.

Barron said when the bill reaches the committee, her party will introduce an amendment to strike the date change from the bill and return voting day to Oct. 20 — meaning MPs first elected in the 2019 general election would have to be re-elected in 2025 in order to qualify for Parliament’s relatively generous retirement benefits.

Based on the initial speeches made during Friday’s debate, it appears the Bloc Quebecois also opposes changing the date and may back this amendment.

Lamoureux pointed out that of the roughly 80 MPs that might be affected by the change, more of them (32) are from the Conservative Party than any other.

If current public opinion surveys hold, Conservative incumbents may have the least to fear in the next federal vote. Up to 22 Liberal MPs, 19 Bloc MPs and six NDP MPs could all fail to qualify for an MP pension if they don’t re-offer and win again.

Conservatives already campaigning against bill

Cooper said Conservative criticisms of C-65 aren’t limited to the voting date.

A proposed change that would end the practice of rejecting special ballots if a voter wrote the name of a party instead of a candidate and “the ballot clearly indicates the elector’s intent” raises constitutional questions, Cooper said, because under Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system, voters cast ballots for individual candidates, not national parties.

Cooper also suggested that adjustments to the rules on who can assist voters who need help casting a ballot risk opening the process to abuse. He accused Liberals of turning a blind eye to potential foreign interference by not closing a loophole in election financing rules to prevent third-party donations from funnelling foreign funds into a Canadian campaign.

But it’s the implications for MP pensions that have drawn the most fire on Conservative social media. Their attacks have specifically targeted potential swing ridings where Liberal or New Democrat incumbents risk defeat.

Conservatives continue to agitate for the Liberals to realize they’ve lost the confidence of Canadians and call a federal election well before October 2025, which would render this controversy over MP pension eligibility moot.

Dominic LeBlanc, who introduced C-65 as the minister responsible for democratic institutions, was travelling and not in the House on Friday.

His office said that if the date change proves to be a major sticking point for the NDP — whose support could be necessary to pass this legislation before the next election — Liberals are prepared to look at whatever amendment is proposed. It also cautioned there’s no such thing as a perfect fall election date; the Thanksgiving long weekend and a Jewish holiday period, Sukkot, also fall around potential election or advance polling dates.

There’s no immediate plan to time-allocate or otherwise force swift passage of C-65 at second reading, the way other priority bills are being rushed through in the two or three weeks remaining before the House rises for its summer recess next month. There’s a reluctance to jam through electoral legislation, LeBlanc’s office said — Liberals believe competing views must be aired appropriately in order for Canadians to have faith in their democratic systems.

Lamoureux said Friday “the committee no doubt would deal with this issue” and for his part, he would “fully respect” whatever date a majority of MPs back when the bill comes to a vote.

“News flash … it’s a minority government,” Lamoureux said, reminding the House that more than one party was behind this legislation when it was drafted.

“The Liberal government … does not get everything that we want.”

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