OTTAWA -- A former member of Canada's military says if Prime Minister Stephen Harper truly supports his troops, he'd change his government's stance on a private member's bill to improve the pension plans of the military and RCMP.
Fred Newton, a 20-year veteran of the military in the communications branch, is one of hundreds of former military and RCMP officers pushing the Conservatives to help pass Bill C-201, a private member's bill from NDP MP Peter Stoffer.
"To me, it's all about the principle of the thing," said Newton, now a computer consultant in Winnipeg. "I consider that the RCMP and the military are getting a raw deal."
In the 1960s, when the Canada Pension Plan was implemented, the government decided it would be a financial hardship to ask members of the military, RCMP and civil servants to pay into CPP on top of their pension plan. The unions agreed, and the military and RCMP instead split the existing contribution amount between the CPP and the pension plan.
The result was that upon retirement at age 65, the amount retired military and RCMP officers received from their pension plans would be reduced by the amount of CPP they were receiving. The idea was that the inputs wouldn't go up, but the outputs would therefore also not go up.
But Stoffer says this wasn't done with any consultation over four decades ago and should be corrected today.
"It's fundamentally unfair," he said.
The most troubling part to many veterans is that before they turn 65, military and RCMP retirees receive their pension in full as well as what the government calls a "bridge benefit" designed to ease the transition between retirement and turning 65.
The pension payments are not reduced by the amount of the bridge benefit. But at age 65 the bridge benefit ends, the CPP kicks in, and the RCMP or military pension is then reduced by the CPP amount.
Stoffer said it cuts monthly payments an average of $200.
Stoffer's legislation would allow members of the military and the RCMP to receive the full amounts of both CPP and the military or RCMP pension. To pay for the change, contributions military and RCMP currently make to employment insurance would be stopped and the same amount added to their pension contributions.
Stoffer said RCMP and military workers don't collect EI so they shouldn't be paying into it.
He says the change will be cost-neutral because of the EI aspect, plus the savings the government will see in paying less in Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments to military and RCMP retirees.
"There will be no cost to the taxpayer," he says.
But the government says Stoffer's bill would cost the government over $7 billion to implement and another $110 million in annual operating costs. Conservative MPs voted against C-201 en masse when it came up for a vote at second reading in May. The bill passed with the support of the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois parties. It will go to a parliamentary committee for public comment in a few weeks.
Jay Paxton, spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said Friday that Stoffer's bill would provide benefits beyond what retired members pay for in their contribution plans.
"The Canadian Forces pension plan is flexible and generous, and compares favourably with some of the best pension plans in the country," said Paxton.
He said that in the great majority of cases, pensioners do not see a difference in their monthly income at age 65. Conservatives have previously argued that most retirees pay into CPP beyond their military days because they work in the private sector after retiring. That means that when they retire their CPP benefits have increased so even when the pension plan and CPP benefits are combined, the total monthly income doesn't always change.
Paxton said Stoffer's bill essentially makes the bridge benefit permanent, which would incur the costs to the government and the military and RCMP pension plan.
Newton said he is surprised the party that constantly bills itself as the greatest supporter of Canada's military is completely against legislation that thousands of military retirees want.
"You see Prime Minister Harper all the time saying we've got to support our troops and then (the Conservatives) go and turn around and vote against this," said Newton. "It's hypocritical."