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Senator wants to roll back $12,500 pay bump for some members of the Red Chamber

Politics

Progressive Sen. Pierre Dalphond is determined to roll back salary increases for dozens of members of the upper house — extra pay that he said can’t be justified with the Senate meeting so infrequently during the pandemic.

The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber are pictured in Ottawa. Sen. Pierre Dalphond is (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Progressive Sen. Pierre Dalphond is determined to roll back salary increases for dozens of members of the upper house — extra pay that he said can't be justified with the Senate meeting so infrequently during the pandemic.

For nearly 20 years, the chairs and deputy chairs of Senate committees have received additional remuneration for the added work that comes with the job.

Nearly half of all sitting senators are now receiving more than their $157,600 annual salary. Dalphond said the number of senators receiving extra pay has gotten out of hand and it's time to cut it back.

A chair of a committee is entitled to an extra $12,500 a year, while a deputy chair collects another $6,200.

"Why should some of us be paid more as an incentive to serve as chair or deputy chair? I think that's wrong. I think those positions should be assigned to the people most qualified to discharge the duties," Dalphond said in a speech to the Senate Monday.

Dalphond, a former Quebec court of appeal judge, has introduced a motion that would strip extra pay for all chairs and deputy chairs, on all committees, for the remainder of the current parliamentary session.

"COVID-19 and the resulting serious economic crisis, including the financially precarious situation of millions of Canadians and the massive deficits in public funds, make it necessary now more than ever for us to question some of our practices," Dalphond said.

"With all due respect, I think it is time to backtrack"

It appears as a kind of culture of entitlement and it is damaging the reputation of the Senate.

– Sen. Pierre Dalphond

As CBC reported last month, the Senate quietly passed a motion on March 11 to make the chair and deputy chairs of the Senate selection committee — a body that has so far met just twice this year, once for less than nine minutes — paid positions.

The motion, introduced by Independent Senators Group (ISG) Leader Yuen Pau Woo, also added four other paid deputy chair positions for other committees.

Woo is collecting the extra pay as he is also chair of the selection committee.

The motion was agreed to by all the leaders of the various caucuses and groups — including Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett and Canadian Senators Group (CSG) Leader Scott Tannas.

(The Progressive Senate Group was not a "recognized" caucus at the time and Sen. Jane Cordy, its leader, did not sign off on the agreement.)

As result of that March 11 motion, there are now two paid deputy chairs for the committee on internal economy, budgets and administration (CIBA), the rules and procedures committee, the foreign affairs and international trade committee and the national security and defence committee.

Two of those committees — rules and national security — haven't been officially constituted since the last federal election, so neither of them has a chair to pay.

The internal economy committee, a powerful body that essentially governs the upper house, has met four times since March 11. The foreign affairs committee has met once.

The chair and deputy chairs of the national finance and social affairs committees, which have been meeting regularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic on the Zoom online conferencing platform, are also collecting additional remuneration.

The Senate is expected to adjourn this week for its scheduled break — and won't return until the end of September.

'Not a good thing'

Dalphond said the "transactional distribution" of paid positions — through deals brokered by leaders like Woo, Plett and Tannas — is "not a good thing."

"For many, it appears as a kind of culture of entitlement and it is damaging the reputation of the Senate, as we have seen in the media," he said.

In a statement, Plett said the Conservatives "have not taken a position as a caucus" on Dalphond's proposal.

A spokesperson for Tannas said the CSG, a relatively new Senate group composed largely of former Conservative senators, hasn't discussed Sen. Dalphond's motion. "As a result, Sen. Tannas will not make comments at this time."

A spokesperson for the ISG, a group largely compromised of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's appointments to the Red Chamber, also said the caucus hasn't discussed the Dalphond motion, which was tabled last week.

"It was the Conservatives who adjourned the debate," the spokesperson said.

At least one ISG senator publicly supports Dalphond, who recently left that caucus to sit as a Progressive.

Independent Quebec Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne said she has "serious reservations about these bonuses."

"In the spirit of the ongoing Senate reform, it's time to consider the validity of additional wages," she said.

While Dalphond's motion deals specifically with stripping extra pay during the pandemic, he said that the government should look at doing away with the salary bump altogether.

The chairs of committees in the U.S. Senate receive no additional funds — the job of chairing such committees is considered a privilege and there is no shortage of senators competing for the top jobs.

The House of Lords in the United Kingdom doesn't offer any extra money to lords that chair committees in the chamber, either.

"The Senate is made of talented and devoted individuals and I trust there will be many volunteers for these positions of committee chairs and deputy chairs, even in the absence of additional pay," Dalphond said.

About the Author

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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