OTTAWA – The Liberal government is blaming its Conservative predecessor for the fact Don Meredith will be able to collect an annual pension now that the disgraced Ontario senator has formally resigned his seat in the upper chamber.
Meredith’s resignation became official Wednesday afternoon after it arrived at Rideau Hall, putting an end to his time in the Senate.
That decision provided Meredith a financial benefit, ensuring he would receive a regular annual pension payment rather than a one-time — and significantly lower — lump-sum payout.
A senator or MP who is expelled is only entitled to collect the contributions they made to the pension plan.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison, whose department oversees parliamentary pensions, said there is nothing in the law that would allow his department to deny benefits from a senator or member of Parliament who resigns.
Amending the pension rules would require legislative change that wouldn’t apply to Meredith, Brison noted Wednesday after the government’s weekly caucus meeting.
“Even if an act of Parliament were changed, it would not apply retroactively,” he said.
“So let’s be very clear on what can or cannot be changed and not try to spin this and deflect responsibility from (former prime minister) Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.”
Brison wouldn’t say whether the act should be changed, nor would he provide more details about the law itself when pressed by reporters.
“In all fairness to the government, this is a tough situation. It is uncharted water,” said Sen. Leo Housakos, chairman of the Senate’s internal economy committee, which oversees spending in the upper chamber.
“Sen. Meredith has been punished accordingly. Now, is there an appetite to take away his pension? That I’ll leave to the government, because they’re the ones that have the authority over it.”
Like a number of disgraced senators before him, resigning his Senate seat ensures Meredith gets to keep a pension, which the Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates to be worth about $24,420 a year.
Were he to start collecting benefits in July 2019 at age 55 and continue to age 90, Meredith would earn about $1.1 million with cost of living increases factored in, based on the watchdog group’s calculations.
Conservative MP Tony Clement, himself a former Treasury Board president, said Meredith has paid the price for his actions, “as he should.”
Meredith released a vague statement Tuesday saying he would leave the Senate — his lawyer later confirmed his intent to resign — the day before the upper chamber could have voted to expel him over his sexual relationship with a teenage girl.
An explosive Senate ethics committee report into the relationship concluded that Meredith was unfit to serve in the upper chamber, and recommended that his fellow senators vote on whether to expel him.
Meredith denied them that chance Tuesday.
“I am acutely aware that the upper chamber is more important than my moral failings,” his statement said.
“After consulting with my family, community leaders and my counsel over the past several weeks, I have decided to move forward with my life with the full support of my wife and my children. I am blessed to have had their unconditional love and support throughout this ordeal.
“It is my hope that my absence from the Senate will allow the senators to focus their good work on behalf of all Canadians.”
There are still two outstanding ethics investigations against Meredith, one related to a Senate trip that included one of his private business partners, and another in regards to allegations of workplace harassment and bullying.
Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said he wants to see the investigations reach their conclusions to ensure there are no other victims.