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OTTAWA — The recent resignations of former governor general Julie Payette and former senator Lynn Beyak, and the circumstances under which they stepped down, have renewed a discussion about morality and pension eligibility.
If precedents set by former senators, who have resigned from their roles in disgrace, are any kind of indication: the two are not mutually exclusive.
Payette, the former chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, resigned as the Queen’s representative over a damning workplace harassment assessment.
Ninety-two current and former Rideau Hall employees were interviewed in an independent review, and mostly painted details of a “toxic” work environment that included hostile and humiliating interactions with Payette. The nature of her resignation was unprecedented.
Roméo LeBlanc was the last governor general to resign the viceregal role, albeit under different circumstances. He stepped down from the position in 1999 citing health reasons.
Senators are another story. Because of a loophole, there have been plenty of senators who have resigned in disgrace and have been able to keep their pensions.
This is because senators lose their pension eligibility if they are convicted of an indictable offence and expelled from the Senate. This can be circumvented by resigning before they face an expulsion vote from their colleagues.
While no senator has ever been expelled, it almost happened in 2017 when former senator Don Meredith resigned from the upper chamber following the revelation he had a sexual relationship with a teenage girl while in office.
Meredith was also facing allegations of workplace harassment and sexual abuse at the time.
Years earlier, former senator Raymond Lavigne resigned his role in the upper chamber after being convicted of fraud and breach of trust in 2011. That act allowed the former Liberal MP to save his pension.
Former Liberal senator Mac Harb did the same thing in 2013 when he risked losing his pension over a possible criminal conviction in relation to Senate spending violations.
Harb’s charges would later be dropped.
Why are we talking about this?
Some people, including Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, have argued due to the circumstances surrounding Payette’s resignation, she should not be entitled to the lifetime annuity, estimated to be around $150,000.
Watch: Opposition leaders press for details on Payette’s resignation. Story continues below video.
“She resigned her role,” O’Toole told reporters Monday. “She should not be able to access the normal courtesies provided to governors generals.”
Appointed in 2017, Payette served as governor general for 40 months.
On top of receiving an annuity for the rest of their lives, governors general are privy to a program that allows them to set up an office and bill related administrative expenses to Canadians.
Since leaving Rideau Hall in 2005, former governor general Adrienne Clarkson has found herself in hot water after racking up at least $1.1 million in office expenses by October 2018.
Dominic LeBlanc, president of the Queen’s Privy Council and the son of a former governor general, told The West Block in an interview that in order for Payette’s pension to be stripped, Parliament would have to spend time drafting and debating new legislation to amend the Governor General’s Act.
He did, however, leave the door open to a potential Treasury Board process to review Payette’s access to an annual expense account, another post-employment perk of being governor general.
“We think Canadians expect a high degree of transparency and rigor with respect to any of these benefits,” LeBlanc told host Mercedes Stephenson.
What about Beyak?
Beyak positioned herself as a proud contrarian in the last chapter of her Senate legacy by making herself an advocate for the “good deeds” that resulted from the residential school system, which has been described as a vehicle that wielded “cultural genocide” upon generations of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit families.
Beyak announced her resignation Monday by stating she was keeping a promise made to Stephen Harper, the former Conservative prime minister who appointed her in 2013, to stick to an eight-year term limit in the spirit of Senate reform.
Despite the controversy that has followed since her initial comments in her 2017 speech, the ejection from Conservative caucus over her refusal to remove a derogatory letter from her taxpayer-funded website, the unsuccessful cultural training sessions she attended, and the two times her Senate colleagues suspended her without pay, Beyak remained unrepentant.
“Some have criticized me for stating that the good, as well as the bad, of residential schools should be recognized. I stand by that statement,” the Ontario senator said in a press release announcing her immediate departure from the upper chamber.
“Others have criticized me for stating that the Truth and Reconciliation Report was not as balanced as it should be. I stand by that statement as well.”
There’s another perk bestowed to senators after they retire: their title.
According to the table of titles for use in Canada, a senator is allowed to be styled as “Honourable” for the rest of their life.
There was a push in 2019 by the Senate’s ethic’s committee to strip Don Meredith of the title. It’s a rule senators can have potential influence in changing though it’s never been done before.
“Since the beginning of Confederation this chamber has never made a recommendation or invited the prime minister to advise the governor general to remove the title of ‘honourable’ of any senator,” said Sen. Josée Verner in a December 2019 speech.
Under the same table of titles, the governor general is allowed to be styled as “Right Honourable” for life after they leave Rideau Hall.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller tried to hold his tongue Wednesday when asked if he believed Beyak should receive her pension considering a third push by her colleague to suspend her right before she resigned.
“There’s a number of cameras in front of me so I’ll stay polite,” Miller said. He called Beyak’s remarks “unacceptable” and expressed astonishment that she had shown no remorse.
“Let the Senate deal with her pension,” he said. “Seriously.”
But the question of whether a former parliamentarian or viceregal can be stripped of pensions they’re entitled to under federal law could be something the government might need to deal with, like it or not.
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OTTAWA — Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh aired his grievances Friday about the link between COVID-19 outbreaks and ineffective paid sick-day policies, claiming conservative premiers have “completely failed people” on this file during the pandemic.
Singh and members of his party have continually pressed the federal government for months to take stronger measures on paid sick leave, despite provincial and territorial governments’ jurisdiction on labour codes and employment standards.
Pressed if his message would be better directed at Ontario Premier Doug Ford than the federal government, Singh said provincial leaders share responsibility for the issue as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
“There’s no doubt that conservative premiers like Doug Ford have completely failed people,” Singh said of provincial governments’ reluctance and delay in introducing guaranteed paid sick days during a pandemic. Only Quebec and P.E.I. have permanent paid sick leave policies.
“They have failed and they need to come up with ways to support people and businesses,” he added. “There is no question: Doug Ford has failed, as well as (Saskatchewan Premier) Scott Moe, (Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney, they’ve been failures.”
Watch: An inside look at a Canadian field hospital. Story continues below video.
Singh, who spoke to reporters after a caucus meeting, outlined three items that will be high on his radar when Parliament returns next week: the vaccine rollout, protecting seniors, and ensuring easier access to paid sick days.
His criticism comes the same week a temporary agreement came into effect in Alberta, making symptomatic nurses eligible for paid sick leave “for the duration of their illness or for the applicable isolation period” until March 31.
According to the Decent Work and Health Network, 58 per cent of workers in Canada do not have adequate paid sick leave.
Doctors and advocates have warned COVID-19 transmission in workplaces is fuelled by inadequate policies, which force symptomatic front-line workers who have no paid sick days to choose between continuing to work to make end’s meet or staying at home without pay.
It’s a Catch-22 scenario that health officials have identified as problematic during a pandemic.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, called earlier this month for the government of Ontario to provide no less than 10 paid annual sick days, describing the policy as “essential” to protecting “the health of individual workers, their workplaces, and the broader community.”
The federal government passed legislation in the fall to implement the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to provide $500 per week, for up to two weeks, in financial support to workers who don’t have paid sick leave, and need to take time off work due to COVID-19.
But that program is temporary, insufficient and cumbersome, according to Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour.
“The federal sickness benefit is simply not the same as provincially legislated paid sick days,” Coates told HuffPost Canada. “Guaranteed paid sick days are available to every sick worker who needs them, ensure sick workers do not experience any income disruption, and enable workers with any symptoms to stay home to keep communities safe.”
With the federal program, workers have to wait until they’re sick to apply for benefits and people who miss less than 50 per cent of their work week are ineligible, Coates said.
“Provincially legislated, employer-provided, paid sick days make the decision to stay home easier to keep workplaces and communities safer.”
Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario’s new finance minister, told reporters Friday the topic has come up in conversations he’s had with his federal counterpart, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Right now it takes a fair bit of time to get that money into those who’ve applied successfully for those funds.Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy
Ford has previously indicated that there’s no current need for the province to introduce its own paid sick days policy during the pandemic when the federal program has had low uptake.
Asked if it’s incumbent on the provincial government to step in if the federal sickness benefit isn’t working to curb COVID-19 infections, Bethlenfalvy spoke generally and said it’s important to get money to those who apply for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.
“Right now it takes a fair bit of time to get that money into those who’ve applied successfully for those funds,” he said, adding the provincial and federal governments are working together to ensure funds get into the “needy hands” of applicants.
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OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wants Parliament recalled early so MPs can pass legislation, if necessary, and hold the Liberal government to account as regions introduce restrictions to control the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Singh said Thursday that “scary” modelling data for the country’s most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, show trend lines pushing hospital capacity closer to its breaking points.
Shutdowns are vital but support and help also needs to be in place for Canadians, he said.
“That includes looking at every measure possible to ensure that we’re not overburdening our health-care system which is at the brink right now,” Singh said. “I think we have to take this very seriously.”
Watch: Ford defends COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Story continues below video.
The NDP leader’s comments come the same day Ontario’s new stay-at-home order comes into effect.
Under the new order, police in the province are able to ticket people who leave their home for non-essential reasons. Interpretation of the new rules has fuelled some confusion with non-essential retailers remaining open for curbside pick-up.
Quebec’s curfew came into force over the weekend, which will remain in effect for four weeks.
Singh said tightened restrictions in Ontario and Quebec to limit the movement of people, and the potential spread of COVID-19, are hurting small businesses.
The NDP wants to get a jump on issues such as paid sick leave, long-term care, and additional help for businesses. These are time-sensitive topics that require immediate attention from MPs, Singh said.
“These three things are top of mind in terms of what we need to address immediately and these can’t wait a week or two weeks. We need to get to work immediately.”
Singh said when the House returns, he wants to see public health guidelines followed — and the number of MPs allowed in the chamber reduced.
Federal parties struck an agreement last spring to reduce the number of MPs allowed physically in the chamber, in proportion to party standings, during hybrid sittings.
Some Parties had as many as 10 MPs in the chamber, Singh said. “We think it needs to be much lower than that.”
Singh said parties have yet to reach an agreement on how the upcoming sitting will look when the House returns later this month.
The Liberal government hasn’t given any indication that Parliament will be recalled early.
“We have just seen the comments made by Mr. Singh and we don’t have anything to say at this point specifically,” said Simon Ross, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez’s spokesperson.
Ross told HuffPost Canada the government “remains committed to making Parliament work well for Canadians as our country faces the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The hybrid model of Parliament, with some members physically present while others join sessions via video conference, was a format that worked under the circumstances, Ross added.
When the new session of Parliament got underway in September, with no immediate end of the pandemic in sight at the time, efforts were made to design and test secure remote voting.
The House adopted a motion on Sept. 23 asking administrators to “develop and test a secure remote voting application that would include a visual component to authenticate members’ identities and a notification to all members’ House-managed mobile devices.”
“We have put forward a proposal to other parties on how to proceed with the work of Parliament during the pandemic,” Ross said. “We look forward to constructive discussions with them in advance of the return of Parliament.
The House of Commons is currently scheduled to return Jan. 25.
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