Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is one of several members of Parliament pledging to donate their legislated pay raise to charities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, his office says.
Scheer’s press secretary, Denise Siele, told HuffPost Canada in an email Monday that the Tory leader and Regina-Qu’appelle MP plans to give “any increase he receives to a local charity who is working hard to support Canadians affected by COVID-19.”
UPDATE: On April 1, The Canadian Press reported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also donate his pay bump to charity, as will a growing number of MPs from all parties.
Automatic salary hikes for MPs and senators have been set out in federal law since 2005. The top-ups are based on the average yearly percentage increase in base-wages negotiated by Canada’s largest private sector unions.
Watch: Scheer blasts Liberals’ attempted ‘power grab’ during pandemic
On April 1, the base salary for all 338 MPs will rise by 2.1 per cent, according to Heather Bradley, the director of communications for the Speaker of the House of Commons. That means the base salary for MPs will rise to $182,656.90, an increase of $3,756.90 from 2019. Last April, the base salary jumped by $3,300 to $178,900.
Key figures in Parliament, such as cabinet ministers, party leaders, and House leaders, earn tens of thousands more on top of their base salary. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, earns double the salary of an ordinary MP.
While MPs can seek to have their salaries frozen through legislation, that step hasn’t been taken. Stephen Harper’s former Conservative government froze MP salaries for three fiscal years during the global economic crisis — in 2010–2011, 2011–2012 and 2012–2013.
On Monday, Siele told HuffPost the Conservatives had raised the issue with the government.
“It is up to the government to bring forward legislation to make changes, should they so choose,” she said.
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, which earlier criticized the Liberal government for not pausing politicians’ pay hikes while running budget deficits, called on parliamentarians last week to take a pass on this year’s raise.
“I am sure all parliamentarians would agree that this is the wrong time for politicians to get a salary bump when millions of Canadians are struggling,” the group’s federal director, Aaron Wudrick, said in a release.
Conservative MPs, John Brassard and Doug Shipley, who both represent ridings in the Barrie, Ont. area, announced in a joint statement late last week that they plan to give away the net amount of their increase.
“As individual MPs, we can’t stop the legislated pay raise from happening,” Brassard said. “However, we can decide what to do with it.”
Brassard and Shipley are donating the extra cash to the Salvation Army and the Women & Children’s Shelter of Barrie.
“We recognize that many people are losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and stress levels are increasing in our communities,” Shipley said.
Two other Tory MPs representing ridings in Red Deer, Alta., plan to do the same. In a joint statement on Friday, Blaine Calkins and Earl Dreeshen said they will give the money to local charities.
“This is a legislated pay raise that, given the current state of affairs in our country, is not only untimely but frankly, it’s in poor taste,” Calkins said.
Dreeshen said the MPs are seeking to help local non-profits facing “increased pressure” as Canadians lose their jobs.
On Monday, veteran Conservative MP Scott Reid said he would similarly donate his increase to a COVID-19-related charity in his riding.
“MPs cannot refuse it. But we get paid more than enough,” he said on Twitter.
Reid, who defied his party’s whip by showing up to the emergency House sitting last week, said online that he was following Scheer’s example.
Reid noted he has given away more than $20,000 of his salary each year to local non-profit organizations because that is what his constituents in Ontario’s Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston asked him to do in a constituency referendum in 2001. Reid’s family owns a controlling interest in the Giant Tiger Ltd. stores. In 2018, he told the Toronto Star that he was being paid to serve as the vice-chairman of the stores’ board of directors.
At a press conference in Ottawa Monday, Trudeau announced that charities, which have seen their revenues decline by at least 30 per cent due to COVID-19, will also qualify for a 75 per cent wage subsidy.
“MPs cannot refuse it. But we get paid more than enough.”
Asked if MPs had thought about forgoing their raises in light of current economic hardship, Trudeau said he hadn’t heard “the Parliament of Canada having those discussions.
“But I’m sure they will reflect on it now that you’ve asked the question,” he said, to a reporter.
Trudeau also confirmed that the planned hike to the federal carbon tax — set to increase from $20 per tonne to $30 per tonne on April 1 — is going ahead.
“The price on pollution has been designed as to put more money in households’ pockets, more money in the pockets of the middle class while we do the things that are necessary to fight pollution and protect our planet,” he said, referencing federal rebates that offset the cost of higher gas and home heating bills.
“That is something that we are going to continue to do because we know that we need to do things to make sure that we’re both supporting families through ordinary times and through difficult times, and moving forward on continuing the fight against climate change, which remains even at a time of immediate crisis and pandemic.”
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Alberta MP Earl Dreeshen’s last name was misspelled in one instance.