This piece first appeared in the Toronto Sun on February 25th, 2022
Julie Payette must feel like she won the lottery.
Despite resigning in shame from her posting as governor general amidst allegations of creating a toxic workplace, she is still entitled to the Cadillac of all retirement packages, courtesy of all of us, taxpayers.
First off, there’s the pension. At $150,000 per year it’s generous enough to put any former governor general amongst the top five per cent of income earners in the country. And that’s not accounting for any other income they might get from any other work or investment they may have.
It’s not like governors general have to work long and hard to be eligible for it either. A governor general’s mandate is typically five years. Payette served for a bit more than three and she still gets a full pension.
That’s because the very second a governor general steps down, they become eligible for a full $150,000 per year taxpayer-funded pension, no matter how long they stay in office. Even if they resign within their first day on the job, they get the full amount, in perpetuity.
Even by government standards, this is rich. A federal bureaucrat earning $309,000 per year – the same level as a governor general – would have to wait 27 years to get a similar pension. And unlike governors general, they have to contribute to their pension funds.
Then, there’s the expense accounts. Even in their retirement, governors general can keep billing taxpayers up to $206,000 per year each for travel, hotel and a private office.
And as if a life-time expense account wasn’t enough, documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show a governor general’s estate can keep submitting receipts for up to six months after their death.
And they do so with very little transparency. The only reason Canadians found out about the policy is because former governor general Adrienne Clarkson spent over $100,000 some years, which required its very own line in the public accounts. Since leaving office in 2004, Clarkson has asked us to cover over $1.1 million in expenses.
Canadians are understandably outraged by this policy. A recent Léger poll commissioned by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show nearly eight in 10 Canadians want the policy scrapped.
Even federal bureaucrats found it a bit rich. A report prepared for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October, 2019, recommended to have them “end after a defined number of years of leaving office rather than the current for-life regime.”
What has Trudeau done with those recommendations in the last two years? Nothing. They have been gathering dust somewhere in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Let’s be clear, it’s not like changing this policy would require extensive debates or weeks of hard work by highly paid policy advisors.
Post-retirement expense accounts for governors general are not enshrined in law. They’re an administrative policy that stems from a cabinet decision in 1979.
As such, getting rid of it doesn’t involve lengthy debates and readings in Parliament, but rather a quick decision from government ministers to scrap it. It shouldn’t take much more than two minutes in the next cabinet meeting.
The fact is, when the country is dealing with a $144.5 billion deficit, our government should do its utmost to identify places where it can save money.
Reining in the entitlements we give to former governors general should be one of those easy decisions. We know it’s popular – eight in 10 Canadians want it. We know the bureaucrats that looked into it find it to be out of whack. It also happens to be something Trudeau promised to review back in 2018.
The only thing we’re left wondering is what’s the holdup in cabinet?
Renaud Brossard is the Quebec Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation