A view of the West Block of Parliament in Ottawa (AFP / Michel Comte)

Canada’s retired politicians eligible for pensions, but not salaries for life

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

A Facebook post shared hundreds of thousands of times worldwide claims that retired top politicians will receive large salaries “for life,” in contrast to low pay for soldiers and meager pension income for seniors. In Canada, however, prime ministers and members of parliament are not eligible for pensions until age 55, and benefits are capped at 75 percent of pay.

“Salary of a retired prime minister…$450,000 for life,” says a Facebook post shared more than 565,000 times since February 22, 2014. It also claims that the average salary of a soldier is $40,000 annually and that the average income for pensioners is $12,000 per year, concluding: “I think we found where the cuts should be made.”

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on February 17, 2021

The post is years old and originates from an account in Australia. However, it has been shared across at least 23 public Facebook groups and pages in Canada since February 12, 2021 according to the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle.

Screenshot of a CrowdTangle search taken on February 17, 2021

The figures in this post are not correct for Canada.

AFP Fact Check breaks down the claims.

Claim 1: “Salary of a retired prime minister…$450,000 for life. Salary of a retired politician…$174,000 for life.”

Heather Bradley, director of communications for Canada’s Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons, told AFP in an email that no parliamentarian is granted a salary for life, but they are eligible for pensions regulated under the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act.

MPs are entitled to full pensions at age 65, if they have served six years. And some members who had served more than six years prior to January 1, 2016 may qualify for a full pension at age 55, with others eligible for a reduced pension at that age.

Currently, an MP is paid $182,600. Salaries automatically increase on April 1.

Retirement allowances are capped at 75 percent of a member’s salary.

According to a report for the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2019 -- the latest data available -- the average annual retirement allowance paid was $69,081.

The prime minister receives an additional $182,600 for a total salary of $365,200, plus a $2,000 car allowance.

 A prime minister who serves for four or more years is entitled to a special retirement allowance starting at age 67, in addition to a pension as a member of parliament. The allowance is calculated using the formula explained below.

Screenshot of the Canadian government website taken on February 17, 2021

The pensions are funded with taxes and contributions from MP salaries. Since 2013, MPs have paid an increasing portion of their earnings toward the retirement plan, with contributions reaching a combined rate of 23.34 percent of pay as of January 1, 2021.

Claim 2: “Salary of House Speakers…$223,500 for life”

The Speaker of the House of Commons receives the $182,600 base salary for all members, plus $87,200 for the role and a car allowance, totalling $270,800.

Currently the Speaker of the Senate in Canada is paid the $157,600 base salary of a Senator plus $63,700 for the role, a residence and a car allowance, for a total of $225,300.

Anthony Rota, Speaker of the House of Commons since 2019, and George Furey, the Speaker of the Senate since 2015, will not receive their current salaries for life, but will be eligible for retirement allowances.

Claim 3: “Salary of a Majority/Minority leader…$194,400 for life”

Canada’s parliament does not have the title of majority or minority leader as is found in the US Congress. 

The closest thing to a majority leader is the prime minister. 

The minority leader is equivalent to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. The politician in that role receives an additional $87,200 on top of the base salary of $182,600 and a $2,000 car allowance for a total of $271,800 while holding the office.

Claim 4: “Average salary of a soldier...$40,000”

As of 2017 -- the latest data available -- pay for non-commissioned members of the Canadian Armed Forces ranges from the first-year private making $2,985 per month, or $35,820 annually, to a chief warrant officer earning $8,750 per month, or $105,000 a year. 

General service officers make more, with a second lieutenant starting at a monthly salary of $4,774 or $57,288 a year. 

Claim 5: “Average income for pensioners $12,000”

For Canadians receiving the CPP retirement pension, the maximum payment in 2021 for those who did not take benefits until 65 years of age is $1,203.75 per month or $14,445 annually. 

The government said the average monthly amount paid in October 2020 was $614.21.

Australia

According to CrowdTangle, the same Facebook post was most recently shared across a series of public Australian Facebook groups and pages in September 2020.

Screenshot of CrowdTangle search taken on February 19, 2021

The figures presented in the post are also inaccurate for Australia.

Claim 1: “Salary of a retired prime minister…$450,000 for life. Salary of a retired politician…$174,000 for life.”

Retired Australian politicians have access to a defined benefit if they were elected prior to October 9, 2004 and served at least eight years in parliament. 

Under the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme (PCSS) politicians contribute 11.5 percent of their salaries.

The exact amount of payment varies based on years of service and is set each year by the Remuneration Tribunal, but it can be as much as 75 percent of an MP’s designated base salary. 

Since July 1, 2019 the base salary of an Australian MP is $211,250. The prime minister is paid an additional 160 percent of the base salary --- meaning $338,000 -- for a total of $549,250.

The retirement benefits for MPs elected after October 2004 are governed by the Parliamentary Superannuation Act of 2004. The government makes contributions of 15.4 percent of salary to the fund on their behalf.

This is a less generous benefit than the PCSS plan, but far more than the minimum superannuation contribution required from Australian employers of 9.5 percent of a worker’s earnings.  

Claim 2: “Salary of House Speakers…$223,500 for life”

The Speaker of the House of Representatives receives the base salary of $211,250 and an additional 75 percent of salary or $158,437.50 for a total of $369,687.50.

The same salary is paid to the President of the Senate in Australia.

This compensation does not extend “for life.”

Claim 3: “Salary of a Majority/Minority leader…$194,400 for life”

The Australian parliament also does not have a role called majority or minority leader.

Only while in the role, the Leader of the Opposition is paid the base salary of $211,250 plus an additional 85 percent of salary or $179,562.50, totalling $390,812.50.

Claim 4: “Average salary of a soldier...$40,000”

The base salary for an Australian soldier is currently $49,900.

Claim 5: “Average income for pensioners $12,000”

The current Age Pension maximum basic rate for an individual is $860.60 every two weeks or $22,375.60 annually.

Age Pension eligibility is income tested and asset tested and payments are reduced to individuals making more than $178 every two weeks or who own assets beyond $268,000 for homeowners. 

AAPFactCheck also reported on this claim in Australia in 2019 here.