March 31, 2014 2:09 pm

‘This is a wretched file,’ says bureaucrat handling suspended senators’ pensions

Sen. Patrick Brazeau, (L to R) Sen. Pamela Wallin and Sen. Mike Duffy are seen in this combination of three file photos.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

What were the people behind the scenes feeling when we found out three disgraced senators would be accruing pensionable service while banned from the Upper Chamber?

“This is such a wretched file,” wrote one bureaucrat the evening of Nov. 11, almost one week after an overwhelming majority of the Senate voted to suspend three colleagues, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy.

“It got more wretched. Daniel’s office at 9 a.m.,” her colleague, a director of program management and regulatory policy responded a half-hour later.

The last email was referring to a meeting with at least a dozen staff members scheduled to take place in the office of the chief human resources officer for Treasury Board the next morning.

Reporters, as well as staff at Treasury Board and in the Senate, were trying to figure out whether the trio of senators’ years in political purgatory would count toward the six years of service necessary to become eligible for a pension.

“This is such a wretched file,” a bureaucrat wrote the evening of Nov. 11, almost one week after the Senate voted to suspend three colleagues.

Screen grab/ATIP

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As was documented at the time, it turned out they did. When that came out, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said he would do whatever necessary to reverse the interpretation of the rules staff in his own department made. If it took changing the Parliament of Canada Act, that’s what he’d do, he said last November.

The government last week introduced amendments to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act in its omnibus budget bill, which, if passed, will effectively preclude those disgraced senators from the parliamentary pension plan while under suspension.

Almost 250 pages of emails, many of which were redacted, were obtained through Access-to-Information legislation. The long trail of emails didn’t offer much insight on the process of interpreting the rules or of what it would take to amend them.

But they did provide a glimpse inside the machine that digests questions from media and, slowly, spits out responses. The engine was running before questions started coming in. On the afternoon of Nov. 5, hours before the Senate would boot Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau from the Upper Chamber, an email from the director general at Public Works noted Treasury Board was expecting “significant media interest” in the matter of pensions.

Hours before the Senate would suspend three colleagues, an email from Public Works noted potential “significant media interest” in the matter of pensions.

Screen grab from ATIP

Public Works enrolls members and provides administrators with guidance and advice of entitlements.

The fact the wheels were in motion, however, didn’t mean anybody would be getting quick responses from the media team.

Close to 48 hours after that email, on Nov. 7, a media request came through asking for confirmation Treasury Board had provided guidance to the Senate on the pensions file, and for information about the three senators’ eligibility.

A media request to Treasury Board when reporters were trying to understand whether suspended senators could still accrue pensionable time.

Screen grab/ATIP

On the afternoon of Nov. 8, bureaucrats at Treasury Board appear to still be dealing with at least part of that question from a reporter (whose name is redacted).

That email, which refers to “PO,” also provides a glimpse into just how many acronyms are tossed around among government workers; in this bunch of communications, we see CHRO, A/ADM, TBS, PCO, SEC, COB, OAG, SO, SCMA, LWOP, etc. (Points to whoever can figure out all of them.)

With files from The Canadian Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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