Another busy week in Ottawa

Last week was another busy one in Ottawa with an update into the Senate scandal audits, a new budget date and the first spending announcement from it, and the tabling of a second motion of mine on the pension file.
The big news come via an update from the Auditor General on the Senate scandal audits he is conducting.
The scandal itself goes back to 2012, when the Auditor General conducted a surface audit of the expenses of seven senators and found that four Conservative and Liberal senators (Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, and Mac Harb) had submitted improper expense claims.
All four of those senators are facing criminal charges for breach of trust, with Duffy’s trial beginning yesterday (April 7).
This past week, an official (who wished to not be identified) claimed that the Auditor General has sent a letter to 40 senators asking them to account for what appears to be improper expense claims.
It also was claimed that at least one senator has been asked to account for more than $100,000 in dubious claims.
When reached for comment on the reports, the Auditor General would not confirm the facts above but did say he will be presenting his report before the end of June.
Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Finance minister Joe Oliver has gone missing since oil prices collapsed, but he was spotted last week and, in a shocker, even said he would present a budget this month.
In what has been a shaky year for the minister, Mr. Oliver first claimed in January that the plunging oil prices would not affect his budget. But just a week later, he announced the presentation of the budget was being postponed indefinitely for that same reason.
Throughout the spring, New Democrats have called on the government to step up and present a budget, and finally this week we heard some news.
The finance minister finally announced last week that he will present his budget on Tuesday, April 21.
The excuse that he was hiding behind, that the collapse of oil prices was the reason for the delay, seemed to ring hollow as the Alberta government somehow was able to table its budget despite oil prices having a much more negative impact on its finances than the federal government.
Interestingly, on the same day Mr. Oliver made this announcement, documents were leaked to the media that showed the first expense to be contained in the budget will be $7.5 million for promoting the budget and the Conservative Party through partisan ads paid for by taxpayers.
Finally, I presented my second motion as the NDP’s critic for pensions last week. The motion (M-595) reads as follows:
“That, in the opinion of the House, the government should review the Registered Retirement Income Fund mandatory minimum withdrawal thresholds and amend them to ensure that they do not unduly force seniors to exhaust their savings too quickly.”
I tabled this motion after consulting with several groups that deal with issues affecting seniors and pensions.
In a nutshell, if you pay into RRSPs, then they will turn into RRIFs at age 71 and you will be required to make minimum annual withdrawals from those RRIFs based on a schedule created way back in 1992.
If that schedule is followed, then the RRIFs of most people will be exhausted by the time they reach age 92. Fortunately, our life expectancy is increasing each year, but that also means more and more people will outlive their RRIF savings.
My motion calls on the government to stretch out that schedule so that the savings of these seniors last longer.
As we move forward towards the end of Parliament in June, I will be tabling more motions to address other problems with our public and private pension plans and retirement savings.
Parliament now is into a two-week Easter break. During my time in our riding, I will be keeping a busy schedule by attending a number of events and meetings around our riding.
Please stop by for a chat if you see me about and have the time.

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