Friday, June 4, 2010

So she didn't take a vow of poverty but ...

When I read this one this morning I thought ... she's getting how much for a pension?    And she wants more?

Eleanor Clitheroe -- um, make that the Reverend Eleanor Clitheroe, for she's now an Anglican priest -- is in the Ontario Court of Appeal, claiming the provincial legislature violated her rights when it changed the conditions of pensions and other benefits for employees at the fairly new but quickly embattled Hydro One, Ontario's power transmission grid system.   Claims she, she and other employees signed on to get credit for two or even three years of benefits for every one of service.

The difference?   Well, the province concedes she's entitled to get over $25,600 per month.   But Rev. Clitheroe says she should be getting roughly another $8000 per month.   Keep in mind, the average Hydro One employee can expect a pension of about $33,000 per year.    And the average pensioner in Canada gets about $14,000 per year.

Keep in mind, the average Anglican Church of Canada priest makes somewhere between 50k and 60k.

And when pension rules were originally drafted, the intent was that it would be retirement income.   If someone on a pension got another job the pension would either be forfeited or otherwise deferred to prevent double dipping.  Of course the rules proved unenforceable -- think for example the thousands of Air Force pilots who do their twenty years then head straight to the commercial airline industry and start collecting a salary while collecting a half or greater pension and getting all the health, mortgage and other entitlements a veteran not dishonourably discharged can get.

As far as double dipping in general for public officers -- I think that the rules were meant to ensure a public servant who later gets elected to Parliament or a legislature doesn't collect a pension while collecting the legislative salary to prevent the image of a conflict of interest.   When someone leaves the private sector to go public or vice versa, as said in the last paragraph, it's far less certain.

So here's the deal:   She collects $300k in pension over and above her current salary in a different job, and she wants that upped to around $400k give or take.   Look, if the contract was changed without her consent, and even a legislative veto doesn't count here, then yeah, she's entitled to the money.    But the image of a minister collecting a six digit income before his or her stipend and who isn't a televangelist is quite poor to say the least.   Forget those who are on TV and preach a life of simplicity while they live high off the hog of their parishoners' contributions, tax free.

In this day and age a vow of poverty is quite unrealistic ... but many of us also remember the cloud under which Clitheroe left her Hydro One job some years ago, fair or not.    To be honest, I remember attending the annual stockholder meeting at Dofasco before it was acquired by Luxembourg-based Arcelor Mittal and for some reason Clitheroe (who sat on Dofasco's board -- probably because the company was far and away the province's biggest power consumer) was giving off a negative vibe even though she didn't speak a word (far that I recall).

If she pledged that if she wins the difference it would be donated to charity it might help.    But the idea of someone getting five times a salary as a pension and wanting even more ... it just doesn't seem right.   Fact is, she could arrange things so she could be tax-free for the rest of her life, something most pensioners and most Canadians in general could never hope for.

I thought something was wrong when a former parish priest (Catholic) I was acquainted with drove around town in a Jaguar ™.    Turns out it's not against the "rules."    And yet we're expected to pray, pay and obey while they life high off the hog.    In this case, the taxpayers.

Just seems to go against some basic principles of what should be fair ... but this wouldn't be the first.   Some reporters go into the cleric life and double dip and no one seems to complain about that.

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