MP Cullen's pension pipeline

On Friday night, Skeena-Bulkley Valley's veteran NDP MP Nathan Cullen fired out this missive via Twitter: "The day before Trudeau bailed out Kinder Morgan the two top executives were promised a $1.5 million bonus. From you, me and every single Canadian. Yeah that's our money paying for this bonus."

He then included a link to a National Observer article about the bonus plan.

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Here's the Observer lead: "Two executives at the Canadian unit of Texas-based Kinder Morgan are poised to cash in with $1.5 million bonuses after Ottawa offered to bailout their west coast oil pipeline system and expansion project, according to a new filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission."

Note the language, with "Texas-based," "cash in," and "bailout." Pretty clear where that publication stands.

Now contrast that with the Canadian Press lead for the same story: "Kinder Morgan Canada is paying $1.5-million bonuses to two senior executives to ensure they stay with the company as its Trans Mountain pipeline system is sold to the federal government under a $4.5-billion sales agreement."

Note the neutral and accurate reporting, starting with the proper corporate name and most importantly explaining why the company is handing out the bonuses.

As both stories explain, the bonuses will only be paid in two equal payments of $750,000 in July 2019 and July 2020 if the two executives are still with Kinder Morgan.

Retention bonuses are often handed out in the corporate sector to executives when a company doesn't want to lose key people in the middle of a difficult and complicated project, which Trans Mountain obviously is.

But they aren't handed out to just anyone.

Kinder Morgan is a publicly traded company, overseen by a board of directors, which means that the chief executive officer can't throw around cash just for fun, without oversight. The board and the shareholders need to see value in those bonuses because that's $1.5 million off the bottom line.

Despite Cullen's protests, the shareholders are paying those bonuses, not "our money" as Canadian taxpayers.

There is a place, however, where a

$1.5 million retention bonus is handed out and it really is paid for by "you, me and every single Canadian," instead of the shareholders of an energy company.

In fact, Cullen is actually in line to receive such a bonus.

The 45-year-old Member of Parliament has already been an MP for 14 years. Barring sudden and unexpected changes to his political fortunes (his share of the popular vote in his riding has increased in each election since his first win in 2004), Cullen should be able to hold his seat next year and then possibly win again in 2023.

Nine years from now, in 2027, Cullen will turn 55. Regardless of whether he retires or is defeated in a re-election bid at that point, he will be eligible for his full pension. After 24 years as an MP, Cullen's annual pension would be in excess of $120,000 a year (former Prince George-Cariboo Conservative MP Dick Harris is currently receiving $120,700, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, for 22 years of service).

If that plausible pension scenario comes to pass for Cullen, he will collect his own $1.5 million bonus for being MP in less than 13 years or before his 68th birthday, paid for by "you, me and every single Canadian."

In the MP's own words, "yeah that's our money paying for this bonus."

Of course, Cullen contributes to his own pension but that's just under 20 per cent of his current income. The vast majority of his earnings in his retirement years will come from the public purse.

Two ironies:

First, Cullen will have dutifully earned his generous MP's pension, whatever amount it will be and whenever he chooses to retire and start receiving it. Being a Member of Parliament is hard, endless and often thankless work. Canadians should be thankful, not resentful, to their MPs, regardless of their political affiliation, for their years of public service. That pension income is deserved.

Second, there are so many valid criticisms to make of the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline, but Cullen decided on Friday to go with an entirely invalid line of attack. A publicly-traded company can compensate its employees as it sees fit, regardless of its relationship with government. Cullen seems blissfully unaware of that fact, along with the pension pipeline set to flow to his house that will likely reward him as much or more in the long term than what those Kinder Morgan oil executives will get if they stay with the company for the next two years.

Next time Cullen decides to throw some fat cat shade towards someone, he might want to look at his own shadow first.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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