Dear prudence

by Aaron Wherry

James Rajotte, in Question Period yesterdayMr. Speaker, as Canada continues to cope with the effects of the global economic recession, it remains essential for the federal government and for federal agencies to spend tax dollars wisely.

Globe and Mail, today. Reports that Tory MPs ran up $6.3-million in costs last year by mailing out so-called “ten-per-centers” to people outside their ridings have opposition MPs calling for new limits on the free-mail privilege … All the parties do it, but the Conservatives have taken to it with zeal: Adding up the costs, the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir found that MPs with the minority Conservatives spent $6.3-million on the mailers, while opposition MPs spent $3.8-million. The average Conservative spent $38,337, including eight who spent more than $80,000, while the average opposition MP spent $17,977. Ontario Conservative Rick Norlock topped the list at $87,749.

The Sun was on this file last week and put together this handy graphic.



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Dear prudence

  1. I am as fanatical as can be about Feds and wasting our money but 10%ers are very low on my list of concerns. When governments stop giving billions of $$$ to bankrupt companies or their pals in the consulting world I will change my focus to MPs and their attempts to gin up outrage with constituents.

    • No harm in them spending their own money for propaganda then, right?

    • There is, at least, some argument to be made for bailing out bankrupt companies and using consultants… however weak those arguments might be.

      But there is no argument, of any kind, for this sheer stupidity. It's not enough to say "there are worse problems" because that lazy rationale can be used to avoid doing anything about anything. When did people in this country become so thick and complacent?

      • We have different priorities obviously. I am bothered by the fact that taxpayers have given billions of $$$ to failed companies or to consultants who have done little work for the money. You are bothered by the $38,337 that average Con spends.

        • What, I cant be bothered by both?

          As I said, there are economic arguments for propping up business – they are not good arguments in my opinion but they are legitimately held by some. Consultants who do no work for their fees are committing fraud, and I'm not in favour of that either.

          But there is no reason that larger problems need stand in the way of solving lesser problems. And yes the wasting of millions of dollars – for no purpose at all – is a problem that could be solved with a very small effort on the part of parliament; just elimate the things and be done with it.

          Unless you have an argument for retaining them?

          • Taken individually I tend to view the dollars spent on MPs' ten-percenters to be peanuts compared to other unnecessary expenditures. Collectively, it becomes a greater problem, dollar wise.

            But my real issue with the ten percenters is the amount of energy expended on crafting them, and getting them out, and making sure their messages stick. When you're trying to run the country, shouldn't policies and programs be of greater importance than bashing the other guy? Just a thought – if these mailouts don't contribute to a productive national discussion, why spend the time and money making them?

          • Exactly!

            If you watched someone shredding a five dollar bill everyday for years on end you wouldn't argue that it was an acceptable waste of their time or their money. Especially if it was your $5.

            MP's used to get their haircuts subsidized too. Does anyone want to bring back the haircut subsidy because it really didn't cost us all that much, when you look at the "big picture"?

          • I actually don't have a problem with MP haircut subsidies. I think it's one of those relatively inexpensive perks that's quaintly symbolic.

            Then again, I'm a sucker for tradition.

          • I don't really care one way or another about 10%ers. If I am forced to think about them I don't want them abolished because they are one way for MPs to communicate their ideas. Just because we have witless pols at the moment does not mean 10%ers are bad idea.

            Also, I like rabble rousing and believe more of it would be a good thing so I enjoy the scurrilous charges that are made in some of these ads. But that's a personal preference.

            If we government is going to start worrying about our precious tax dollars, and it isn't, there are lots of changes I would like to see made before they deal with 10%ers.

          • If I thought the government was busy solving the larger issues, I'd show a little more patience for the small irritations… But their not doing anything more important. The great bulk of them don't do anything at all except suckle at the trough and trade juvenile witticisms back and forth all day.

            If the Liberals have even a lick of sense (and that's a dubious proposition, at best) then they would propose a motion to eliminate 10% on their next opposition day.

          • I believe the Liberals have announced they would end the practice in government, though I've heard nothing about them introducing a motion about it as opposition.

          • They might as well promise free cars when "in government."

            This is a minority government and the opposition still has some limited power, if they could somehow get a backbone transplant.

          • "This is a minority government and the opposition still has some limited power, if they could somehow get a backbone transplant"

            My feeling to. This is one of the reasons the libs are doing so poorly. They are simply afraid to o out on a limb and stand on something that makes sense. Instead they chase after every will o' the wisp scandal that lands on their desk.

  2. Scrap the whole free-mail privilege, force the parties to pay for the expense themselves.

    Although I think the Liberals, NDP, and Bloq wouldn't support scrapping it since they seem to be quite fond of tax-payer handouts to political parties. I seem to recall a certain coalition formed in order to prevent the elimination of political party subsidies.

    • I think we could agree that the party subsidies are a healthy boost to democracy whereas government-funded propaganda is not.

      Which makes them two very different subjects.

      • I am against any public money being given to political parties. There is a reason we allow donations and fund raising. The onus should be on the parties to fund themselves, not on the tax payers to fund them.

        Public money is public money no matter which way you spin it.

        • Well, for those of us whose votes don't go to the party in power, it means that at the very least, our x in the box has a (nominal) dollar value to the party we voted for, so that they may continue to exist and promote worthwhile policies.

          At least, that's the hope.

          • Feel free to donate $1.95 to the party of your choice, it's tax deductible.

          • Ah, so someone who is broke and so not paying taxes has to pay more for their voice to be heard? Yeah, that's certainly democratic.

        • How about the tax deduction subsidy which results in non-Conservatives funding the Conservative Party?

        • How about the tax deduction subsidy which results in non-Conservatives funding the Conservative Party?

          Public money is public money no matter which way you spin it.

          • One more time…maybe if you say it three times it'll come true.

            There's no place like home….
            There's no place like home….
            There's no place like home….

          • So taxpayer subsidy is OK as long as the Conservatives benefit. How typical.

      • "I think we could agree that the party subsidies are a healthy boost to democracy whereas government-funded propaganda is not."

        How do you unpack those two things? I would argue whatever comes out of a pol's mouth is propaganda. Subsidizing parties is government-funded propaganda.

        • At some point every dollar collected and spent by government aides and maintains the tyranny that is mandatory taxes. I just didn't want to split hairs to that extent…

        • So it comes to this. The system our ancestors fought and died for and our young me and women still do, is nothing more in your opinion than "subidizing parties is government-funded propaganda" Funding our system of govt is no more worthy of public support then the local whorehouse. How the hell did we get to this stage of contempt for government?

          • They fought for "democracy" and freedom. You need to have more than one rich political party to have a democracy.

          • How the hell did we get to this stage of ignorance about government? Our ancestors (or at least mine) fought for a free society, not a society in which everyone is forced to support parties they oppose. Per-vote subsidies were introduced in 2003. They're not some longstanding bedrock of Canadian society.

            It's not "funding our system of government". It's funding individual parties. It's probably less worthy than public support of the local whorehouse, although it bears considerable similarity.

          • Yes, kcm was a bit overwrought there. Wanting political parties to raise their own money from supporters instead of raiding the Treasury clearly makes me a revolutionary who wants to overturn the political system my ancestors died to protect.

          • It doesn't have to be a zero sum game. Nowhere have i argued that people shouldn't support their own parties. My point is that if democracy is worth fighting and dying for, it's logically worthy of state support.
            It's intersting how both yourself and Gaunilon use the phrase mine or my ancestors…hope you guys aren't implying only real cons die or fight for freedom!

          • I don't believe political parties are all that essential to democracy in Canada. Parties come and go but institutions should not be meddled with. I also think democracy might be better served if we abolished parties and made all our MPs independents who vote according their constituents wishes.

            All I meant with my point about propaganda is that pols rarely say what they actually believe. I believe Kinsley's quip "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth" to be fairly accurate. Public funding of parties just gives more money to clowns to blow smoke up our butts.

          • Hmmm. that's a different kettle of fish all together. There are good reasons for arguing that you cannot run a modern state without parties. That said, yes i would support the concept of doing away with parties entirely. It would likely be highly chaotic, but as you say closer to a true democracy…but as a natural born cynic i'think it would probably not work for long before someone didn't seek to corral all the power for themselves.

          • There are lots of reasons that parties actually make a lot more sense. The grass is always greener.

            You could always simply just eliminate party identification on ballots though.

            Or you could, I don't know, promise to "make every vote a "free vote" except for Budgets and major estimates", but only a lying two-faced "say anything to get elected" leader would ever seriously make that kind of a promise, especially in a federal election campaign platform, no?

          • Our ancestors enacted the self-serving tax deduction subsidy which forces everyone to support parties they oppose. The per vote subsidy is a subsidy but it does not force anyone to support parties they oppose, other than those who support no party at all.

          • Don't be obtuse. I never conflated freedom with political subs. I merely pointed out a concept that's worth sacrificing for is worthy of public support. How it can be supported is open to interpretation. Personally i see no problem with the $1.95 sub, as it only goes to the party it was intended for. The other subs are on much thinner ice. Perhaps we should do as the Americans…fund all the paraphernalia of the electoral process and let parties choose to raise funds or take state sub, but not both.

          • Lots of things are worth sacrificing for, yet it does not follow that they should receive public financial support. Clean underwear, for example.

            You are falling into a well-known mind-trap known as "Leftism", in which it seems normal for everything good to be financed through taxes rather each citizen paying only for what they want to buy.

          • You are falling into a well-known clap-trap known as "stupidism", in which it seems normal for everything that is financed through taxes that you dislike and think should be financed by each citizen paying only for what they want to buy to be categorized as "Leftism" and everything that is financed through taxes that you like and should be financed by each citizen collectively to be categorized as "Rightism".

            I can guarantee you I can name 10 examples of things financed through taxes and "collectivist statism" that you would approve of.

          • There are three logically possible positions on taxation:

            (1) All good things should be paid for by taxation. This is kcm's position.
            (2) Some good things should be paid for by taxation. This is my position.
            (3) No good things should be paid for by taxation. This is no one's position.

            You are confusing (2) and (3), and using (3) as your straw man. I recommend reading a few of Tom Sowell's essays on public expenditure. You can find them here.

          • I think you are equally confusing (1) and (2). I don't see where kcm has stated everything that is good should be paid for by taxation. And that was the point of my sarcastic comment. We all like to paint ourselves as the reasonable and balanced and the others as ideological and bent.

            As for (3), it was Harper himself that all taxes are bad taxes. Which is about as stupid and ideological a comment as you can get from a political leader.

          • If you look five posts above, you'll see kcm advocating the notion that everything worth sacrificing for is worthy of public support. It sounds nice, but it's Marxism.

            As to Harper's comment, he's right. Taxes are a necessary evil. That does not mean that taxes should be abolished. I find that a lot of people on the Left have trouble wrapping their heads around the notion that something can be bad and yet not be banned by the public. I suppose it comes as a corollary to believing that everything good must be paid for by the public. Either way, the notion that individuals have the right to make up their own minds about good and bad things that don't harm others is in short supply.

          • He didn't say "everything" and that distinction makes all the difference subjectively. It allows you to take his position on taxation (that's actually closers to yours) and turn into allegations of communism.

            Funny considering his original point was "My point is that if democracy is worth fighting and dying for, it's logically worthy of state support."

            I don't know if you were being petty or daft but you wouldn't much to argue on without that spin.

          • Thanks for the support Andre and Ted. As Andre succintly puts it Mr G is at best spinning my positon for fun, at worst wilfully distorting it. I suspect the latter as it enables him to conveniently label me a communist, although he doesn't use that word explicitly.
            Actually i'm pretty close to Coyne's law: that the state should do whatever the private sector clearly has no interest or capability to do[ approximately] That's at least a starting point, although i wouldn't call it a law.

            " We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are." A. Nin.

            It applies to all of us Guainilon, but particularly to idealogues.

          • Given that it's a per-vote subsidy, and that about half of the population votes, how on earth do you get the idea that anybody is supporting a party that they oppose? Even those few people who vote who don't pay taxes probably have their $1.95 paid for by someone who apparently doesn't mind because they didn't oppose anybody enough to bother voting.

            You vote. Your $1.95 portion (although realistically probably only $1.10 once you factor in non-voters and non-taxpaying voters) goes to the party you support.

      • I think you think wrongly. Party subsidies are government-funded propaganda: they get spent on exactly that.

        Which makes them two very identical subjects.

        • Parties subs are govt propaganda – is an utterly absurd notion. It's like that other absurdity – all taxes are theft. Yes they are, that is unless you want to get something wothwhile accomplished as a society. It's no more propaganda than individuals supporting their own parties. A minimal govt support is perfectly reasonable

  3. More "wise" spending.

    National Defence is looking to spend more than $4 million to erect a multi-use building in Afghanistan — with a completion date just months before troops begin to withdraw from the military mission.

    • It helps with the withdrawal and can be sold to NATO afterwards.

      What's wong with that ? Nobody is pulling out of Afghanistan either, there will still be troops there just in a non-combat role.

      Sorry but this is no 1 billion a year CBC boondoggle.

      • "It helps with the withdrawal and can be sold to NATO afterwards."

        Another instant expert.

  4. “Well, we’re in government and we have a message to spread,” said Mr. Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, Public Works Minister Christian Paradis”

    Unintended irony is just so sweet.

    • “Well, we're in government and we have a message to spread,” or words very nearly to that effect, said Mr. Chrétien's Quebec lieutenant, Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano.

      • Oh i agree with you. Irony is no respecter of parties of any poltical stripe.

  5. The figures for the average amount spent on printing by Conservative and opposition MPs in these articles include MPs who did not serve for the full fiscal year. This includes MPs who resigned, did not seek re-election, or were defeated or elected for the first time in the election that came roughly half-way through the fiscal year. If you calculate the average amount spent by MPs who served for the full fiscal year the figures are $49,415.56 for Conservative MPs and $22,752.35 for opposition MPs (Liberal, Bloc, and NDP).

  6. This is one of those issues that Libs have been crying about since Harper won government,
    but never do anything about it.

    Why would they, it give Libs something to whine about in between faux scandals, while sending out their own 10%ers and the apology to go with it..

    Don't set limits, eliminate them.

    • I'm so old that I remember objecting to these 10% things even before the Conservatives won power. This is not, or should not be, a partisan thing. None of them should be doing it and if it takes the Conservatives penchant for excess to finally get people's attention then there's a silver lining to the millions of dollars that they have been pi**ing away on these things.

  7. It would be interesting to track where the flyers were sent. As long as I've been hearing these complaints about 10 percenters I have never received even one, from any party. But I am in a safe Conservative riding and therefore, presumably, not "in play.".

    • Don't bet on it! I got one from Rob Anders some months ago. You'd think a guy who survived unscathed calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist would not be worried about losing his seat to one of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals.

  8. I feel sorry for Gail Shea, the only Conservative in the bottom 5. Is she ever going to get it from the PMO for disgraceful underuse and underabuse of 10%ers.

    The abuse of the 10%ers by Conservatives is disgraceful but easily fixed: eliminate them. I can see the justification for funding communications to your own constituents by your MPs office, but not for sending mailings to out of your riding to people who will never be able to vote for you.

  9. Eliminate it.

    While we're at it, let's also eliminate per-vote subsidies for political parties. Taxpayers should not have to pay for political advertising. Those who want to can make a personal donation.

    • I already suggested that one….it got a few Liberals upset.

      See above.

      • So you guys are for eliminating 'all' the tax payer supports, right? Not just the one that hurt the oppostion parties.

        • Correct. And we are wishing (but not expecting) that leftists felt the same way about subsidies that help the opposition parties.

          • All i've heard from cons so far is eliminate the per sub – even Coyne seems to be stuck on this. As for me i have no problem with minimal levels of support for democratic parties…it's my belief,so no hypocrisy here, as no support at all is your belief.

      • So you did. Good work. Anything that gets the left upset must have some merit.

        • Ah. Very useful way of examining arguments. Lets you discard a lot without thinking. Convenient.

          • I only speak on behalf of the fool, you know. You can't expect too much.

            As to the Left, an ideology that is consistently evil is actually a pretty good moral compass. When it points North then you can't be too far off if you head South.

          • Just because an idea or concept may be wrong in parts [ absolutes are for fools] it doesn't logically follow that your idea or the converse is right. Head south, you'll only end up meeting yourself somewhere…on this planet anyway.

    • But the personal donation includes an even worse taxpayer subsidy.

      Much worse in fact because (1) unlike the per vote subsidy, it results in non-Conservative supporters and supporters of no parties subsidizing Conservatives, (2) it is more expensive than the per vote subsidy both in actual payouts and a much much higher administrative burden and cost, and (3) by subsidizing 75% of a donation, it has an adverse impact on other charitiable donations.

      Ted

    • If we're going to eliminate public subsidies to government parties, then let's be fair about it. Eliminate the tax credit for personal donations to a political party as well.

      Though really, I don't see what the argument against a per-vote subsidy is — not before any other form of subsidy at any rate. At least it's a democractic way of apportioning money, proportionate to support. Private donations aren't democratic, they're capitalistic. He who has the gold makes the rules.

      • There is merit to limiting personal donations to a maximum size to make sure that George Soros types can't buy elections. (Although as the Obama election showed, this only works if outright fraud in the political donation process is prosecuted – campaigns that accept donations from donors named "Mickey Mouse" and "qwerty" should be investigated and fined)

        I agree with you about eliminating the tax credit for personal donations.

        The argument against a per-vote subsidy is the same as the argument against 10%er spending: the party is spending public money for political gain. Public money is supposed to be spent for the common good.

        • Limiting the donations does nothing to address the fundamental issue that some people are unable to afford donations. It perhaps lessens the imbalance, but it certainly doesn't eliminate it.

          Some people would argue that having parties able to organize themselves and hold policy conventions and the like does benefit the common good. Which of course is the difference between a 10%er and a per-vote subsidy. The one supports party operations. The other only supports party advertising.

          And to be honest, I wouldn't even have a problem with 10%ers if the government actually held itself accountable and instead of using them for campaign materials, used them for their intended purpose of informing Canadians of opportunities their government was making available for them.

  10. Photocopies are cheap (about $0.06 each for double-sided 8.5 x 11). Would that work out to the average Conservative sending out over 600,000 of those things?

    All MPs combined would send out in the area of 160,000,000.

    Unless they spent a lot on overhead and other expenses. After reading some, I don't think much overhead is involved…

    • Rick Norlock is my MP. Right after the report came out, he had the nerve to send me another one. I've received 27 in total (threw one out and kept the rest). The ALL include polling questions, so we are also paying for the Con polling.
      Postege paid ($0.54) plus printing cost plus polling – paid for by taxpayers.

      I'd rather pay $1.95 that 54 X 27, plus printing costs and polling costs.

  11. I'm sorry but why in the name of God does a Conservative from Alberta have to spend ANY money on these things, let alone getting re-elected? You could run a German shepard as Conservative and the born-on-third-base-struts-like-they-hit-a-triple Albertan (god bless em!) would vote for them!

    • Nothing that SH once promised to do and subsequently didn't fails to surprise me.

      • But it is not just that he failed to keep the promise that gets me. Nor is it the volume of broken promises, more than Mulroney, Chretien and Martin combined.

        It is the sheer zealousness and brazeness and rapidity with which he brushes aside fundamental principles and important promises like free votes, spending restraint (record spending two budgets in a row before the recession), no unelected senators (broken on his very first day in office), accountability and transparency, no public appointments commissioner, etc. He really is "Say Anything" Steve.

        And it is pretty apalling how he gets away with it and no one, especially the Conservative supporters or even the media for the most part, hold him to account for it.

        • Almost like he's on a mission…from god. Seriously this is bad, if only because it deepens or worse inures the public to this sort of thing. And politicians see that it seems to be working…so we can expect more of this sort of thing in the future from any politician…way to go Steve…you buried the bar under 3 metres of bomb proof concrete.

  12. Check that…he does call me a Marxist…what a maroon!

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