How should your MP be able to write to you?

What should we allow MPs to send us?

CP/Adrian Wyld

CP/Adrian Wyld

So the Board of Internal Economy has voted—though, presumably, at least the NDP members of the board disagreed—to demand the NDP repay $1.2 million toward mailouts that were deemed an inappropriate use of parliamentary resources, and the NDP says it will fight that order in court.

The controversy over the NDP’s mailouts seems to come down to particular distinctions about the pamphlets and letters that MPs are allowed to send at public expense. But the whole affair might beg for a wholesale consideration of MP correspondence.

There are several layers to the mailing privileges of MPs. First, they are allowed to print and send four “householders” within their constituency each year at House expense. Second, they can send what are known as “10 per centers”—documents printed and sent to 10 per cent of their constituents. Third, they have what are known as “franking” privileges, which allow them to send addressed mail free of charge anywhere in Canada. The privileges are laid out in full in the Members’ Allowances and Services Manual. (MPs were previously allowed to send 10 per centers into ridings other than their own, but, after much controversy, that practice was ended by a vote of the House in 2010.)

The NDP mailouts in question seem to have been sent via those franking privileges (the total number of problematic pieces of mail apparently numbers more than a million).

So what did New Democrats do wrong? An analysis prepared by House administration and submitted to the Board of Internal Economy—the committee of MPs that oversees House affairs—points to a few issues. “All of the material includes the website address www.NDP.ca,” it reads. “This is not a designated website for any of the Members sending the mailouts.” Furthermore, “there are number of references to the 2015 election, or making changes of an electoral nature.”

The analysis concludes that, “in short, it would appear that the mailings were not messages from the individual Members as Members, but rather, were prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party and to advance electoral purposes.” Two sections of the Members’ bylaws are then noted: s. 6 and s. 7, both of which restrict an MP’s ability to provide services for an organization (in this interpretation, a political party).

The Canadian Press argues, with a couple of examples, that there is a fine line here between which communications are in and out of order. A year ago, the NDP complained about mail sent into NDP-held ridings by Liberal and Conservative MPs. Five years ago—before the ban on 10 per centers outside one’s riding—complaints about a pair of mailouts reached the House. And now, in an attempt to defend themselves, New Democrats are pointing to Conservative and Liberal mail.

That House analysis does still point to some specific fouls that can either be haggled over or used to make comparisons.

A year ago, the Globe and Mail argued that we should do away entirely with the mailing privileges of MPs. Duff Conacher now wonders if MP mail might be vetted by the auditor general. I’m reasonably persuaded that there remains some value in allowing MPs to inform their constituents (and even voters outside their riding) about their activities. But I’m also not sure there’s a reasonable case to be made that the public should be needlessly paying to assist an MP’s re-election efforts. The trick, then, could be drawing some line, or series of lines, between useful communication and needlessly partisan communication. We can’t deny that MPs are partisans (nor should we dismiss partisanship as an inherently bad thing), but it’s not obvious that we should pay for flyers that simply hail one side’s leader or that denigrate another. Or, like punishing children for abusing a privilege, we could simply demand that the privileges be scaled back—for instance, eliminating 10 per centers entirely (thus limiting MPs to four householders and the ability to send addressed mail for free).

Perhaps we could design a system in which MPs are only allowed to write to their constituents about their parliamentary activities, initiatives run out of their constituency offices, or helpful information about government programs and the like. (Off the top of my head: What if part of it was a standardized pamphlet that included speeches and voting records?) Franking privileges could be used to send mail to specific individuals about specific areas of interest (policies, causes, etc.). Of course, any system you designed will be tested and any potential loophole exploited. But we could at least aim to eliminate these sorts of things.


How should your MP be able to write to you?

  1. I agree, the whole matter of free mailings should be discussed in the open, the board of internal economy should be made a public committee and all MP’s should stop wasting taxpayers money promoting themselves and at the same time the glories of voting for their respective party. NO MORE FREE RIDES FOR ANY PARTY AND NO MORE SECRET COMMITTEES DETERMINING HOW TO SPEND OUR MONEY

    • Good to see more and more learning that governance is about illusions to lift peoples money. Ottawa now spends more on uncommon good than common good.

      Yet we are well conditioned by statisn-union government to ignore the most expensive item in all of our lives, government taxes hidden and real, and the infated pricing it creates on food to everything.

      We are a Orwellian statism state, just most haven’t figured it out yet.

      We have to earn $1,400,000 to pay $600,000 in taxes, $400,000 in fair interest, to buy a $400,000 home that is $200,000 in labour, fees, tariffs and other taxes to build the $200,000 home. Give gets $800,000, over half the gross wages in government benefit to our existence.

      And not one option on my statism ballot for less taxes, less waste, less corporate/bank/union/buddy bailouts, less money for nothing and inflated contracts….makes us economic slaves of state.

  2. Me, if I ran this governemtn I would cancel the entire program completely. Tell the parties to get with this century and use email. Its also the eco friendly thing to do as I don’t have a brd so I don’t need the free bird cage material.

    I am intelligent enough to know talk is cheap, and only value the things I see improve in real world. Send me ra-ra my party is great BS and deception never gets into our house, it sees file 13 (garbage).

    If people want to subscribe to party BS, then let them go to a www site and subscribe.

    Want my vote? Its going to take results and not junk mail false promises.

  3. well, they already send us their “bills”, so shouldn’t that be enough ?!

  4. In it’s Feb. 11, 2013 issue, MacLean’s ran an article about Jason Kenny. In it the author, Alec Castonguay, wrote that “less than a month before the last election campaign, [Kenny’s] director of multicultural affairs, Kasra Nejatian, sent a letter to MPs and Conservative operatives asking them to quickly collect $200,000 for an ethnic media ad buy …. attached to the mailout was a 21 page document”. Targeting several ethnic communities, “the document outlined the Conservative strategy”. Clearly this was a political mailing but did anyone investigate to determine if the letter was sent using Parliamentary time or money?

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