The public shouldn’t be paying for political propaganda

Linda Leon Last year, Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt spent $37,317 on taxpayer-funded, mailed flyers known as Ten Percenters. Conservative House Leader Peter van Loan spent $30,985 and Conservative keener Kyle Seeback spent $30,856. Over $2.39 millio

COMMENTARY

by Linda Leon

Last year, Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt spent $37,317 on taxpayer-funded, mailed flyers known as Ten Percenters. Conservative House Leader Peter van Loan spent $30,985 and Conservative keener Kyle Seeback spent $30,856.

Over $2.39 million was spent on Ten Percenters in the last fiscal year. Twenty-five Conservatives and one New Democrat spent over $20,000 between March 31, 2014 and April 1, 2015. Eight of these MPs were cabinet ministers.

Ryan Leef spent $4,519 on Ten Percenters, which makes him look like a piker until you consider that Yukon’s population is proportionally much smaller than most Canadian ridings.

Ten Percenters are one-page, black and white flyers that members of Parliament mail to their constituents, so called because MPs are only allowed to send them to 10 per cent of the households within their ridings.

Ten per centers are often confused with Householders, a regular report that MPs send to their constituents outlining their activities. Householders are usually booklets and frequently in colour.

Conservative-speak for the content of Ten Percenters is “information.” And it is possible that these flyers could be used to communicate actual information, which might explain the curiously small amounts spent on Ten Percenters by a minority of MPs. However, most Ten Percenters are partisan propaganda and attack ads.

The costs of postage, design and composition are hidden within other budgets.

The famously secretive House of Commons Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) determines the rules around Ten Percenters and other Member expenditures. There is no watchdog to police the activities of the BOIE. To date, the auditor general has refused to investigate members’ expenditures.

Here is what current members of the BOIE spent on Ten Percenters in this fiscal year: Stella Ambler (CP), $5,530; John Duncan (CP) $10,169; Peter Julian (NDP) $15,611; Dominic Leblanc (Lib) $102; Andrew Scheer (CP) $1,840; Philip Toone (NDP) $12,039; and Peter Van Loan (CP) $30,985.

The BOIE rules are vague and open to abuse. For instance, mail-outs “must originate with the member.” The Conservative Party, (and possibly the opposition), interprets this to mean that the party can send artwork to all MP offices where staff insert the appropriate name, address and photo.

The Conservative Party has violated the spirit of the Ten Percent rule through exploitation of a loophole. The 50 per cent rule says that, if at least half of the text is different, it qualifies as a separate Ten Percenter. If an MP wishes to blanket his entire riding with what is essentially the same flyer, all his staff need do is cut and paste an assortment of blocks of very small print into the document. The layout of Conservative flyers is designed to accommodate such switches.

I’ve been collecting Conservative Ten percenters since 2008 and can verify that the cut-and-paste cheat has been a common practice for seven years. It is possible that other parties have been doing the same.

Assuming the cost of paper, printing and folding is a penny a sheet and a constituency has 50,000 households, then the price of sending a flyer to 10 per cent of households would be would be $500. If the MP directs staff to make 10 versions of the same flyer, thereby covering their entire riding, the cost would be $5,000 per flyer.

There are no limits to the number of individual Ten Percenters that an MP is permitted to send.

Of the 164 Conservative MPs listed in the House of Commons Members Expenditures Report from April 1, 2014 to March 31 of 2015, the average expenditure was $10,110. If you think this is reasonable, consider that the average Liberal spent $1,288.

Numbers tell interesting stories.

While the NDP have been relatively restrained when misspending our money, they are consistently doing so. The average expenditure for NDP MPs in 2014-15 was $6,837.

Eighteen Conservatives did not send out Ten Percenters at all and nine others spent under $1,000. To put this in perspective, in 2009-10, there were no refuseniks. Is this a sign of internal fissures?

Leona Aglukkaq sent neither Ten Percenters nor Householders to her Nunavut constituents. Defense Minister Jason Kenney dispensed with reporting to his constituents and only sent $8,374 worth of propaganda. The N.W.T.‘s NDP MP, Dennis Bevington, spent $2,331.

Compared to the Conservatives and NDP, the Liberals look like boy scouts. Of the 36 Liberal MPs, 13 refrained and another 15 spent under $1,000. The outliers were the high spenders: Joyce Murray ($13,037), Kevin Lamoureux ($9,809) and Carolyn Bennett ($11,033). If not for these three, the average Liberal expenditure on Ten Percenters would have been $410.

The abuse of Ten Percenters is small potatoes compared to the millions misspent on electioneering propaganda disguised as government ads or the recent vote-buying scheme disguised as the Universal Child Care Benefit.

But is it wise to elect anyone who is cavalier with someone else’s money on any scale? Linda Leon is a writer and artist living in Whitehorse.

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