Despite vote, PMO against '10-percenter' flyers
The fight over mail-outs from MPs known as "10-percenters" heated up on Parliament Hill Wednesday, as the Conservatives chose to ignore a vote to ban the flyers -- only to have the PMO later endorse the principle behind the initiative.
The motion narrowly passed 140-137 yesterday in the House, and asks the Board of Internal Economy to "end immediately the wasteful practice."
At first the Conservatives, who voted against the motion, said they considered it "non-binding" and indicated they would continue to send out the 10-percenters.
But in a statement issued to the media late Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Conservatives support ending the program but the final word on the issue rests with the board.
"We support getting rid of out-of-riding 10 percenters so long as the restriction applies to all parties," PMO spokesperson Dimitri Soudas said. "However, we do not have a majority on the board."
The Board of Internal Economy -- which is chaired by the Commons Speaker and includes party whips and House leaders from each of the four major parties -- determines where money goes for various Commons programs.
However, the board's deliberations remain sealed, which means the public will likely never know how each party's representatives actually voted on the issue.
NDP MP Joe Comartin explained Wednesday that the board works on consensus, meaning if three of four parties vote to end the out-of-riding 10-percenters, then the program will be over.
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said the board is bound by the Commons vote.
"If the House of Commons has the authority, which it does, to order government departments to produce documents on issues as crucial as Afghanistan, then one would think that the House of Commons equally has the authority to issue instructions to an administrative body to save money," Goodale said.
After the House vote, the Liberals said they will no longer send 10-percenters outside of MP's ridings.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who introduced the motion, said the vote reflects "the will of the House," and all out-of-riding mailings should stop.
"That's the will of Parliament," Easter told CTV's Power Play Wednesday. "And if this isn't abided by the Board of Internal Economy, in my view, that's why the public is cynical about this place and politicians, because we pass a motion and it's not abided by."
Comartin could not confirm whether the NDP would abide by the motion, seeming to indicate his party will wait for the board's decision.
"Jack Layton has made it very clear that if the other parties are going to drop it, we are going to drop it as well," Comartin told Power Play.
NDP House Leader Libby Davies, who sits on the board, said the debate highlights the need for MPs to look at the issue of bulk mailings as a whole.
"We believe we've got to focus on the abuses and not rule out what is a legitimate use of 10-percenters by members outside of their own ridings," Davies told The Canadian Press.
The program's nickname comes from the fact MPs can send taxpayer-funded flyers to voters outside their ridings in a number equal to 10 per cent of voters in their riding. The program cost about $10 million last year.
According to figures released by the Liberals, Conservative MPs averaged $49,680 in printing costs funded by taxpayers, while New Democrat MPs averaged $33,825 and Liberals $18,500.
The issue of how the 10-percenters are used has grown contentious in recent months, as each party has blamed the others for sending out flyers attacking the others.
For instance, the Liberals objected to a Conservative flyer that appeared to suggest the Liberals are anti-Semitic.
The Conservatives objected to a Liberal flyer that declared the government was sending body bags to native communities rather than flu vaccines during the H1N1 outbreak.
"(The 10-percenters) have evolved into being little more than propaganda pieces for partisan purposes by all parties -- but worst of all the government party," Easter said in the Commons as he introduced the motion.
"Is that good use of taxpayers' money?"
With files from The Canadian Press