Friday, April 16, 2010

Is Canada Over-governed? Part 2

In an earlier posting, I discussed the Harper government’s recent plan to increase the number of MPs by 30. This would be implemented to supposedly better balance representation among the provinces (Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario) with growing populations compared to those with stagnant or shrinking populations. I agree that these three provinces need more representation, however, I do not agree that Canada needs more MPs.

In my posting of April 9th, 2010, I argued against this proposal on the grounds that Canada’s MPs (and Senators for that matter) represent a tiny fraction of the number of electors that both Members of the House of Representatives and Senators in the United States represent.

I also noted that, with a base salary of $157,731, the additional 30 MPs would cost Canadian taxpayers $4.7 million annually. In addition to their base salary, each of the 30 new MPs could expense up to $25,468 annually for rent, meals and utilities while they are living in Ottawa. This would total up to $764,040 annually. On top of their base salary, MPs receive additional salary for Chairing and Vice-Chairing committees, acting as Party Whip, Parliamentary Secretaries, Caucus Chair etcetera ad nauseum. Each MP is also entitled to free travel by train and 64 return plane tickets each year. Each of these items would add to the overall expense to Canadian taxpayers.

The biggest budget item for MPs are the claims for personal and office expenses. In 2008, the 308 MPs in Ottawa claimed nearly $128 million for these expenses. In Canada, taxpayers have the right to know how much their individual MP spent in total, but not specific itemized list of expensed items. This is not the case in either Great Britain, where a huge expense claim scandal is rocking Gordon Brown’s government, or the United States where Representatives expense claims are in the public domain.

In Canada, MP expense claims are examined by the Board of Internal Economy. The Board is comprised of 8 MPs, 3 from the Conservative Party, 3 from the Liberal Party, 1 from the NDP and 1 from the Bloc. They meet behind closed doors and their deliberations are never made public. It is this Board that decides how taxpayers money is spent to run the House of Commons.

For the fiscal year 2008, Canada’s 308 MPs spent $127,850,218 on office and personal expenses. That’s an average of $415,100 for each MP. If Canada adds an additional 30 MPs, their personal and office expenses will cost Canadians at least $12,453,000. MP expense claims grew nearly 42% between 2000 and 2008 so it is likely that the total cost for the additional MPs will be well in excess of $13 million in the first year.

From my rough calculations, an additional 30 MPs will cost Canadian taxpayers at least $18 million in the first year alone. While this does not seem like much to our politicians who are used to dealing with multi-billion dollar deficits, it is a lot to ordinary Canadians who earn these tax dollars one at a time. We must also remember that this additional cost goes on forever and will only increase over time.

Rather than increasing the number of MPs, I would suggest that riding boundaries be changed to better reflect the Canada’s changing population distribution and that our current crop of MPs learn how to work more effectively. Redrawing riding boundaries is a one time expense that will cost the taxpayer very little and that's the way it should be.


Member of Parliament Office Expenditures

Members of the Board of Internal Economy

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