Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Conservative mail-outs to ridings upset NDP

May be violation of rules

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OTTAWA -- The federal NDP intends to file a complaint with Speaker Andrew Scheer over a series of mailings sent by Conservative MPs in Manitoba into non-Conservative ridings.

Several residents of Winnipeg Centre contacted the Free Press about a letter signed by 10 of the 11 Conservative MPs in Manitoba, extolling the virtues of the government and criticizing the Liberals and the NDP.

It also appears the same letters were sent to residents in Winnipeg North and Churchill, the only other non-Conservative ridings in the province.

The NDP argues the mailing violates a relatively new rule limiting MPs to sending mailings only to their own constituents, or in response to letters from other Canadians.

"This I believe is cheating," said Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin.

In 2010, after an outcry about political parties sending partisan mailers to Canadians on the taxpayers' dime, the House of Commons voted in favour of a motion asking the Board of Internal Economy to bar MPs from sending things outside of their own constituencies.

The board, which oversees the rules for MP expenses, subsequently amended the rules to prohibit MPs from sending the mail-outs outside of their own constituencies.

Since then, the amount spent on the mail-outs has declined dramatically, from $10.2 million in 2009-10 to $867,965 in 2011-12. The amount spent by Manitoba MPs fell from $593,216 in 2009-10 to $86,450 in 2011-12.

One woman who received a letter said she was confused as to why she was getting a letter from Provencher MP Vic Toews, and believes this definitely contradicts the rules barring mailings to non-constituents.

"The Conservatives are totally ignoring the restrictions placed on them," she said.

The woman also wanted to know how they got her name and address. She said she keeps that information as confidential as possible to avoid her ex-husband finding out where she lives.

Daniel Rempel received four letters at his Winnipeg Centre home. One was addressed to him, one to the family, one to the person he bought the house from a decade ago and who has since passed away, and one to his mother-in-law, who never lived there but used the address with Canada Revenue Agency so she could keep filing taxes while she lived overseas for three years.

"I find it disturbing people are getting this personal information," said Rempel.

He said in particular, the fact they have his mother-in-law at that address is suspicious because it seems the only place they could have found that information was through government records.

Rempel also said he is bugged by the fact these are clearly partisan letters sent out at taxpayers' expense.

Requests to the Conservative party for comment on Thursday went unanswered It isn't clear whether the mailing violates the rules, because it is a letter in an envelope, rather than a flyer.

The two-page letter was sent to specific recipients at specific addresses using franking privileges, meaning paid for by taxpayers. There is a reply card enclosed asking recipients to answer "who is on the right track to ensure Canada's economy continues to grow and create jobs for hard-working Canadians" with boxes to tick off which party you think is best at that. It also asks for your name, address, phone number and email and whether you are a student, parent, working Canadian, senior or veteran.

The card is to be sent back, also postage paid at taxpayers' expense, to the Conservative caucus research group.

Martin said this is a clear attempt by the Conservatives to glean information about voters for their database.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 A7

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