Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Senators' partisan mail-outs probed

Committee to decide if rules were broken

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OTTAWA -- A Senate internal administration committee next week will examine whether two Conservative senators broke any rules using Senate mailing budgets to send partisan flyers into Liberal-held ridings last month.

Manitoba Sen. Don Plett mailed about 3,000 of the flyers into Winnipeg South Centre, the sole Liberal-held riding in the province. The four-page flyer details the Conservative philosophy on crime and justice. There is a card at the end asking voters to agree youth offenders get an easy ride and mail back the card to Plett's Ottawa Senate office.

Ontario Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman sent a similar flyer to the Ottawa riding of Liberal MP David McGuinty.

Runciman told the Toronto Star he mailed his on the request of the national party office but Plett said Friday he sent the flyer of his own accord and it had nothing to do with Runciman's.

"I'm from Manitoba and I think crime in Manitoba, especially youth crime, is out of control," said Plett.

He said he appropriately used the mailing privileges allotted to him as a senator.

"What I did is within the rules," said Plett.

However, Liberal MPs and senators say the recent mailings are nothing more than the Conservatives getting around the recent ban on MPs using taxpayer dollars to send partisan flyers into opposition ridings. The House of Commons barred the practice, known as 10 percenters, earlier this year. All parties took advantage of the practice but the Conservatives by far used the 10 percenters the most.

In Manitoba last year, the nine Conservative MPs spent an average of over $54,000 each on 10 percenters. The five opposition MPs (four NDP and one Liberal) averaged a little over $21,000.

Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan said he knows senators of all parties send newsletters about their activities to people in their provinces but he hasn't heard about senators sending partisan mailers before.

He said he hasn't seen the flyers in question but the issue was raised with the Senate internal economy committee and will be discussed at the committee's meeting next week.

Plett said his flyer has nothing to do with the 10 percenters and everything to do with him wanting to engage with Manitobans and find out what they think. He said he is getting a lot of cards mailed back to him.

Plett's flyer does not specifically name Winnipeg South Centre Liberal MP Anita Neville and makes only one reference to the Liberals being soft on criminals.

He said he chose to send it to Winnipeg South Centre only because he feels the Liberals are not listening to what Canadians want when it comes to crime and punishment. He said he wanted to see if the people in the riding agreed with the Conservative position.

"I believe Anita Neville is very soft on crime," said Plett. "She has voted against every bill we have presented."

Neville bristled at both Plett's accusation and the flyers.

She said she has in fact voted in favour of most of the Conservative crime bills in recent years and even introduced her own private member's bill to toughen prosecutions of car theft.

"I put forward a bill on auto theft that is much tougher than their own so don't give me that I'm soft on crime."

A search of some of the government's major crime legislation in the last five years shows Neville voted for a number of crime bills including mandatory minimum sentences for fraud over $1 million and drug crimes, reinstating anti-terrorism provisions and an omnibus bill that dealt with everything from raising the age of sexual consent to minimum sentences for drug crimes, tougher drunk-driving laws and new ways to investigate drug-impaired driving.

Most of the crime bills, however, don't have a recorded vote attached so it's impossible to know how she specifically voted on many of them.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2010 A12

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