Last fall, Manitoba Senator Don Plett got some attention for mailing a newsletter into Winnipeg South Centre. At the time it was the only Liberal held riding in Manitoba. (It was before Kevin Lamoureux won the byelection in Winnipeg North.)
The newsletter was mostly an outline of the Conservative philosophy on crime and justice however it did take some time to criticize the Liberals for being soft on crime.
Ontario Senator Bob Runciman sent out a similar flyer to the Ottawa riding of Liberal MP David McGuinty. Runciman told the Toronto Star he was asked to send it by the party. Plett said he sent the flyer of his own accord.
The two flyers together raised eyebrows as to whether it was the Conservatives getting around the ban on MPs sending 10 percenters into other MP’s ridings by using Senators to pick up the slack. Winnipeg South Centre is the most highly desired riding in Manitoba for the Conservatives and before the 10 percenters ban, residents there were probably subjected to Conservative flyers more than in any other riding in Manitoba.
The Senate committee which oversees administration of the upper chamber, including rules about mail outs, looked at the issue and didn’t find anything wrong with it.
Committee chair David Tkachcuk, a Conservative senator from Saskatchewan, told me today the committee didn’t really make a decision about the flyers. He said they didn’t break any rules as it stands now. After Parliament resumes later this month the committee is going to discuss whether Senate-funded mailings should include photographs of MPs.
Tkachuk said there is going to be partisan leanings in Senate newsletters because just like MPs, senators have certain political leanings. He said banning a senator from saying certain things in a flyer borders on censorship and he will not endorse that.
But Tkachuk said it’s clear senate materials should not be used for campaign purposes.
Ultimately, it’s once again up to voters to decide if they like this practice or not and whether it will influence how they vote.