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The $10 million question

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It will be interesting to see what happens now that the House of Commons voted in favour of the motion to get rid of 10 percenters.

There are few topics which generate more e-mails to me than this one, and for the last several years I have received many unsolicited calls and letters from Manitobans who hate the political junk-mail machine.

Ten percenters are flyers sent by MPs to voters in other ridings. Parliamentary rules allow any MP to send a flyer to another riding as long as the number of each particular mailing is no greater than 10 per cent of the households within an MPs riding.

It was designed to allow MPs to communicate with voters in ridings they do not hold. However all political parties have corrupted their use so badly taxpayers last year spent $10 million sending the equivalent of partisan attack ads to themselves.

Ironically, while there are no limits on how many 10 percenters an MP can send to people who are not his or her constituents, Parliament limits mailings within their own riding to four per year.

Regardless, the opposition parties voted en masse in favour of the motion to eliminate 10 per centers (140 Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs) and the Conservatives voted en masse against (137).

Much of the debate about the motion was a back-and-forth across the floor of MPs spewing examples of the other sides’ 10 per centers. All the debate really did was prove two things:

  1. Every party sends them.
  2. Most of them are extremely partisan.

The big question really is whether there is a legitimate argument for them to be funded by the taxpayer.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who introduced the motion, said the flyers are "little more than propaganda pieces for partisan purposes by all parties" and therefore shouldn’t be funded by government.

Manitoba MP James Bezan called the motion hypocritical, because the Liberals were so against the idea of eliminating per-vote subsidies to political parties. (Yes, the issue that created the coalition and resulted in parliament being prorogued in December 2008).

"I just want to comment briefly on the hypocrisy of the motion, which talks about cutting money going to the ten percenter program when all the parties in the opposition also want to continue to keep getting their voter subsidies they voted so strongly against a couple of years ago. So if it is all right to use voter money to fund the political operations of the parties, then why is not all right to use contrast pieces and uphold democracy so that all Canadians can see what we are doing in the House of Commons in contrasting the policies of our parties?"

So what happens now? Is the Liberal motion binding? Will the Conservatives figure out a way to not make it stick?

For the record, in 2008-09, this is what Manitoba’s current 14 MPs spent on mailings. One must note there were four MPs who were not in office for a full year due to the 2008 election; their totals are for about five months rather than 12. Their names are noted with an asterisk.

  1. Vic Toews, Conservative: $85,940
  2. Steven Fletcher, Conservative: $72,934
  3. Joy Smith, Conservative: $66,838
  4. James Bezan, Conservative: $61,379
  5. Inky Mark, Conservative: $53,056
  6. Rod Bruinooge, Conservative: $50,289
  7. Anita Neville, Liberal: $26,177
  8. Pat Martin, NDP: $25,241
  9. Judy Wasylycia-Leis, NDP: $24,862
  10. Merv Tweed, Conservative: $24,653
  11. *Shelly Glover, Conservative: $23,193
  12. *Candice Hoeppner, Conservative: $11,793
  13. *Jim Maloway, NDP: $7,264
  14. *Niki Ashton, NDP: $6,630

    Total: $567,402

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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