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MP newsletters are kosher

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In recent days, three different voters in three different ridings have contacted the Free Press about MP newsletters arriving in mailboxes days or weeks after the election campaign began. The first to arrive, the week after the writ was dropped, was a "tax guide" from Provencher MP Vic Toews. A couple of days after that, reader Ian Wallace says he got another, more partisan mail-out from Toews that was mailed at government cost.

I also got an email from a gentleman who lives in the Selkirk-Interlake riding of MP James Bezan. This gentleman questioned a four-page newsletter he received from Bezan two weeks after the Harper government fell. The gentleman wrote to Bezan to express his displeasure, asking about the ethics of using government money for partisan mail outs during an election. He received a polite response. Then, late last week, yet another reader forwarded me a copy of a four-page spring newsletter from Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Hoeppner that had just arrived.

So, that’s kind of interesting, I thought, given all the hubbub about the ten-percenters in recent years. Optics aside, it turns out all three Tory MPs were likely acting well within the rules. According to staff in the Speaker’s office, House of Commons franking privileges don’t expire until ten days after the writ is dropped.

Before I called the Speaker’s office, I called Candice Hoeppner to see if she could explain the process to me. Hoeppner wasn’t interested in speaking to me, according to a cheerful message I received from a campaign worker later that day. But in the meantime, another constituency office staffer said they’d put their spring newsletter in the queue at the printing office about a month before the writ was dropped. It was so late, they were starting to wonder when it would be delivered. Given the considerable bureaucracy around printing, franking, mailing and delivering MP newsletters, it does not appear to me the Conservatives broke any rules.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.

Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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