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This article was published 17/3/2010 (4230 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- The Conservative government has decided those lowly one-page partisan MP mail-outs that tend to wind up in household recycling bins may not be worth the fight after all.
A majority of MPs in the House of Commons voted this week to ban mass mailings of "10-percenters" outside their own ridings, directing the Board of Internal Economy, which controls internal Commons affairs, to "end immediately the wasteful practice."
The Conservatives argued vehemently against the ban during a day-long debate and then voted en masse against the Liberal motion, which included a grab bag of other partisan jabs against the government in addition to the bulk-mail directive.
As late as mid-afternoon Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was cleverly needling the Opposition during question period with a response that appeared to suggest he supported the ban -- but only if it applied to Liberal mailings.
His office, asked to clarify the prime minister's comment, told The Canadian Press that the "PM is glad to see Liberal cancellation from the program given the poor taste the Liberals have shown in 10-percenter use."
"We will continue to use the program to communicate with Canadians," spokesman Andrew MacDougall said in an email.
Three hours later -- after news reports of Conservative intransigence began to circulate -- another PMO spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, emailed The Canadian Press to say the "Conservative caucus supports eliminating out-of-riding 10-percenters so long as this restriction applies to all parties."
That was the chief intent of the Liberal resolution all along.
It was the second about-face by the government in as many days, after it reversed a decision on cutting funding for rural Internet service in the face of public criticism.
In fact, the NDP, which voted for the Liberal motion, may be the party that gets the Conservatives off the hook on the bulk-mailing issue.
NDP Leader Jack Layton launched a blistering tirade against "King Stephen Harper" only to waffle when it came down to whether his party would actually support the ten-percenter ban behind the closed doors of the Board of Internal Economy meetings.
"There were some (measures in the motion) where we would have done it slightly differently and so we'll have to take those issues up at the Board of Internal Economy," Layton said when pressed on the ban.
His party House leader, Libby Davies, indicated the ten-percenter vote may be the jumping-off point for a negotiation over bulk mail.
"We believe we've got to focus on the abuses and not rule out what is a legitimate use of ten-percenters by members outside of their own ridings," Davies, who sits on the board, said in an interview.
Liberals, who proposed the ten-percenter motion earlier this week, have said they are immediately stopping all their out-of-riding mailings and maintain that if all parties follow suit it will save taxpayers at least $10 million annually. By a vote of 140-137 on Tuesday evening, the Commons agreed.
The Liberals released an analysis of spending on taxpayer-funded printing costs by MPs for the last fiscal year that shows Conservative MPs averaged $49,680, New Democrats $33,825 and Liberals $18,500.
-- The Canadian Press