Members of Parliament have a lot of ways of communicating with their constituents for free. For instance, every MP can build and maintain a website at taxpayers’ expense, so long as they follow some basic rules. The domain names can only refer to the MP and the name of his or her party; they cannot contain words such as “vote,” “elect,” “support” or “donate.” The sites are also not allowed to directly or indirectly (via a link) solicit contributions to, or membership in, a political party, or support or oppose the election of any candidate or party at any level of government. A quick survey of MPs’ websites shows that they are even capable respecting of the rules.
So why is it that many of the same MPs are dumbfounded by the same rules when it comes to the flyers and letters they are allowed to print and mail at taxpayers’ expense? The NDP is currently the party in the hot seat – the Commons’ Board of Internal Economy has ruled that bulk mailings sent by NDP MPs in 2013 were “prepared by and for the benefit of the NDP as a political party and to advance electoral purposes” – but every major party has been guilty at some point in the recent past of spending your money to send you mail you shouldn’t have received. It’s a list too long to print here, but were you to read the mindbogglingly obvious transgressions committed by your elected officials in Ottawa, you might conclude that a) they think rules are made for other people or b) they are idiots.
We have said in the past that MPs should lose their free bulk-mailing privileges – a long-standing practice known as “franking.” However, we doubt so juicy a perk will ever be rescinded by its beneficiaries. Or, for that matter, that the Board of Internal Economy will ever come down hard on delinquent MPs, lest a nasty precedent be set. There is little hope of a remedy, but it is worth pointing out that the rules are clear and it is impossible to misinterpret them. The “funds, goods, services and premises” provided to MPs can only be used for “parliamentary functions” of the MPs, and those functions explicitly exclude party or electoral activities. MPs seem to get it when it comes to websites, which can be easily monitored. They are less able to behave when it comes to the mail, which is more private and harder to control. And that doesn’t speak well of them at all.