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Detail from a flyer that Conservative Party MPs have been asked to send to constituents at taxpayers’ expense. Bulk mailouts like these are meant to be used to update constituents, not for partisan attacks.
Detail from a flyer that Conservative Party MPs have been asked to send to constituents at taxpayers’ expense. Bulk mailouts like these are meant to be used to update constituents, not for partisan attacks.

Globe Editorial: First Take

Why MPs don’t need or deserve bulk mailing privileges any more Add to ...

Parliament should abolish politicians’ bulk mailing privileges. Between the serial abuse of the privilege by MPs and the fact we live in an era of ubiquitous digital communication, there is no longer a justifiable reason for taxpayers to be getting flyers and other assorted political epistles at their own expense.

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Where even 10 years ago it was reasonable to have taxpayers pay the cost of receiving mailed information about the doings of their elected representative and the latest business of the House of Commons, in the digital age it is a redundant waste of money and resources. Let’s be honest: How many Canadians spend any time at all reading the flyers their MPs, provincial representatives and municipal councillors print up and send to them at taxpayer expense? The vast majority of the flyers end up in the recycling bin in mint condition.

To add insult to injury, MPs in particular have made a sport of abusing their bulk mailing privileges. This week, Conservative Party MPs have been asked by party officials to send their constituents a flyer that is nothing more than an attack ad targeting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. It is scandalous, but it is only the latest such outrage.

Three years ago, after MPs had begun flooding their opponents’ ridings with partisan flyers, they agreed to a ceasefire: MPs would only mail flyers to their own constituents. This was quickly undone, however, when MPs began using their so-called “franking” privilege – the right to send a letter anywhere in Canada at no cost in an envelope bearing the MP's name – to carpet bomb targeted opponents’ ridings with yet more partisan attacks, this time on letterhead.

It is an entirely uncomplicated fact that taxpayers should never bear the cost of printing and receiving partisan mailings. Yet MPs continue to spout utter nonsense in their efforts to muddy the crystal-clear waters of common sense. “It’s entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued in defence of the bulk-mailing of the Trudeau attack ads, and thereby missed the point. It is within the current rules, perhaps. But playing up the strengths of a party leader at the expense of a rival is not an appropriate use of public money – especially not in a democratic country that purports to make a distinction between the wellbeing of any one political party and the general wellbeing of the taxpayer.

Canada is one of the most wired countries in the world. If Canadians want information about their members of Parliament, they can look at their MP’s Facebook page. They can follow the prime minister’s Twitter feed. They can add their name to electronic mailing lists. There is little practical justification anymore for sending flyers and brochures to constituents’ doors. Add to that the disappointing fact that our MPs have demonstrated an almost juvenile propensity for misusing this most basic of privileges, and the only conclusion is that MPs should no longer be able to send bulk mailings at anything but their own, or their party’s, expense.

 

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