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Nearly half of MPs earn income on the side Add to ...

Nearly half of Canada's members of Parliament are moonlighting, running businesses or collecting income above and beyond their six-figure salaries.

A review of recent disclosure statements filed with Parliament's ethics commissioner shows that 151 of Canada's 308 MPs are either receiving an outside income or have an ownership stake in an outside business.

The analysis for The Canadian Press found that 103 MPs are owners or part-owners of businesses, ranging from fast-food restaurants, a bakery and wilderness tours to holding companies, farms or real-estate investment.

The filings also show that 99 MPs each received more than $10,000 in income from outside sources in the previous year, in addition to their base salaries of $157,731.

Forty-eight MPs collect pensions - most of them from governments. Another 51 listed income ranging from speaking and consulting fees to rental and farm income.

Fifty-one MPs listed both outside income and outside business interests.

Even two of four party leaders in the House of Commons list outside interests.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff collects rent from a property he co-owns in France, as well as fees from public speaking, freelance journalism and book writing - all on top of his annual $233,247 salary.

NDP Leader Jack Layton is the owner of the Green Catalyst Group Inc., has a 25-per-cent interest in Layton Holdings Ltd., is a joint owner of an investment property in Toronto and collects a municipal pension.

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe listed any outside jobs, companies or income.

While there are some restrictions for cabinet ministers, MPs are allowed to hold as many outside jobs and own as many companies as they like.

Unlike the United Kingdom, there is no requirement for MPs to publicly disclose how much they earn from outside interests, just whether they earned more than $10,000. Nor do they have to disclose how many hours they spend on those outside jobs.

The only restriction is that they can't use their parliamentary office or their position as an MP to benefit their private businesses.

Some question the practice, saying MPs are well paid and expected to perform a full-time job. Others suggest it would be hard to attract candidates if MPs had to ditch their professions and businesses, leaving them nothing to fall back on should they lose an election.

Ned Franks, professor emeritus at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., says outside interests can make MPs more aware of issues in the business community or in society.

"We don't want a Parliament of eunuchs. On the other hand, you don't want a Parliament of rich people looking after their own interest."

Several MPs, such as St. John's East MP Jack Harris, closed down their practices or businesses after they got elected, saying they just don't have time. But others successfully juggle both commitments for years, often relying on family or trusted staff.

When Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Liberal MP for Etobicoke Centre, was elected in 2004, he decided to keep his three businesses - Future Bakery, Aunt Irene's and M-C Dairy. While staff handle daily affairs, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj gets detailed monthly reports and loves to return to the bakery floor and roll up his sleeves to help prepare special breads for Christmas and Easter.

"There's nothing like a little bit of real work to reconnect with reality," he said.

Independent Quebec MP André Arthur regularly slides into the driver's seat of a passenger bus and hits the open road. He also records commercials and has worked extensively in the past in radio and television.

Mr. Arthur says driving a bus helps him keep in touch with real people and real issues.

"When I'm on the road, even when I am with people who aren't from my riding, I have the impression it gives me a grounding in reality."

The businesses and side jobs are as varied as the MPs themselves:

» Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer owns Wild Waters Nature Tours and a wilderness shop.

» MP John Rafferty owns a communications and media recording business.

» Conservative MP Joe Preston owns a Wendy's restaurant and an interest in a Boston Pizza.

» Liberal MPs Justin Trudeau and Kirsty Duncan earn money from speaking engagements.

» Bloc MP Daniel Paille lectures at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales.

» Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy is a consultant to Toronto-area Alpha Labs.

» Some MPs, such as Liberal Derek Lee, practise law, but far more are involved in real estate.

» British Columbia MP Keith Martin has to practise medicine periodically to keep his credentials.

Conservative MP Terence Young closed his government-relations business because he felt it conflicted with his job as an MP. But Mr. Young, a former Ontario MPP, said it can be tough for retired politicians to find a job.

"A wise person plans their exit strategy early."

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