Treasury Board President Tony Clement says there is still a place for taxpayer-funded pamphlets by MPs, even as he hunts high and low for ways to cut Ottawa's printing costs.
The right of MPs to send out mountains of bulk mail at no cost to them is back in the spotlight after it was revealed this week that the Conservatives' latest flyers for MPs are modelled on an ad campaign paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada that criticizes new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
There was also finger-pointing between the NDP and the Liberals after NDP leader Thomas Mulcair accused Liberal MP Bob Rae of "subterfuge." Parties agreed in 2010 to end a rule allowing MPs to send the flyers outside their riding, but the NDP notes that Mr. Rae now gets around this by placing his flyers in envelopes.
The free mail-outs – which are covered by so-called "franking privileges" – are used by all parties in the House of Commons.
Mr. Clement leads a cabinet sub-committee responsible for finding internal savings. He also regularly promotes his government's efforts to move more data online and is a fan of social media.
For instance, the minister took part in a Google Hangout video chat during a visit to the Globe and Mail's Toronto headquarters Friday, where he took questions from readers and Globe journalists.
In recent years, Mr. Clement has moved to eliminate hard copies of a wide range of reports, including spending plans, in an effort to save money by releasing them online.
But when asked if MP flyers are on his radar as a way to cut printing costs, Mr. Clement made it clear that they are not.
The minister pointed out that decisions on MP spending are ultimately made by MPs on the Board of Internal Economy. He then defended the mailings.
"I know this will be hard for Globe and Mail readers to understand – but 50 per cent of Canadians don't access their news from newspapers or from television or from radio," he said. "So we as Parliamentarians do have an obligation to get information out, to have that interaction with people, because the 10 per centers that I send out always have a feedback mechanism and I'll get two or three thousand responses back per 10 per center mailing, so I do think when you look at it in that context, it's part of our obligation to communicate with people."
The House of Commons rules allow MPs to send out two different types of mailings. Four times a year, an MP can send out a "householder" to every household in their riding, which on average means about 45,000 copies of each householder are mailed. In addition, MPs can send an unlimited number of shorter flyers called "ten per centers." They are named because the number of copies sent cannot exceed 10 per cent of an MP's riding, meaning the average 10 per center is sent to about 4,500 households.
In the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2012, MPs spent a combined $3.2-million on householders and $867,966 on 10 per centers. Other printing-related expenses were $668,275.