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The Peace Tower is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It cost $6,500 to answer an MP's question about how much it costs to answer MPs' questions, government figures show.

The disclosure is the latest twist in a spat playing out in the House of Commons over written questions, a tool used by the opposition to uncover information on a wide range of topics, including details on government spending. The answers can sometimes prove embarrassing to the government.

Conservative members of Parliament have lately been filing their own questions, asking how much the government spends answering these questions. Answers obtained earlier this year by Conservative MP Mike Wallace revealed that answering one question from a Liberal MP cost the government $117,188 in staff time.

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NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat fired back with what he calls "a shot over their bow" by asking how much it cost the government to answer Mr. Wallace's question. The $6,500.76 answer he received was based on an estimate of hours worked by public servants assuming an average salary and benefits worth $116,160 a year or $60 an hour.

"Spending money like that in order to put into question a tool that is essential to our democracy is foolish and doesn't make sense," Mr. Ravignat said.

Mr. Wallace argues his question was about ensuring transparency and raising a discussion about whether the process is efficient.

"The NDP motion is making my point exactly," Mr. Wallace said Friday. "I think there needs to be a more efficient and effective and more cost-appropriate way of answering questions that are posed in the House of Commons … I find the cost of answering these questions astronomical and I think we all have a responsibility to find a way to get those answers, but in a more economical way."

Another Conservative MP, John Carmichael, had followed up Mr. Wallace's request with another question asking for the cost of answering more recent questions. But Mr. Carmichael's question was worded in a way that omitted asking how much was spent answering Mr. Wallace's question.

Mr. Ravignat said he felt that too should be on the record. "That a government would spend money to put into question the legitimacy of a democratic tool is really what concerns me and that's why I put in this tongue-in-cheek question," he said.

Mr. Wallace's question was No. 263 in a process called questions on the Order Paper. In June, Mr. Carmichael asked how much it cost the government to answer questions 264 through to 644. Mr. Ravignat's question was filed later and is number 684. To date, no MP has asked how much it cost the government to answer Mr. Ravignat's question about how much it cost the government to answer Mr. Wallace's question about how much it cost the government to answer earlier questions.

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