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New Tory senators will cost $177-million, NDP says

Cleaning staff prepare the Senate for the next session, which begins Sept. 14 amid heightened threat of a snap election.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The 27 senators appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the last year could cost Canadian taxpayers $177-million over the life of their sinecure, according to an NDP analysis.

The study released by New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer found that Senate travel and office expenses have more than doubled in the last 14 years, climbing three times faster than overall government spending.

Average office and travel expenses for sitting senators in 2008-09 amounted to almost $197,000 each.

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Using salary calculations plus average expense claims, the NDP found that the 27 most recent Conservatives appointed to the upper chamber will eat up almost $85-million in salary and almost $92-million in expenses if they sit until mandatory retirement at age 75.

"We took very conservative numbers," said Mr. Stoffer, standing outside the Senate and holding a giant Conservative-branded mock cheque for $177,000,000. "We didn't include all their pension benefits if they happen to live to 85 or 90 on top of that."

But the Conservative government says the appointees will be compelled to retire after eight years - if contentious legislation on Senate term-limits ever becomes law.

"When the legislation comes into force, the clock starts ticking," Steven Fletcher, the Tory minister of state for democratic reform, said in an interview.

Trouble is, that legislation is currently stalled in the minority Parliament and faces a Senate still dominated by Liberal appointees, setting up a chicken-and-egg argument.

Without more Conservative appointees, Mr. Fletcher argues, the Senate term limits may never become law. But appointing more Tories plays to accusations of Conservative patronage and wasteful spending.

Mr. Stoffer said New Democrats would like to see the Senate abolished, but if that is too constitutionally difficult, the upper house should be allowed to independently perform its function of "sober second thought."

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"If the Senate is just there to say, 'Yes, Mr. Harper. No, Mr. Harper,' then it needs to be abolished," Mr. Stoffer said.

Mr. Fletcher says incremental changes appears to be the only route open to Senate reform.

"The NDP could be helpful in supporting the eight-year, non-renewable term, and I hope they will be," he said.

In the meantime, senators of all stripes continue to rack up expenses.

Among the new Tories in the upper chamber, Senator Mike Duffy alone booked more than $44,000 despite sitting for just three months at the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The former broadcaster has been a regular at Conservative fundraisers across Canada this year.

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Mr. Fletcher painted the senator's travels to sing the Harper government's praises as a virtue.

"I would argue that Mr. Duffy has demonstrated to be one of the most active senators, and because of that he's been noticed. Perhaps more senators should get out and meet Canadians as well."

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