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The Centre Block of Parliament sits empty in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2010.
The Centre Block of Parliament sits empty in Ottawa on Jan. 6, 2010.

Human impact and cost

What Parliament looks like running at half speed Add to ...

Pages are twiddling their thumbs, massage therapists have put away their bottles of oil, and bus drivers have few MPs to pick up.

A prorogued Parliament is a massive campus of historic buildings running at half speed, with fewer employees on site, and the remaining ones having less work on their plates. There are savings for taxpayers, with more than 200 part-time employees off the payroll until early March, when Parliament returns for a Speech from the Throne and a budget.

But most of the employees continue working whether the House is sitting or not, albeit at a different regime.

Last year, the cost of running the House of Commons was $417-million, with the equivalent of 1,871 full-time employees overseeing things like maintenance, computer networks, security and payroll.

"Given the fluid nature of the work environment in Parliament, we need a work force that can meet the various operational needs, which fluctuate depending on parliamentary activities," said House spokeswoman Colette Déry.

Using government budget estimates, the Liberal Party has calculated that the average cost of running Parliament is about $2-million per sitting day. Given that prorogation cut 22 such days from the previous schedule, the opposition calculates that the Harper government is wasting $48-million out of Parliament's annual budget.

Here is a picture of what is happening on the Hill until March 3, when Parliament is recalled for its winter session:


Overall, about 220 people are out of work during prorogation, including:

- all staff in the parliamentary restaurant, which is closed for business;

- the caterers who bring food and the messengers who provide services to MPs during their committee work;

- some of the people in the print shop, who oversee the production of Hansard, the official record of the work in the House of Commons;

- massage therapists, who work part-time and have more clients when the House of Commons is sitting; and

- some of the interpreters and translators who make sure that everything that is said and written in relation to the work of Parliament is available in both official languages.


The rest of the staff continue their work, including:

- the bus drivers, who also run the parliamentary truck fleet that brings food, paper and furniture in and out of the precinct. The drivers continue showing up for work when Parliament is shut down, but are much less likely to collect the overtime that comes with long sitting days.

- parliamentary pages keep similar hours, but can end up doing menial tasks such as data entry instead of working directly with parliamentarians. There is some frustration among pages, who enter a special university program for the privilege of working on the Hill.

- maintenance workers use the fact that MPs are absent to undertake small renovations or catch up on unfinished tasks.

- the Parliamentary press gallery continues to serve journalists, who have been covering Haiti briefings and a cabinet shuffle in recent days.

- senators continue receiving their full salaries and see their pensions accrue, even though they have no constituents to meet.

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