Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Harper ten percenters: the epilogue?


This news, "MPs vote to trash ten percenters," is a solid showing of principle by the Liberals and opposition who supported the Liberal motion, the principle being that the taxpayer should not be paying for wasteful party propaganda to be disseminated by MPs across Canada. It's a hard point of principle to swallow because it's going to hurt the opposition parties more than the Conservatives who, being more cash rich, are better able to withstand the loss of this communications tool. Could be risky in that vein. Still, the Conservatives who were abusing ten percenter flyer privileges to the tune of a ratio of 2:1 over the larger opposition, will feel the loss. See above chart that handily demonstrates who's been lining up at the trough. No more blanket propaganda and data mining across the nation via ten percenters, unless they pay for it.

Here is the motion that was proposed and passed yesterday:
March 12, 2010 — Mr. Easter (Malpeque) — That, in the opinion of this House, the government should show leadership in reducing government waste by rolling-back its own expenditures on massive amounts of partisan, taxpayer-paid government advertising, ministerial use of government aircraft, the hiring of external “consultants”, and the size of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, which together could represent a saving to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars; and to show its own leadership in this regard, the House directs its Board of Internal Economy to take all necessary steps to end immediately the wasteful practice of Members sending mass mailings, known as “ten-percenters”, into ridings other than their own, which could represent another saving to taxpayers of more than $10 million.
The direction to the Board of Internal Economy, the "governing body of the House of Commons," seems to cut out the possibility of the Harper government obstructing or ignoring the direction on ten percenters:
The membership of the Board consists of the Speaker, who acts as its Chair, two Ministers of the Crown (appointed to the Board by the Governor in Council), the Leader of the Opposition or his or her representative, and additional Members appointed in numbers resulting in an overall equality of government and opposition representatives (apart from the Speaker), regardless of the composition of the House of Commons.
It is the body that oversees the ten percenters, as the Globe report notes.

Now was this a mode of free speech being trampled, as the Conservatives protested too much? Maybe, but we have a federal regime that imposes limits in the political spending context anyway. It's also not a particularly attractive argument to rely upon when your party has been using taxpayer funds to suggest fellow MPs are anti-semites and soft on pedophiles. It's a step toward greater civility in our politics by doing away with these increasingly poisonous mailings. Arguably, the freedom of speech point is enriched by an upping of the quality factor. We'll see.

At $10 million a year, the opposition has made a symbolic and decent contribution toward deficit reduction. It can act as a shield in the bona fides department when the Conservatives hurl tax and spend accusations around. These Conservative emperors have no clothes when it comes to expenditure responsibility, this is one more way of making that point.