The federal Liberals are taking aim at the mass-mailed flyers that fill up mailboxes and recycling bins, but Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht believes they serve a valuable purpose.
MPs can send out four newsletters per year, called “householders,” to every household in the riding. Additional mailings can only be sent to 10 per cent of households in the riding, and are dubbed “ten-percenters.” MPs are also allowed to send leaflets into other ridings in numbers equal to 10 per cent of the households in their own ridings. The cost of printing and mailing the flyers is covered by taxpayers.
The Liberal party estimates that “ten-percenters” cost taxpayers approximately $30 million per year, including $10 million for printing costs, $19 million for postage and $1 million for mail preparation. The party put forward a motion that later passed in the House of Commons, calling for an end to the practice of mailing leaflets into other ridings.
Albrecht contended that the flyers allow MPs to communicate directly with their constituents, and allow the party to reach people in ridings where it doesn’t have any representation.
“I feel they’re a very good tool to get direct information right to the constituents, and it allows them a mechanism for feedback too,” he said. “It’s important people have the opportunity to hear what their government is up to.”
Pat Cannon, one of the directors of the Kitchener-Conestoga Liberal Riding Association, disagreed.
“I think the original purpose of them had a good intent, but the way they have been misused in the past several years has led us to believe they really aren’t doing what they were supposed to,” she said. “The idea was originally non-partisan information about the government, not the party. And they have turned out to be blatant attacks on the other parties, and because they’re free, they don’t cost anything for the government to put them out.”
The Liberals released an analysis of spending of taxpayer-funding printing costs by MPs for the last fiscal year that showed Conservative MPs averaged $49,689, New Democrats $33,825 and Liberals $18,500. The Bloc Quebecois found that of the 58 MPs who spent more than $50,000 each on printing costs in 2009, 54 of them were Conservatives.
Last year Albrecht sent out roughly 17 mailings to each of the approximately 44,000 households in the riding. His printing costs for the year totaled $65,000.
Albrecht also sent five ten-percenters to households outside the riding, at a cost of $12,475. He couldn’t say offhand exactly where those ten-percenters went, noting the mailings are coordinated by the party, although each MP is responsible for signing off on the expense and what was sent where.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s a very small amount to invest in getting our message out.”
The Liberal motion to stop MPs from sending ten-percenters into ridings other than their own passed in the House of Commons, but the final decision rests with the Board of Internal Economy, an all-party committee that governs the House.