Yesterday, the BQ and NDP voted in favour of a Liberal motion that bans the mass mailing of so-called "ten percenters" outside of MP's own riding. The motion passed, and the ban will save the taxpayers at least $10 million a year.
The Conservatives voted against the motion (I guess they like junk mail) and, while they've routinely ignored parliamentary motions, this one appears binding. It doesn't involve the executive branch of government. It's about Parliament directing a body of Parliament (in this case, the Board of Internal Economy) how to spend Parliamentary funds. It's completely binding.
So will the Conservatives obey the rules? That's the question the Liberals asked of them in question period today:
Hon. John McCallum (l): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, this house voted to end the practice of allowing members to send free propaganda outside their ridings. We voted to save taxpayers $20 million by eliminating this partisan junk mail. If the government is serious about reducing waste, it will surely leap at this opportunity to save $20 million. To the prime minister: Liberals have already stopped their participation in this program. When will the government also comply with the will of the house of commons?
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper: Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, I'd Like to congratulate the honourable member on his promotion through what appears to be the rapidry-dwindling leadership ranks. -- Rapidly-dwindling leadership ranks. Mr. Speaker, as you would know, this matter is under the board of internal economy, which you chair, but I will just see this having viewed a few of these Liberal 10%ers, I think the cancellation the program was a good idea.
Hon. John McCallum (L): So I take it the prime minister will indeed comply with the will of the house and save $20 million. I hope that's true.
That's certaintly the impression I got from the PM's response. Except the PMO apparently says otherwise:
A majority of MPs in the House of Commons voted this week to ban mass mailings outside their own ridings, directing the Board of Internal Economy to "end immediately the wasteful practice."
But the Conservative government says it considers the motion "non-binding" and the Prime Minister's Office says it will continue to use the controversial "ten-percenter" program to communicate with Canadians.
Clearly, the Prime Minister hadn't called the PMO to find out his position on this issue and get his talking-points.
But seriously, how can the government refuse to comply? Ten percenters are sent out though the Parliamentary mail office, are they not? If Parliament orders no 10%ers outside the riding, then the Parliamentary Post Office isn't going to send them out, no matter how many bags of junk mail the Conservative war room drops off, is it?
Someone really needs to give the PMO a remedial crash course on the branches of government. Maybe there's a Schoolhouse Rock video available.
UPDATE: I go to the Raptors game, they win in the dying seconds, I come back and the world is all Topsy-turvy. Apparently the Conservatives are now on board with the motion they voted against yesterday (although they disagree on its bindingness) as long as everyone else is onboard too:
But in a statement issued to the media late Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Conservatives support ending the program but the final word on the issue rests with the board.The board in question would be House of Commons Board of Internal Economy. But with the Conservatives now on board, and the NDP and BQ having all voted for the Liberal motion, even if its not binding (which I think it is) everyone is now in agreement so we should be golden, right?
"We support getting rid of out-of-riding 10 percenters so long as the restriction applies to all parties," PMO spokesperson Dimitri Soudas said. "However, we do not have a majority on the board."
Yeah, maybe not so much. For while the Conservatives now supposedly support the motion they opposed yesterday, Steve writes that the NDP may be getting cold feet (you can't tell the flip-floppers without a program on this one!). As CTV reports in the above story, Joe Comartin won't commit the party to supporting it, and Libby Davies seems almost outright opposed. Let's hope that's not the case, saner heads prevail, and we can all agree on no longer wasting (as much) taxpayer money on useless junk mail.
And, as an aside, I find it rich in irony that the NDP maintains the House of Commons motion wasn't binding on the board, a creation of the House of Commons, as it would seem to cast aside the notion of Parliamentary supremacy that the opposition parties, including the NDP, are fighting vehemently for in the torture document disclosure drama. Ralph Goodale put it well:
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Anyway, I'll check back in the morning to see if positions have flip-flopped again overnight.
"If the House of Commons has the authority, which it does, to order government departments to produce documents on issues as crucial as Afghanistan, then one would think that the House of Commons equally has the authority to issue instructions to an administrative body to save money," Goodale said.