It seems a story I broke on Monday on senators’ partisan mailings has caused a bit of a fuss and has landed me in the firing line of Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, the chair of the Senate’s committee on internal economy, budgets and administration.
After reading the committee minutes, which are posted approximately twice yearly, I discovered the senators had revisited the question of what is considered purely partisan when it comes to their newsletters.
Senators are not allowed to send highly partisan mailings. According to the Senate’s administrative rules:
7. (2) No Senator shall request the copying or printing of material by the Senate that
(a) is unrelated to the Senator’s parliamentary functions;
(b) is in a form that is contrary to Senate official language policies;
(c) is an entire parliamentary publication, available elsewhere in substantially the same form;
(d) is illegal or defamatory; or
(e) is partisan because it is on party letterhead or includes a party logo, is a party publication, announces a national, provincial or constituency political meeting or convention or invites persons to attend such a meeting or convention, solicits a party membership or solicits a monetary contribution. [2004-05-06]
This is was discussed and decided in December:
IE/2010-12-02/129(P) — Senators’ Newsletters
The chair addressed the matter of senators’ newsletters. He explained that some senators had asked for clarification regarding what constitutes “purely partisan” content.
After discussion, it was agreed that senators’ newsletters, with partisan content, is acceptable including the use of party colours and photographs with members of the House of Commons. However negative comments against other senators are unacceptable.
I spoke with Sen. Tkachuk and he told me newsletters with endorsements for local candidates would also be accepted and senators could continue to send mailings across the country (not just to their region).
I spoke with Conservative senators Don Plett and Bob Runciman who had sent “partisan” mailings this fall to ridings held by Liberal MPs David McGuinty and Anita Neville (whom I also spoke with). The result was this story: Senators able to attack opposition parties in mail outs.
The next day, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation sent out a call to arms based on my story asking their supporters to email a handful of senators about the practice. MPs banned the practice of sending partisan mail outs to ridings they did not represent last year spring. There was a lot of anger at the time from opposition MPs who had been hit hard by Tory mailings on the gun registry.
I spoke to a number of senators including Sen. Tkachuk again who told me he had received some 100 emails about the mailings. He also told me he saw nothing wrong with partisan mailings. He said his mailings in the 1990s were far more partisan than what was being discussed right now and he stressed the point that he believes senators are not abusing their privileges since many senators send no newsletters at all.
I spoke with the Senate communications staff who informed me that Senators have no set budget or limit for printing but if they were sending a lot of newsletters, their usage would be flagged to the committee on internal economy, budgets and administration.
A Senate official told me senators can send out as many newsletters as they want every year but each run can’t be sent to more than 3,000 addresses.
I asked the official how much had been spent on printing and mailing and she pointed me to this figure as the overall spending in 2008-2009 for information and printing. I was told by the Senate official this number was the most accurate and recent data available.
So being careful to say it was the overall figure, I wrote in my story Tuesday the Senate had spent $734,183 for information and printing services in 2008-2009. This is the story we published: Senator defends partisan mail outs.
Wednesday, the NDP sent out a press release saying “Senator Tkachuk stands up for his entitlement.”
Sen. Tkachuk also sent a letter to the editor suggesting we were “sensational and exaggerated reporting.” Today, he sent a press release out attacking me and QMI for the stories, which were subsequently picked up by a number of other media outlets.
Sen. Tkachuk said in his letter that we were wrong with the $734,000 figure we cited (a figure that was provided by Senate communications).
“The Senate does not spend $734,000 per year on printing – this is a combined figure for Information and Printing, including broadcasting. Most of the increase she cites reflects a change in where broadcasting costs are reported, a change ironically made to increase transparency. The Senate spends about $90,000 per year on printing, mostly for routine publications such as Hansard, bills and the Order Paper; very little of it is for newsletters”
I have contacted Senate communications about the $90,000 figure but they have not responded to my inquiry. The senator may very well be correct but this was not the information conveyed to me.
The senator did not ask for a correction. He is aware of the above and I thought you should be as well.
Sen. Tkachuk also took offense with a story I broke in December about senators’ travel (Audit slams Senate for inadequate policies). He said in his press release today that “The Senate does not pay for spousal travel abroad, and the audit did not suggest that it does.” Regarding spousal travel, I refer you to this story: Senator’s travel tab ‘an absolute, unacceptable scandal’.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 8, 2011: I still have not heard officially from the Senate regarding the $90,000. Unofficially, I have heard nobody knows where this figure comes from. I have also been told Sen. Tkachuk sent out a release on behalf of himself and the matter was never discussed in committee.