Monday, March 05, 2012

How much does it cost you to keep your Member of Parliament informed?

Million-dollar questions: Government spent more than $1M answering written queries from MPs

By Jason Fekete Postmedia News
Thursday, March1, 2012
The federal government estimates it spends $60 an hour responding to MPs written queries (Photograph by Chris Wattie/Reuters)


OTTAWA — The federal government has spent more than $1 million in the last nine months responding to written questions from MPs — including one query that cost $253,000 alone.


One of the reasons for the eye-popping tab? The government estimates it spends $60 an hour responding to the queries.


Members of Parliament are allowed to submit written questions to the government to obtain detailed or technical information from the various ministries, and can ask that the answer be provided within 45 days.


Opposition MPs often use the written questions to unearth important government documents or detailed information on federal spending.


The written questions are considered a key tool for MPs from all parties, but they have long proven to be a bit of a thorn for governments — and they're also proving to be expensive to answer.


In fact, Alberta Conservative MP Brian Jean asked his own question of the Tory government in December on how much it's costing taxpayers to respond to the written questions.


The answer: a little more than $1 million to answer around 375 written questions since the current session of Parliament began last June — including $253,000 to answer a single question from a Liberal MP.


Mark Eyking, a Grit MP who represents the Nova Scotia riding of Sydney-Victoria, asked the government in December for the total cost of renting venues or properties for executive retreats or meetings between 2006 and 2011.


Producing the answer cost the government $253,796, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week. The government estimates the tab for responding to the questions is $60 an hour or an estimated annual salary of $116,160.


Ontario NDP MP Irene Mathyssen asked a separate question in December on how much the government spent between the 2003-04 and 2011-12 fiscal years on "altering, improving, branding or otherwise amending the websites for the government and all departmental websites . . ."


Generating the answer to her question cost the government — and taxpayers — $138,956, according to the documents.


Responding to most questions, however, costs the government anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, although several reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.


Eyking and Mathyssen weren't immediately available for comment.


The large price tag on answering the questions is sure to spark more debate about whether taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently at a time the government is preparing to deliver an austerity budget and looking to eliminate a deficit estimated at $31 billion.


Opposition parties worry the government is on a bit of a witch hunt and simply looking for ways to cut spending on parliamentary resources that could be useful to non-government MPs.


jfekete@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/jasonfekete

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