The biggest spenders and thriftiest partisans in the House of Commons

OTTAWA — How did MPs spend more than $141 million on their office in the past year? Why did Canada 150 prompt some offices to obtain extra swag, and who were the overall?

To answer these questions, the National Post did a deep dive into House of Commons data, based on complete expense reports for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Full budgets include staff salaries, rentals for constituency offices, all kinds of administrative costs and money for hospitality, gifts and advertising, too — where some of the most interesting trends come to the surface. The averages below omit the partial expense reports of MPs who died or left office during the year.

Let’s start with the big picture. New the most money on their office budgets, at an average of $442,398 per Member of Parliament. are the runners-up at $435,229 per MP, by the Bloc Québécois at $423,211 and our most frugal parliamentarians, the Liberals, who spend $405,152 on average.

And the winner is Liberal MP and Geoff Regan.

“I wouldn’t call it surprising. I’d call it good,” Aaron Wudrick, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said about government MPs’ relative thriftiness. “That’s great! Lead by example!”

Out of the 25 MPs who spent the least money, 22 were Liberal and three Conservative. All but four were from Ontario or Quebec. Travel costs add up more quickly for rural ridings, or those far away from Ottawa.

The House of Commons speaker, Geoff Regan, spent the least out of his MP , at just over a quarter million. (There is a separate for the speaker’s office, and he lives in a federally subsidized residence, so those two factors contribute.)

Out of the top 10 individual spenders, seven were Conservative. The highest total came from Alberta Conservative MP David Yurdiga’s office ($567,464), followed by NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton ($551,275), whose riding is in Manitoba, and Liberal Labrador MP Yvonne Jones ($549,984).

On average, each MP spent about $3,900 on hospitality: food, drink and events, whether in their constituencies — many MPs host an annual barbecue, for example — or in Ottawa. Only 13 MPs spent more than $10,000 in this category.

And Bloc Québécois MPs outspent their colleagues by a long shot, averaging in the $7,000 range, compared with an average of $3,358 per Conservative MP, $3,953 per Liberal and $4,142 per New Democrat.

Tories came out the most generous with “gifts,” a category that often includes trinkets to hand out to visitors or constituents.

Conservatives spent nearly double what others did, in this category, though the expenses were small compared with overall budgets. Tory MPs typically spent an average of $1,315 on “gifts,” while Liberals spent $771, New Democrats $683 and Bloc $564. A solid 59 MPs spend a penny in this category.

Conservative MP came in second on gift spending, with $7,592, behind caucus-mate Kelly Block, at $8,191. Because of Canada’s sesquicentennial year, this was money well spent, Gladu said.

Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women Marilyn Gladu speaks surrounded by committee members after tabling a report on violence against women, Monday, March 20, 2017 in Ottawa.

“It’s Canada 150. We were actually quite disappointed with the allotment we got from the government. So we spent a lot of money on flags and Canada 150 pins,” she said.

The government had offered each MP’s office plastic multicolour pins (“to be honest, they look cheap,” Gladu said) and about 50 paper flags.

So, her office ordered 15,000 red-and-white metal pins, and she handed them out at seniors’ cruises and Canada Day events with constituents.

It didn’t seem like too big an expense, Gladu said. “Especially when we think about what they spent on the duck.” (In case you missed it, a festival got a $121,000 grant from the government of Ontario that was partly used to buy a giant, inflatable rubber duck.)

Block’s office told the Post in an email a boost in expenses this year also came from Canada 150 swag. Items included can cozies, cloths for glasses, luggage tags, nail files, car window scrapers and pens.

Wudrick made the point that for gifts and hospitality expenses, MPs should make sure everything passes a sniff test. But one way to be even more above-board would be to proactively disclose more details.

“It comes back to my perpetual complaint, which is they should have itemized receipts for these things. I think people can judge better,” he said. “Just scan the receipt.” He noted MPs must already submit receipts in some form in order to get reimbursed, so it shouldn’t add an egregious amount of paperwork.

On the advertising front, MPs spent an average of $16,692 each. NDP and BQ MPs tended to spend the most on ads, with the Bloc far eclipsing other parties at $31,676 on average. New Democrats spent $18,827 and Liberals $16,102.

Tories spent the least on ads, at $15,339. The only member of parliament who didn’t expense any advertising expenses was Alberta Conservative MP Blake Richards, who didn’t respond to a request to chat about his frugality.

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About Marie-Danielle Smith