OTTAWA — Using taxpayers’ dollars to send partisan mailings is A-OK, Canada's senators have finally decided.
“There are only 105 of us, George (Liberal Senator George Furey) and I have basically talked to our caucuses and said, you know, when you do your newsletter be careful, don’t be excessively partisan,” Conservative Senator David Tkachuk told The Huffington Post Thursday.
“You can still be partisan, I mean we are a debating society, we fight and we argue, but when you put them down, put them down in a way that promotes discussion rather than an attack,” he added.
Tkachuk, the chair of the Senate's committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, said the newsletters are now going through a new vetting process by communication staff and if any alarm bells go off, a group of senators will determine whether or not a certain partisan newsletter can be printed and mailed.
"We do check them now, we just make sure before they are printed that they are not a propaganda piece," he said.
Senators got caught up with the newsletter issue last year after Conservative Senators Bob Runciman and Don Plett sent newsletters out to ridings held by Liberals MPs attacking the opposition party for being soft on crime.
The Liberals complained about the mailings in the fall of 2010, but in a closed-door session the administrative body of the Senate decided that partisan mailings were all right as long as senators refrained from insulting one another.
Liberal senators Jane Cordy and Jim Munson, however, later raised concerns that senators were giving themselves the right to use public funds do something that MPs in the House of Commons had banned. MPs cannot send newsletters to ridings other than their own while senators can send addressed mail anywhere in Canada.
Cordy said she felt some senators’ newsletters — those printed in party colours and occasionally featuring photos with party candidates — were “blatant political advertisement” rather than a description of a senators’ work.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation latched on to the issue, organizing a fundraising drive calling on Canadians to complain if they believed their “tax dollars should not be used for politics.”
“If politicians want to run TV ads and send junk mail attacking each other, they should do it with their own money,” the Federation wrote in their newsletter.
Faced with complaints, Tkachuk’s committee decided to bench the issue by forming a small committee to study the newsletters.
“When some of the senators who complained saw their own, or all of the newsletters, everybody was doing it — well, I shouldn’t say that but there were a number of partisan parts of a number of different newsletters that senators had and they were from different political parties,” Tkachuk said Thursday.
“I think when people realized that I think it was moot.”