OTTAWA -- On the eve of a budget that will deliver deep cuts to the public service, a few Conservative senators are protesting the closure of a tiny subsidized canteen in a building where many of them work.
Conservative Senator David Tkachuk and Liberal Senator George Furey sent a notice to senators and staff Wednesday warning them that, in the interests of “greater fiscal responsibility” the Victoria Building Canteen will be closed permanently this Saturday.
A newly renovated cafeteria in the La Promenade Building, which is four times larger and “easily accessible” through a passageway that connects both buildings can be used instead, the senators suggested.
But their note was met with fierce disapproval by Conservative Senator, and former party president, Donald Plett.
“What a bad, bad idea. The Victoria cafeteria was for the Senators and staff,” he wrote in an email, apparently unwilling to eat with MPs and House of Commons staff.
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth also responded to the note questioning why senators had not been consulted on other spending decisions.
“So who decided about that stupid slate wall in VB foyer & a Tv that's so high u have to bend your neck. And the winter carpets r the wrong way round. How about asking the users before u waste more $$$,” she wrote.
The Victoria Building is home to several senators’ offices and will now be the only building on the Hill without a canteen or full-service cafeteria.
But it’s far from the only place where senators can purchase subsidized food.
Liberal Senator Jim Munson wrote back, telling his colleagues to get some “perspective here about canteens.”
“We have access to four in the Senate … Losing one is not exactly hardship,” he wrote.
“Let’s not forget the big picture. There is a budget coming down that will affect people’s lives. That’s’where our focus should be.”
The Senate announced Wednesday that it will trim five per cent from its budget over the next three years.
It is shaving off 1.85 per cent next year, leaving it with a $92,215,846 for 2012-2013.
“While Parliament was not obligated to cut costs under the federal government’s Strategic Operating Review, we felt it necessary for the Senate to do its part,” Tkachuk, the chair of the Senate's committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, said in a news release. “No programs or expenditures were spared during our review,” he added, noting that office, committees, internal administration, caucuses and interparliamentary group budgets would all take a hit. Even the senators’ own “miscellaneous expenditures account” would be decreased.
Over on the House of Commons side, members of Parliament are also tightening their belts.
Joe Comartin, a spokesman for the Board of Internal Economy, an all-party committee that meets in secret to oversee House administration, said spending would decrease by 6.9 per cent — or $30.3 million — over the next three years.
The House's budget for 2011-2012 was $441,648,000.
“There will be some additional job losses, over and beyond attrition,” Comartin told The Huffington Post Canada. Some services will be reduced, he said, noting the there wouldn't be as many little green buses running throughout the day ferrying MPs from their offices, to committees and to the House of Commons.
The House of Commons cuts include a reduction of less than two per cent for MP office budgets, a reduction of nearly 7.5 per cent for the budgets of opposition party leaders and those with senior responsibilities, such as party whips and house leaders as well as the Speaker of the House, and the end of an office equipment replacement fund.
Comartin said the House had also been able to find $4.5 million in savings by buying flight tickets in bulk and by reducing the budgets for parliamentary associations and committee travel.