NEWS

Hill staffers targeted by anonymous email on MP budget freeze

08/26/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 10/25/2014 05:59 EDT
Conservative MP office workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your status as the lowest-paid political staffers in the precinct! 

That's the gist of an anonymous mass email that hit Tory inboxes last week, courtesy of the same mysterious Gmail account that blew the whistle on an aborted attempt by the all-party Board of Internal Economy to impose a sweeping gag order on political staffers last December. 

"Dear Conservative Staff," the latest missive from "Nanker Phelge" begins.

"Are you being paid fairly for the work you do for your member of Parliament? Here are some things to think about to help you figure that out."

The email points out that MPs have seen their salaries go up by over $5,000 in the past two years, with the basic take-home pay for a backbench MP currently sitting at $163,700.

"Interestingly for those MPs who don't like unions, this increase was based upon the average wage increase that over 500 Unions and bargaining units negotiated," Phelge observes.

"At the same time, members' office budgets [MOB]" — which, the email notes, cover staff salaries —  "have remained frozen."

That, Phelge warns, will result in "the squeeze being put on your wallet, as "failure to increase the MOB means your wages do not keep pace with the costs of living."

"Don't let the Board of Internal Economy make these decisions in secret any longer!" 

NDP staffers paid more than Tories?

According to Phelge, staffers working for other parties likely pull in higher salaries than those toiling in the trenches on behalf of the government backbench — particularly those employed by the NDP, the only caucus with a unionized workforce, which pays a minimum annual full-time salary of $48,929.

As evidence, the email cites Sun parliamentary bureau chief David Akin, who crunched the numbers last year and concluded that "the average NDP MP" spends $222,000 a year on office salaries.

The Liberals, according to Akin's calculations, came in second, with MPs spending an average of $220,000 on staff expenses, and the Conservatives, at $210,000, came in third.  

"$48,929 really isn't a huge sum of money when you look at our costs of living, and when you compare the work we do across the spectrum of similar areas of employment," Phelge asserts.

The email closes by urging Tory Hill staffers to stand up for their "collective rights."  

"Ask your bosses why you can't at least make as much as other government employees," it suggests.

"Or at least ask why they aren't paying into the Public Service Pension Plan like you are, and why they have a separate gold-plated pension that no other Canadians could ever dream of."

Phelge has also issued an open invitation to anyone who has "issues with [their] MP" to share their stories.   

"We all know the MPs make decisions about our livelihoods in secret, and we have little to no recourse," the email  notes.

"Please speak out. I will keep your information totally confidential, and am looking to compile an anonymous list of tales of woe from MP staffers."

Email went out to all staffers, says NDP

It's not clear just who is behind the virtual rabble-rousing.

Phelge — whose pseudonym was originally used by the Rolling Stones as a credit for group compositions — states that he or she is "not working to take down any one political party," but for "fairness for all parliamentary staff."

The reference to the NDP base salary, plus the slam at the all-party Board of Internal Economy for operating in secret seems to hint that the email may have come from the Official Opposition side of the House.

A spokesman for New Democrat whip Nycole Turmel told CBC News that similar emails went out to all Hill staffers, although he confirmed that the budget freeze would not affect scheduled NDP staff salary increases.

"We have a collective agreement in place that sets out raises for most staff over a period of several years, irrespective of whether MPs or their [office budgets] received increases from the House of Commons," said Anthony Salloum, who also serves as president of the NDP staff union.

"It also eliminates the huge discrepancies found in Liberal and Conservative offices by closing the gap between the highest paid and lowest paid staff."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, seemed distinctly unmoved at the notion of rebellion within the Tory ranks.

"Conservative staff is hard at work advancing taxpayers interests, unlike the NDP who are beholden to big union bosses," Stephen Lecce told CBC News.

In any case, as unlikely as a staff-wide mutiny may seem, Conservative MPs would be wise to keep an eye out for any sign of labour unrest on the office front. 

It was, after all, an email from the very same Nanker Phelge that sparked the all-party furor that ultimately forced the Board to back down on that Hill-wide confidentiality clause.

Will his or her attempt to rally Conservative staffers to the House office budget barricades succeed?

Stay tuned!

The full text of the email (all emphasis and punctuation in the original):

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