One of the shortest web addresses around might cost the NDP thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands — of dollars.
The secretive House of Commons Board of Internal Economy won’t say exactly how the the NDP broke the rules in its finding that the New Democrat MP's use of free mailing privileges crossed the line between parliamentary and partisan activities.
However, a copy of the report by House clerk Audrey O’Brien obtained by CBC News outlines exactly what the problems are.
Examples of mailings the NDP sent into the Montreal-riding of Bourassa (see below) highlight some of the issues.
Like many political communications, the mailings to constituents go after the other two political parties. There are two problems, however.
The first is at the bottom of the stationery where it says “ndp.ca.”
The House of Commons has lengthy rules covering how MPs can use their resources to communicate with their constituents – the two relevant parts here deal with the “designated website” paid for by the House of Commons, and the free mailing provided by Canada Post.
Designated websites, say the rules, “cannot directly or indirectly include solicitations for contributions to or membership in any political party.”
The site ndp.ca invites visitors to both join and donate to the party.
The House of Commons rules also state that “only (the designated) website may be used in advertisements, 10 per-centers, and householders, or on letterhead and personalized stationery.”
O’Brien’s conclusion about ndp.ca: “This is not a designated website for any of the members sending the mailouts.”
The other problem is the language used – although touting your side’s successes and pointing out your adversaries’ failings is deemed to hug just this side of the line of partisanship – this NDP mailing goes a little further.
The below example says (translated): "The people of Bourassa (the Montreal riding that was in the midst of a byelection when this letter was received by some residents) will soon have a choice to make between the NDP of Thomas Mulcair, a party that works in the interests of the people, or the Liberals and Conservatives who only favour their friends."
“This is clearly electoral in nature,” concludes O’Brien of a similar mailing sent to the same riding,
Although the chief electoral officer cleared the NDP of violating the Elections Act, O’Brien’s opinion still puts the mailings under what the House of Commons rules refer to as “not parliamentary functions.”
The NDP points out their mailings are comparable to what all the other parties send out – including the Liberals referring to Liberal.ca in at least one of theirs.
They accuse the Board of Internal Economy of going on a partisan attack – and hiding behind rules of confidentially to prevent the NDP from getting a fair hearing.
Jury of adversaries
Although O’Brien’s opinion is free of partisan influences, the Board of Internal Economy is less unencumbered by political considerations.
It does amount to the NDP being convicted by a jury of its adversaries — but these are the rules and procedures MPs have developed to police themselves.
The Board of Internal Economy is declining to reveal what monies it may seek to have the NDP repay because of the alleged breach of the rules.
The letters were not printed by the House of Commons, to save the taxpayers money — according to the NDP — so there is no expense to be recovered there.
The envelope, please
The envelopes, however, may be a problem.
The NDP admits to using House of Commons envelopes for the mailings — which cost $7.55 for a box of 500.
If forced to pay those costs back, it would result in the NDP paying about $27, 000 for the estimated 1.8 million pieces of mail the party is alleged to have improperly mailed out.
That wouldn’t be so bad – but there’s another scenario that could get much more expensive.
These letters were delivered for free by Canada Post under the government mailing rules.
If these letters are – retroactively – declared ineligible for the government mailing by the House of Commons, it’s not clear if Canada Post would attempt (or be directed) to recoup the costs of that.
The cost of 1.8 million first-class stamps would cause a far more expensive problem for the NDP.