The Conservative government has shelled out more than $30 million in severance and separation payments to departing political staffers since 2006, according to documents filed in the House of Commons last week in response to a written query from Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner.

Topping the list for payouts is the Privy Council Office, which lists more than $5 million in combined severance and separation pay, followed by Industry and Foreign Affairs, at just over $2.2 million each. The Privy Council Office is the federal office the supports the prime minister and cabinet.

At the other end of the scale, the Office of the Co-ordinator of Status of Women has paid out just $4,400 in severance, and no separation pay since 2006.

The numbers are broken down by department, and cover the full eight-year period starting in April 2006. Cuzner's request for a month-by-month tally was rejected due to "privacy considerations." As a result, it's not possible to tell how much of the $30-million total may have been paid to former Liberal staffers who left when the Conservatives first took power in early 2006.

Under Treasury Board rules, ministerial offices must pay severance, with the current formula set at two weeks for every year of service — money that, in some cases, has to be returned if the employee is re-hired within 30 days of termination, either by their former minister in a new portfolio, the new minister in their existing portfolio or a different minister entirely.

Separation pay, on the other hand, is discretionary, although the minister can authorize no more than four months pay for service of less than four years, and no more than six months for service longer than four years. In certain circumstances, those payments must also be paid back if the former staffer finds work within the period covered by the severance pay.

A spokeswoman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement told CBC News that the rules and practices for severance and separation pay "are similar to those for MPs' and Senators' aides, as well as those in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition."

"Separation pay may also be paid at the discretion of the minister to compensate for possible loss of earnings resulting from unpredictable or abrupt termination of employment," said Heather Domereckyj.

Foreign Affairs, Human Resources, Industry and Privy Council Office are the only departments to spend more than $1 million on separation pay.

As Domereckyj points out, however, the PCO total covers several offices, including the Prime Minister's Office, the Government House Leader and Whip offices, and several ministers of states' offices.

That's also the case for Foreign Affairs and Industry.

For his part, Cuzner says the lack of breakdowns makes it difficult to analyze the information, adding his party plans to file a few follow-up queries to try to narrow down the costs.

"From 2006 on, we don't know if there are long-time Liberal staffers," he points out. But he agrees that $30 million is a significant amount.

"We're going to try to get that information, and see what kind of analysis we can do."

Although Cuzner was hoping for monthly data, even yearly data would allow them to "connect some dots."

The next batch of questions should be on the Order Paper when MPs return later this month, at which point the government will have 45 days to reply.

In 2012, Clement spearheaded a move to phase out severance payments for public servants who quit or retire — a change that he claimed would ultimately save the government $500 million annually, but which could cost as much as $6 billion in one-time payments before coming into force. 

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Corrections

  • This story has been edited from an earlier version that incorrectly stated that Status of Women had paid out $44,000 in severance pay. In fact, the office has paid out $4,400 since 2006.
    Apr 14, 2014 3:40 PM ET
with files from James Fitz-Morris