Inside Politics

CORRECTED - Gov't spends $10K to answer Tory MP on $3 million cost of opposition queries

UPDATE: Oh, this is just awful. Mea culpa, y'all. Mea culpa.

I somehow managed to misread the (in my defence, ambiguously worded and, I'm told, expected to be corrected in Hansard itself) response to the point that I got it exactly backwards: the $2.9 million actually refers to the total cost of answering all the Order Papers referenced in Brian Jean's questions.

No specific figure is provided for the price of Jean's questions themselves, although we do know that preparing those responses involved at least 140 hours of work by the Privy Council, which works out to $8,400 according to the formula used by the government for such calculations.

(Apparently, no record was kept for the hours spent on Jean's first Order Paper Question-related query.)

So, in conclusion, the government likely spent just under $10 K (including the untabulated hours for the first question) putting together the total figures for Jean, which, as of his most recent question, stands at just under $3 million -- and truly shamefaced, if heartfelt thanks to the government house leader's office for correcting my error so promptly and politely.

Here's the original double-meta written question, which was posed by Liberal MP Kristy Duncan on January 28, 2013:

With respect to the government's answering of Order Paper questions: (a) how many times last year did the government estimate the cost of answering an Order Paper question, and as a result of the cost, did not provide an answer to the Order Paper question; (b) for each instance identified in (a), (i) what was the question, (ii) who did the analysis, (iii) how much time did it take to do the analysis, (iv) how was the estimate calculated; (c) for each instance identified in (a), (i) were consultants hired, (ii) if so, what was their hourly rate; (d) for each instance identified in (a), if consultants were not hired, was providing answers to Order Paper questions part of the regular job duties of the individual(s) involved in preparing the answer; (e) how many times last year did government Members ask for an estimate of the cost to answer an opposition Member's Order Paper question; and (f) for each instance identified in (e), (i) what was the question, (ii) who did the analysis, (iii) how much time did it take to do the analysis, (iv) how was the estimate calculated?

The answer, which was delivered yesterday afternoon by the government house leader's parliamentary secretary, Tom Lukiwski -- lightly snipped to get to the good bit (you can read the entire response as it appears in Hansard here) and bolded/italicized for emphasis:

[...][T]o date during the 41st Parliament, the member for Fort McMurray--Athabasca has placed three questions on the order paper requesting the estimated cost for producing government responses to a range of order paper questions.

With regard to (f)(i), the three questions were as follows:

Q-385 -- December 12, 2011 -- Mr. Jean (Fort McMurray--Athabasca)--For questions Q-1 through Q-376 on the order paper, what is the estimated cost of the government's response to each question?

Q-512 -- March 8, 2012 -- Mr. Jean (Fort McMurray--Athabasca) -- With regard to questions Q-386 through Q-509 on the order paper, (a) what is the estimated cost of the government's response to each question; and (b) what is the estimated cost of the government's response to this question?

Q-901 -- September 24, 2012 -- Mr. Jean (Fort McMurray--Athabasca) -- With regard to questions Q-513 through Q-818 on the order paper: (a) what is the estimated cost of the government's response to each question; and (b) what is the estimated cost of the government's response to this question?

With regard to (f)(ii), each organization estimated the cost of producing its response to the order paper questions listed in Q-385, Q-512 and Q-901.

The Privy Council Office compiled the cost estimates provided by each organization to produce the government responses to Q-385, Q-512 and Q-901.

With regard to (f)(iii), it took the Privy Council Office approximately 37.5 hours to compile the cost estimates reported in the response to Q-512 and 94.5 hours to compile the cost estimates reported in the response to Q-901. This information was not compiled for the response to Q-385.

With regard to (f)(iv), organizations use the following guideline to estimate the costs of producing government responses: the total number of hours spent by officials, generally subject-matter experts, who researched, drafted, reviewed and approved a response and the related Statement of Completeness, not including coordination activities by departmental Parliamentary Affairs staff or review by ministers' offices; and the cost of translating the response into the second official language for tabling in the House of Commons.

The estimated salary cost of producing a government response is based on 80% of an analyst position with a PM-06 mid-range annual salary, salary cost of $89,000, plus 20% of an executive's time with an EX-01 mid-range annual salary, salary cost of $26,880, for a total estimated annual salary of $116,160, or $60.00 per hour. These salary costs include the 20% cost of employee pension and benefits.

The total cost of producing government responses to order paper questions listed in Q-385, Q-512 and Q-901 is $2,892,744.65.

Tune in tomorrow, when a helpful Conservative -- possibly, but not necessarily, Brian Jean himself -- will almost certainly request the full cost of answering Duncan's question. 

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