Annual freebies offered to MPs, staff include tickets, coins

Parliamentary membership may have its privileges, but freebies from federally funded institutions would not, it seems, appear to be among them, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne says list is missing train passes, flags and other items

Commemorative coins issued by the Royal Canadian Mint are among the few reported gifts from federal institutions to MPs, their families and staff. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Parliamentary membership may have its privileges, but freebies from federally funded institutions would not, it seems, appear to be among them, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.

Just three organizations have provided gratis goods or services to MPs, senators, their family members or their staff since 2009: the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization) and the Royal Canadian Mint.

What's more, to the undoubted disappointment of those hoping for evidence of political profligacy, it seems that even the few free gifts offered to parliamentarians fall on the modest side of the price scale.

Since 2009, the museum has handed out just over $3,000 worth of free admission tickets, including guided tours and, on one occasion, an IMAX screening, which works out to under $16 a head.

Tickets, commemorative coins on gift list

Meanwhile, over the last four years, the mint has given a single complimentary commemorative coin to each of the four parliamentarians who attended the launches for the coins honouring the Winnipeg Jets, the Highway of Heroes, the Calgary Stampede Centennial and the 100th Grey Cup, which sell for between $70 and $95 a piece. 

Finally, the response from the National Arts Centre notes that, while it does offer "complementary [sic] tickets to parliamentarians from time to time," it has no system to track how often those tickets are used.

"However, anecdotal evidence indicates that there are no more than 15 pairs of tickets given to parliamentarians annually," it concludes.

There are even a few federally funded goodies up for grabs that have gone unclaimed by parliamentarians. 

According to the reply provided by Marine Atlantic Inc., which provides ferry service between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the agency has a standing policy in place to honour passes or certificates issued to MPs, senators and their families, but "has no record of any eligible person availing of this" since 2009.

List incomplete, says Liberal MP

The disclosure was triggered by a written query from Liberal MP Gerry Byrne, who told CBC News that he believes the list is incomplete.

"The government has … highlighted that Canada Post is in serious trouble," he pointed out. "They had to nearly double postage rates for users as a result. Well, MPs get an awful lot of free services from Canada Post. That doesn't seem to square."

The response from Canada Post does include an explanation of House mailing privileges provided to MPs through the House of Commons, but doesn't list an estimated value for what it acknowledges is a "deeply discounted" service.

"Via Rail is in constant deficit and needing federal subsidies," Byrne said.

"But for some reason, the government is unaware that every MP gets a card allowing them free travel in business class on any Via train. They didn't even bother to include this item in their answer to Parliament."

Transparency 'responsible thing to do'

Byrne gave other examples of parliamentary perks not listed in the response.

"Did you know that MPs get 50 topographic maps a year from [Natural Resources] free of charge? Flags from Canadian Heritage? There is something not right when you just don't know what it is that is being offered."

Byrne stressed that he's not suggesting such offers don't have merit.

"But wouldn't it be useful, in the name of transparency, to list them off, examine the costs, examine the circumstance of the department or agency offering them and allow parliamentarians and Canadians the opportunity to determine if this is the responsible thing to do?"

Read the full response here:


Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.


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