© Photo courtesy of Senate of Canada
The Senate chamber
By James McLeod
The province’s contingent of senators cost taxpayers more than $2 million in one year, and next year they’ll likely cost quite a bit more.
Based on an analysis of Senate quarterly disclosure reports between March 1, 2012 and Feb. 28, 2013, five Newfoundland and Labrador senators cost more than $1.2 million for staff, office supplies, living expenses and travel.
Sen. David Wells was appointed late in January, so there’s virtually no data on his spending yet.
On top of their expenses, each senator gets a salary of $132,300, along with extra pay for chairing committees and taking on other roles.
Add it all up, and the province’s cohort in the Senate cost just over $2 million.
The majority of that money is the cost of running senators’ offices and paying staff — more than $600,000 for the five senators, not counting Wells.
The next biggest cost — $461,619.11 — is spent on flights back and forth between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.
In the three-month period from June to August 2012, Sen. Fabian Manning set the record among N.L. senators by spending $38,911.58 in travel back and forth to the nation’s capital.
In recent months, most of the focus has been on P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy, who improperly claimed more than $90,000 in expenses. Saskatchewan Sen. Pamela Wallin has also repaid tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.
The Telegram has no reason to believe that any senator from this province has inappropriately charged any money; this is simply the legitimate cost of having representatives in the Senate.
“I know the question you’re going to ask me, which I can’t answer. The question you’re going to ask is, ‘Am I worth it?’” Senator Elizabeth Marshall said when The Telegram got in touch with her.
“People themselves have got to answer that question.”
Every senator The Telegram spoke to for this story said they don’t believe most people really know what the job entails (See related story, page A5), but Marshall said it’s up to the members of the red chamber to change that.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with regard to the Senate,” she said. “As it stands right now, we’re here, and we’ve got to make it work.”
New Democrat MP Megan Leslie tried to shut down the Senate this week; in the House of Commons, she moved to remove all funding from the Senate starting July 1st.
“It just says, essentially, stop giving them money,” Leslie said. “Overall, it’s $92.5 million a year, which is frankly, $92.5 million too much. That is the annual taxes of over 8,000 average families to pay for that.”
Tim Uppal, the Conservative minister responsible for Senate reform, was not available for an interview. A spokesman sent a statement on his behalf.
“Our government is focused on delivering meaningful reform to the Senate — including elections, term limits and tough spending oversight,” spokesman Cory Hann wrote in an email.
“The prime minister has been clear that the Senate must either change or be abolished.”
When it comes to the actual cost of Newfoundland senators’ expenses, there’s not much difference between political parties.
At $289,000, Conservative Fabian Manning was the most expensive senator; Marshall, a fellow Conservative, was the least expensive at $203,000.
Liberal George Furey had the most expensive staff and office budget — $153,000 — for the 12-month period The Telegram looked at compared to Conservative Norm Doyle, who spent $89,000 in the same period.
On the other hand, Doyle’s travel from Newfoundland to Ottawa was $130,000 for the year, compared to $86,000 for Furey.
In The Telegram’s analysis, the only reported spending for Conservative David Wells, who was appointed on Jan. 25, was $4,131.78 for office expenses.
Next year, that will almost certainly be much, much more.