Members of the House of Commons are entitled to a sessional allowance, a pension plan and relocation benefits. They also have access to several comprehensive medical, dental and life insurance plans which provide a broad range of coverage. Moreover, Members are provided with an office budget, travel resources and a fully equipped office in the Parliamentary Precinct in order to carry out their parliamentary functions.436
The Sessional Allowance
The sessional allowance, the equivalent of a salary, is stated as an annual amount and is paid monthly.437 Additional salaries are payable to Members of the House of Commons occupying certain offices and positions. These include the Prime Minister, Ministers, the Speaker and other Chair Occupants, the leaders of recognized opposition parties, House Leaders and Deputy House Leaders, Whips and Deputy Whips of recognized parties, Parliamentary Secretaries, Caucus Chairs of recognized parties, and Chairs and Vice-Chairs of standing, special, standing joint and special joint committees.438 The sessional allowance and additional salaries are adjusted each year on April 1; the adjustment is based on the index of the average percentage increase in base-rate wages for the calendar year in Canada resulting from major settlements negotiated in the private sector.439
Newly elected Members receive a sessional allowance as of the date of their election,440 and this allowance continues until a Member ceases to hold office or the day of a general election.441 The sessional allowance continues uninterrupted when Members are re-elected.
The pension plan for Members was first established in 1952. At that time, Prime Minister St-Laurent expressed concern about the reluctance of some people to run for a seat in the House of Commons because of their belief that long years spent in public service would not allow them to provide adequately for their later years. The Prime Minister believed that the establishment of a pension plan would strengthen the parliamentary institution and attract the right kind of person to public service.442 Under the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, a retiring allowance (pension) is payable to former Members who have contributed to the pension plan for a minimum of six years and who have attained the retirement age set out in the Act.443 Should a Member retire with less than six years of service, the Member receives a withdrawal allowance in a single payment.444
Former Members who are not eligible for an immediate pension may be entitled to a severance allowance equal to 50% of the sessional allowance and any additional annual salary payable to Members occupying certain offices (such as that of a Minister, House Leader, Whip, or Parliamentary Secretary).445
The provisions of the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act continue to apply between the day of dissolution and election day. Contributions cease as of election day for Members who are not re-elected.
The Parliament of Canada Act authorizes the Board of Internal Economy to make by-laws with regard to the use of funds, goods, services and premises provided to Members.446 The By-laws were first enacted by the Board of Internal Economy in 1993 and are a series of guidelines regulating the use of parliamentary resources made available to Members to help them perform their parliamentary functions. The term “parliamentary functions” is defined as “the duties and activities that relate to the position of Member, wherever performed and whether or not performed in a partisan manner, namely, participation in activities relating to the proceedings and work of the House of Commons and activities undertaken in representing his or her constituency or constituents”.447
Each year, the Board of Internal Economy establishes the financial provisions for the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31), within the amount appropriated for that purpose by Parliament. These financial provisions include the Member’s office budget, House Officers’ budgets and committees’ budgets.448
Each Member is provided with a Member’s office budget which consists of a basic budget and, for some Members, an elector supplement or a geographic supplement. Members who represent densely populated constituencies, constituencies measuring at least 500 square kilometres and constituencies listed in Schedule 3 of the Canada Elections Act receive a supplement.449 The Member’s office budget is used to pay expenses for the Member’s offices in Ottawa and in the constituency, including staff salaries. The House of Commons also provides Members with modern office equipment and services such as extensive long-distance calling, electronic mail and Internet facilities, wireless devices, internal mail and messenger services, postal services, printing, security services and language training.450 Members may spend their budgets, or use the House services provided, as they choose so long as they conform to the regulations prescribed by the Board of Internal Economy.
The Board of Internal Economy determines the terms and conditions of managing and accounting for the funds by Members and has exclusive authority to determine whether their use is or was proper.451 Other By-laws set out the terms governing Members’ use of their budgets and other benefits provided by the House, including travel, postal services, printing privileges, staff, and the purchase of goods. In the event the By-laws are contravened, the Board of Internal Economy may pursue a number of options, including withholding money from one of the Member’s budgets or allowances, or freezing any budget, allowance or payment that may be available to the Member.452
Each Member is the employer of all his or her employees and has the prerogative to recruit, hire, promote and release employees.453 A Member is allowed full discretion in the direction and control of the work performed on his or her behalf by employees and is subject only to the authority of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy in the exercise of that discretion. Members determine the duties to be performed, hours of work, job classifications and salaries, and are responsible for employee relations.454 Subject to specific terms and conditions, Members may enter into contracts for services with individuals, agencies or organizations and use a portion of their office budget for the payment of these contractors. Members may not hire or enter into a contract for consulting and professional services with members of their immediate family (spouse, child, father, mother, brother or sister, or the spouse or child of a child).455
Members have free mailing privileges, often referred to as franking privileges.456 Franking is the process by which Members of the House of Commons, by affixing their signatures to an addressed piece of mail, may have that mail delivered postage-free anywhere in the country. It is available only for mail that is addressed to places in Canada and may not be used for parcels, special delivery or other special services offered by Canada Post. Mail addressed to Members is also delivered free of charge if sent to a Parliament Hill address. These mailing privileges begin on the day the notice of the Member’s election is published by the Chief Electoral Officer in the Canada Gazette and end 10 calendar days after that person ceases to be a Member.457
Once each Parliament, Members may relocate their primary residence or establish a secondary residence in the National Capital Region at any time following their election to the House of Commons.458 Members are also allocated a travel status expenses account to offset the cost of meals, incidentals and accommodation expenses incurred while on official business more than 100 kilometres from their principal residence.459 This budget also helps Members offset some of the costs involved in maintaining two households, one in their constituency and one in the National Capital Region. Members are also allowed up to 64 regular return trips per year to travel between Ottawa and their constituency, and on occasion elsewhere in Canada, to Washington, D.C. and to New York, subject to certain conditions.460
When Parliament is dissolved, Members of the House of Commons are discharged from their responsibility to attend the sittings of the House and cease to be Members of Parliament. However, their offices in Ottawa and in their constituency remain open to provide services to constituents, but they may not be used for electoral purposes. Accordingly, between the date Parliament is dissolved and the day of the election, budgetary funds, goods, services and premises made available by the House to its Members are to be used to assist Members in providing services to their constituents, although some services may be modified or suspended.461 In addition, Members are entitled to one return trip per week between their constituency and Ottawa during this period.462
Members who are defeated or who did not seek re-election are provided with travel benefits for the equivalent of two return trips in the 30 days following the election date to come to Ottawa to close their office. If a Member resigns before Parliament is dissolved, one return trip is allowed in the 30 days following the day of the Member’s resignation to close his or her office.
On behalf of the Board of Internal Economy, the Speaker of the House of Commons publishes the Members’ Expenditures Report on the House of Commons website at such time as may be determined by the Board, which is currently every three months.463 This report discloses each Member’s expenses pertaining to employee salaries, service contracts, travel, hospitality, gifts, advertising, printing and office operations. Members may review and approve their portion of the Members’ Expenditures Report prior to disclosure.