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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

 
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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 that 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.

*   The Sessional Allowance

The sessional allowance, the equivalent of a salary, is stated as an annual amount and is paid monthly.[423] 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, Parliamentary Secretaries, Caucus Chairs, and Chairs and Vice-Chairs of standing, special, standing joint and special joint committees.[424] 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.[425]

Newly-elected Members receive a sessional allowance as of the date of their election as certified on the return of the writ[426] and this allowance continues until a Member ceases to hold office. Members continue to receive the sessional allowance between the day of dissolution and the day before an election.[427] The sessional allowance continues uninterrupted when Members are re-elected.

*   Pension

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.[428] 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 age 55.[429] Should a Member retire with less than six years of service, the Member receives a withdrawal allowance in a single payment.[430]

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).[431]

The provisions of the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowance 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.

*   Budgetary Entitlements

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.[432] 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 “duties and activities related to the position of Member of the House of Commons wherever performed and includes public and official business and partisan matters but does not include the private business interests of a Member or a Member’s immediate family”.[433]

Each year, the Board of Internal Economy publishes a Finance By‑law (By‑law 501) which establishes the financial provisions for the fiscal year (April 1 to March 31). These include the Member’s Office Budget, House Officers’ Budgets[434] and Committees’ Budgets.

Each Member is provided with a Member’s Office Budget which is comprised of a Basic Budget, and for some Members an Elector Supplement, and/or a Geographic Supplement.[435] Members who represent constituencies listed in Schedule 3 of the Canada Elections Act also receive a supplement.[436] 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, printing, security and language training.[437] 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 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.[438] Other By‑laws set out the terms governing Members’ use of their budgets and other benefits provided by the House, including travel points, 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 or allowance or payment that may be available to the Member.[439]

Each Member is the employer of all his or her employees and has the prerogative to recruit, hire, promote and release employees.[440] 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 Board of Internal Economy and the House of Commons 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.[441] Subject to specific terms and conditions, Members may enter into contracts for services with individuals, agencies or organizations and use a portion of the Member’s 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 (spouses and children and their spouses and children) or their parents.

Members have free mailing privileges, often referred to as “franking” privileges.[442] “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 a dissolution of Parliament or 10 days after that person ceases to be a Member.[443]

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.[444] 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. This budget also helps Members offset some of the costs involved in maintaining two households, one in their constituency and one in Ottawa. Members are also allowed up to 64 regular return trips to travel between Ottawa and the constituency and on occasion elsewhere in Canada.[445]

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, 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.[446] Constituency offices remain open to provide services to constituents; they may not be used for election-related purposes. In addition, Members are entitled to one return trip per week between their constituency and Ottawa during this time.[447]

Members who are defeated or who did not seek re‑election are provided with travel benefits to come to Ottawa to close their office. If a Member resigns before Parliament is dissolved, his or her travel benefits cease as of the day of resignation.

On behalf of the Board of Internal Economy, the Speaker tables in the House an annual public report of Members’ expenses. This report discloses each Member’s expenses pertaining to office operations, employee salaries, contracting, advertising, and travel costs and the costs of goods supplied by the House Administration. Members receive a copy of their annual expenditures prior to disclosure.[448]



[423] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, ss. 55.1 and 56. In 1867, Members received a sessional allowance of six dollars a day if a session did not extend beyond 30 days; if the session continued longer, Members received a sessional allowance of $600 (Bourinot, 4th ed. pp. 153‑6). For an overview of the evolution of the sessional allowance, see Supporting Democracy, Vol. 2, pp. 32‑3. Until 2001, Members also received an incidental expense allowance which was non‑accountable (i.e., Members did not have to document their use of the allowance with receipts) and it was not subject to income tax. From 1975 until 2001 when it was amended (S.C. 2001, c. 20, s. 9), the Parliament of Canada Act required that within two months after the date fixed for the return of the writs for a general election, the Governor in Council appoint a commission to determine the adequacy of indemnities and various allowances payable to members of the Senate and the House of Commons and to report back with recommendations, if deemed necessary, within six months. The commission’s report was tabled in the House by a Minister, typically the Government House Leader, and permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Following the tabling of each commission’s report, the government would introduce legislation respecting the allowances of Members of Parliament. The last such report was tabled in the House on May 29, 2001 (Journals, p. 449).

[424] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, ss. 62.1 to 62.3. The amount of the additional salary varies with the position and commences with the date of appointment. See also Salaries Act, R.S. 1985, c. S-3, s. 4.1.

[425] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, ss. 55.1(2)(b) and 67.1; Salaries Act, R.S. 1985, c. S‑3, s. 4.2. This index is published by the Department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada within three months of the end of the calendar year. The salaries are rounded down to the nearest hundred dollars. See the remarks of Tony Valeri (Government House Leader) at second reading of Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, on December 8, 2004 (Debates, pp. 2461-3).

[426] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 55(2).

[427] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 69. The additional salaries of certain House Officers (the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, leaders and House Leaders of opposition parties and the Chief Whips of all parties) and positions (Prime Minister and Ministers) also continue through dissolution.

[428] Debates, June 25, 1952, pp. 3678‑80.

[429] R.S. 1985, c. M‑5, ss. 16 and 17. Since 2001, Members contribute 7 percent of their sessional allowance towards their retirement benefits. Members receiving additional salaries or allowances for extra duties such as House Officers, Whips, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries may contribute 7 percent of their additional allowances. Contributions under the Act are ordinarily mandatory, but were made optional for Members of the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament (1994‑97) (S.C. 1995, c. 30, s. 2). In 1998, amendments to the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowance Act permitted Members who opted out of the pension plan during the Thirty‑Fifth Parliament to opt back in (S.C. 1998, c. 23, s. 10). For Members who chose not to opt back in, a supplementary severance allowance is provided. In 2000, the Act was amended to make contributions again mandatory and to permit those Members who had opted out of the plan to buy back their years of service (S.C. 2000, c. 27). See the remarks of Don Boudria (Government House Leader) at second reading of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (Debates, June 12, 2000, pp. 7851‑4).

[430] Members of Parliament Retiring Allowance Act, R.S. 1985, c. M‑5, s. 18. The withdrawal allowance is the return of the pension contributions plus interest.

[431] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, ss. 70 and 71.

[432] R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.5(1)(b). For further information on the Board of Internal Economy, see Chapter 6, “The Physical and Administrative Setting”.

[433] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By‑law 101.

[434] House Officers include leaders of parties, House Leaders, Whips, the Speaker and other Presiding Officers, former Prime Ministers and caucus Chairs (By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By-law 302).

[435] Electoral and geographic supplements, where applicable, are made available to Members and are integrated into the Member’s Office Budget. The electoral supplement is a graduated supplement available to Members who represent densely populated constituencies where the number of electors exceeds 70,000. The geographic supplement is also a graduated supplement available to Members who represent constituencies where the geographic area to be served is 500 sq. km. or more. See By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By‑law 501. In 2004, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommended that the Board of Internal Economy review the resources needed by Members representing rural or remote ridings according to a formula that accounts for riding size, riding population and the provincial quotient (Seventeenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on April 2, 2004 (Journals, p. 264)).

[436] S.C. 2000, c. 9.

[437] In 2001, Deborah Grey (Edmonton North) rose on a question of privilege claiming that her password-protected computer files which had been stored on the Alliance server in a group named “CA Leader”, a position the Member no longer held, had been frozen and shut down by the Canadian Alliance. Furthermore, she argued that without negotiation or representation from her office, the House of Commons Information Services Directorate had given permission to a staff member of the Alliance Whip’s Office to access her computer files. The Member believed that there had been an infringement of her responsibilities as a Member and she asked the Speaker to respond to her concerns (Debates, September 27, 2001, pp. 5672-4). Speaker Milliken found cause for disquiet in the fact that an officer of the Alliance, on the request of the Canadian Alliance Whip, was granted access to the disputed files to review and determine their appropriate disposition. The Speaker added that while this error might well have been an honest mistake, the fact remained that the action taken could have been viewed as potentially damaging to the Member’s ability to represent her constituents. Subsequently, he directed that the remaining disputed files being held on the Alliance server be returned immediately to the Member. Furthermore, he directed the Administration of the House to establish new protocols to ensure that files and data belonging to Members, including caucus officers, be kept as originally intended on Members’ servers and not on caucus servers (Debates, October 15, 2001, pp. 6081-2).

[438] Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 52.6(1). In its Fourth Report presented to the House and concurred in on June 1, 1990, the Special Committee on the Review of the Parliament of Canada Act proposed amendments to the Act to clarify the jurisdiction and the authority of the Board of Internal Economy (Journals, pp. 1797‑804). In particular, the Special Committee wanted to ensure that Members would not be exposed to charges or proceedings based on a misunderstanding of the nature of their work or the structure and rules of the House of Commons.

[439] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By-law 102.

[440] In 1913, secretarial assistance was first made available to Members for a few days at a time. Beginning in 1916, Members shared a pool of secretaries who were laid off during periods of recess and dissolution. In 1958, secretaries became dedicated to individual Members. In 1968, each Member was authorized to hire one full‑time secretary. In 1974, a second full‑time secretary was authorized for each Member. The same year, constituency offices were established. In 1978, each Member received a staff budget of $58,000, including at least $12,000 for constituency staff, to be used at the Member’s discretion for staffing requirements. A maximum annual salary and the terms and conditions of employment are set down in the By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By‑law 501.

[441] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By-law 301. The Board has established three categories of employees for Members and House Officers: regular employees (who are employed full-time or part-time for a period of more than six months); short‑term employees (who are employed for six months or less, either full-time or part-time); and on-call employees (who are employed as needed).

[442] Canada Post Corporation Act, R.S. 1985, c. C‑10, s. 35(2) and (3). On occasion, questions of privilege have been raised alleging the misuse of these privileges. The Speaker has ruled that the breach of mailing and householder guidelines does not obstruct in any way a Member from carrying out the activities for which he or she was elected (Debates, March 18, 1987, pp. 4301‑2; April 13, 1989, p. 458; December 4, 2008, pp. 605‑6). The Chair has indicated, however, that a question of privilege could exist if the content of the communication sent out under the frank “worked against the right of Members to free expression and the carrying out of their obligations as Members” (Debates, October 16, 1986, pp. 405‑6). In the spring of 2005, a question of privilege was raised by Brian Masse (Windsor West) about the distribution in his riding by another Member of inaccurate and misleading information in a bulk mailing. Speaker Milliken ruled that the distribution of misleading information may have affected that Member’s ability to function and unjustly damaged his reputation with voters in his riding. He found the matter to be prima facie and it was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (Journals, April 18, 2005, pp. 642, 645, Debates, pp. 5214-5). The Committee reported back that the Member’s privileges had been infringed but inadvertently because of an error in labelling at the Post Office (Thirty-Eighth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on May 11, 2005 (Journals, p. 738)). Three additional questions of privilege were raised that spring by Members regarding householders, other mailings, and misuse of franking privileges. In each instance, the Speaker felt that further investigation was warranted and thus ruled that there was a prima facie case of privilege; the matters were referred to committee (Debates, May 3, 2005, pp. 5548-9, 5584-5; May 10, 2005, pp. 5885-9). The Procedure and House Affairs Committee considered the three cases together and reported back that the Members’ privileges had not been breached (Forty-Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 22, 2005 (Journals, p. 958)). A similar question of privilege was raised in October 2005 and again the Speaker found a prima facie case of privilege (Debates, October 27, 2005, pp. 9190-3; November 3, 2005, pp. 9489‑90). The House defeated the motion to refer the matter to committee (Journals, November 15, 2005, pp. 1273-4). See also Debates, April 23, 1990, pp. 10522‑8 and May 17, 1990, pp. 11561‑3 where a question of privilege was raised alleging the misuse of parliamentary stationery by a former Member. The Speaker ruled that the matter was arguably one of contempt rather than privilege. For further information, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[443] Canada Post Corporation Act, R.S. 1985, c. C‑10, s. 35(5).

[444] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By‑law 303.

[445] Travel provisions have changed dramatically since Confederation. In 1867, travel expenses were authorized at $.10 per mile for a return trip, once per session, between Ottawa and the constituency and in 1903, free rail transportation, without limitation, was made available to Members, their spouses and dependent children. Access to free rail transportation ended as of July 1, 1996 with the repeal of the Canadian National Railway Act. Nonetheless, Members, their spouses and dependants are entitled to free VIA train transportation in Canada in accordance with VIA Rail Canada’s policy. These rail travel privileges cease as of the date of dissolution. For information on air transportation provisions, which were first authorized in 1948, see Commission to Review Allowances of Members of Parliament, Democratic Ideals and Financial Realities: Paying Representatives in the 21st Century, Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1994, pp. 57‑9.

[446] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By‑law 305. For example, mailing, franking, and householder production services are only available for 10 days following a dissolution of Parliament.

[447] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By-law 305.

[448] By‑laws of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, By-law 102. This report is tabled at the same time as the Public Accounts of Canada, typically in the fall. See, for example, Journals, September 28, 2006, p. 469; October 17, 2007, p. 8.

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