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This article was published 21/8/2014 (1942 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A few weeks ago, Tony Devlin pulled a letter out of his mailbox from Manitoba Conservative MP Bob Sopuck.
Sopuck wrote he felt it important to "keep you informed of all the great work our Conservative government is doing to support Canada's hunting and angling communities."
That includes, Sopuck said, getting rid of the long-gun registry, something the Liberals and NDP opposed and something Sopuck says NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair would bring back "given the chance." (i.e. If the NDP form a government).
The letter asks recipients to fill out a form on the bottom asking which party they think is doing the best job protecting the rights of hunters and anglers and protecting wildlife habitat. It also asks whether the respondent is a student, parent of a child under 18, a senior, Métis, Inuit or First Nations, a veteran, farmer, tradesperson or a working Canadian.
It's something that is wholly legitimate. I will vigorously defend our right as MPs to communicate with constituencies'— Manitoba Tory MP Robert Sopuck
It is signed by Sopuck as the chairman of the Conservative hunting and angling caucus, and the two Conservative MPs who co-chair that caucus.
Just as the postage to send the letter was paid by taxpayers, postage to mail back the questionnaire would be covered by Parliament.
As Devlin looked around the post office and realized everyone was getting the same letter, he got mad. Devlin lives in Inuvik, N.W.T. Sopuck represents Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, more than 4,000 kilometres away.
So why, Devlin asked, can Sopuck get away with such a letter?
"It's fully partisan," he said.
The NDP earlier this year was told it would have to repay $1.17 million to the House of Commons for two million flyers the party sent to 27 ridings in 2013. Those flyers, which promoted the NDP, were deemed out of bounds by the secretive House of Commons committee, which decides these things.
In 2010, all parties bowed to public pressure and agreed to bar MPs from sending flyers outside their ridings, the new law allows MPs to communicate with non-constituents as long as the communication is in an envelope.
Sopuck's letter was in a House of Commons envelope. But so were the NDP flyers.
Both could be considered partisan.
So how is it what the NDP did was wrong and what Sopuck did is OK?
Dennis Bevington, the NDP MP who represents the N.W.T., says it’s pretty simple. The Board of Internal Economy, the committee that passed the new rules in 2010, is controlled by the Conservatives.
Even if the Liberals agreed with the NDP Sopuck's letter is against the rules, it wouldn't matter unless at least one of the four Conservative MPs on the committee also agreed.
"Our chances of making anything stick on them are nil," said Bevington.
The rules say communications from MPs that are funded by taxpayers should not be partisan. When a partisan committee decides what is and isn't partisan, does that matter? The form on the bottom of Sopuck's letter is almost identical to the ones the Conservatives included on flyers the party's MPs sent to non-constituents prior to 2010. Most of the information gleaned from those forms was used for voter identification.
For his part, Sopuck said he will only use the information he gets in his role as an MP and insists his letter was "the most mildly partisan document you could see."
"It's something that is wholly legitimate," Sopuck said. "I will vigorously defend our right as MPs to communicate with constituencies."
Devlin thinks the Conservatives are skirting the rules and using government money to conduct partisan activities.
"In my opinion, if something is coming from a Parliamentary committee, it shouldn't be partisan."
Updated on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 9:01 AM CDT: Corrects that NDP mailouts were in envelopes