Parliament's move to boost MP office budgets is exposing the contrasts in compensation between Ontario's federal members and their counterparts in Ontario, who work for the same constituents but with a lot less money.
On April 1, the office budgets will increase 20 per cent – from $288,450 to $346,140. Meanwhile, Ontario MPPs run their offices on an annual budget of $277,979 and have the same fixed costs, such as rent, hydro and heat.
The spotlight has been drawn to this issue because Ontario is the only province to align its electoral boundaries with the federal boundaries, and MPPs are frustrated by the federal increase.
"We're one of the only provinces in the world where the provincial member and the federal member represent the same riding," said Jagmeet Singh, the NDP MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton. "Normally, provincial members represent a much smaller riding with less constituents. So then it might make sense to have less of a budget because you are representing less people, but in our case we're representing the exact same."
MP budgets have not increased since 2009; MPP budgets went up by 1.9 per cent on April 1, 2015, to correspond with an increase in the Consumer Price Index for Ontario. In addition, MPPs have had their salaries frozen at $116,500 since 2009 – and that will continue until the budget is balanced, which the provincial government says it can achieve in 2017-18.
MPs earn $167,400. But members who have extra responsibilities, including serving in cabinet, as a committee chair or a parliamentary secretary, receive an extra stipend. "There is an expectation from the public that the service levels be similar," said Michael Harris, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga. "I have a high expectation to deliver good customer service to the constituents I represent. Unfortunately, I am not able to do that as effectively as my federal counterparts due to the … way our offices are funded."
The disparity in compensation feeds a perception that MPPs are simply the poor cousins to their federal counterparts, and that their work may be less important.
But national pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research says having the same size constituency "implies similar effort."
"People have a tendency to consider the number of constituents as a key factor in the work involved in being an elected official," he said. For MPs, he suggested there is a political risk with the size of the increase – 20 per cent – and the timeline. "For some voters, they may just wonder what's the rush," he said.
There's another wrinkle. Under redistribution, Ontario gained 15 new federal ridings. It allows for MPs to serve about 100,000 constituents. The new ridings came into effect for the past federal election.
In Ontario, however, redistribution will not happen until the provincial election in 2018. So until then, some MPPs – those in high growth regions of the province – will be representing considerably larger ridings with fewer dollars than their federal colleagues. For example, there are now five federal ridings in the Kitchener-Waterloo area compared to four provincially. Mr. Harris, PC MPP, serves nearly 131,000 in his Kitchener-Conestoga riding, where the federal ridings in the area have populations of around 93,000 to 111,000. It's the same story in the GTA. Mr. Singh's riding has 192,000 constituents. Federally, that riding has been broken up into three.
In the Ottawa area, Nepean-Carleton PC MPP Lisa MacLeod represents nearly 160,000 constituents. Federally, her riding was made into two and a half ridings. She is worried her constituents are being shortchanged. "It is very clear, that there is a massive disparity between our office budgets and what the federal members are doing, particularly because we are more front-line," said Ms. MacLeod, referring to the work that MPPs do, including dealing with birth, death and marriage certificates, drivers licences and health and education issues.
She makes do by not mailing out information as MPPs have to pay for postage while it's free for MPs; she is active on social media; her staff at Queen's Park do constituency work; she has taken on a lot more of the writing and researching.
Ms. MacLeod and other MPPs, including Mr. Singh, who are representing larger ridings, have been pushing for extra funding that would stay in effect until the 2018 provincial election.
There is a precedent. MPs who represent high-density ridings receive an "elector supplement," ranging from $8,700 to $52,140.
Says Mr. Singh: "There needs to be some sort of consideration. My riding is literally going to be made into one third [of what it is now]."
Provincial Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi says the matter is being looked at by the Board of Internal Economy – an all-party committee that oversees the financial issues of the legislature. Mr. Naqvi sits on the board.
His Ottawa Centre riding is not one dramatically affected by redistribution. But he will still have a budget that is $70,000 less than that of his federal counterpart, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
He's not complaining: "I find that I am able to work effectively and represent my constituents in an effective manner through the budget that is given to me."