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The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister's Office spending to jump more than $1-million

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to the crowd at a Calgary Stampede breakfast in on July 10, 2010.

TODD KOROL/REUTERS

Talk, as it turns out, is not cheap.

The cost of running the Prime Minister's Office will jump by more than $1-million this year, mostly because of communications expenses.

The final number will be published in the government's official accounting of expenses for 2009-2010, which will be released in the fall.

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But The Canadian Press has learned it will hit about $9.89-million, compared to last year's $8.15-million on spending.

The PMO has hired another 20 people in the last year, including more staff to handle regional and ethnic media, as well as direct government communication, such as the ad blitz on the economic action plan.

Control over whole-of-government messaging has also come to reside within the PMO, keeping staffers busy approving requests for information and interviews with every single government department.

The Prime Minister also took multiple trips abroad and hosted the G8 and G20 summits, which expanded the cost of running his shop.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said he believed the costs were essential.

There is more pressure in a 24-hour news cycle for ministers, MPs and the government to respond, said Andrew MacDougall, but the explosion in third-language media has also added to demand.

"We've made the conscious effort to really step up our efforts and frankly, in contrast with past communications shops, to be out there more and be more helpful," he said.

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Staff in the Prime Minister's Office are subject to a wage freeze as part of the government-wide effort to face down its $54-billion deficit.

The office is also currently undergoing strategic review for this year.

During the last decade, the cost of running the PMO has fluctuated between $6.7-million in 2000-2001 and a high of $13.8-million in 2005-2006.

That was also the year that former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and current Prime Minister Stephen Harper each spent time in the office.

There is no line item tally for 2006-2007.

The way expenses are tallied has also changed over the years, making a direct comparison between previous governments difficult.

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Starting in 2008-2009, government ministers were required to begin individually disclosing their expenses under the new accountability act.

Prior to 2006-2007, there was a line item for "office of the prime minister" under the expenses for the privy office, but those costs did not reflect political staff costs.

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