Tory satellite staff costs soar 70% during austerity years

Number of satellite locations with staff has risen from 11 to 16.

OTTAWA — The cost of paying Conservative political staffers working in a network of satellite minister’s offices ballooned by 70% during the same years the government was asking departments to tighten their belts.

Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the budget for staffing at the regional offices rose from $1.6 million to $2.7 million, according to figures tabled in the House of Commons this week.

The number of satellite locations with staff has risen from 11 to 16 to include smaller centres such as Kitchener, Ont., Charlottetown and Iqaluit.

Several cabinet ministers, including Employment Minister Jason Kenney, Industry Minister James Moore and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, have regional offices in addition to their headquarters in Ottawa and their MPs’ offices.

The offices are top spots for patronage hiring. For example, Aglukkaq employs ex-candidate Sandy Lee in her Yellowknife office, and Kenney has former regional organizer and candidate Mani Fallon working in a Vancouver office. Fisheries Minister Gail Shea employs a campaign worker and former Conservative nomination candidate in Charlottetown.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently stationed two senior political staff in a regional office in Toronto – former chief of staff Dan Miles and communications director Patricia Best.

The Liberal governments of the past also employed political staff in regional offices, commonly know as MROs.

Liberal MP Sean Casey, who submitted the written questions about the offices in the Commons, said the steep increase in spending is a hard pill to swallow considering recent cuts to veterans services, immigration and tax offices, and to Canada Post, among others.

Casey also noted that there has been a freeze for several years on MPs’ office budgets, which he argued translates into a pay cut for employees when inflation is taken into account.

“It’s not whether or not these things should exist, it’s whether the austerity program that’s applied to all other Canadian citizens has an exemption for members of the cabinet,” said Casey, who represents a PEI riding.

Public Works Minister Diane Finley’s office said the government believes all Canadians should have reasonable access to ministers’ regional offices.

“That is why in 2010, we expanded and launched three offices in the three northern territories,” spokeswoman Alyson Queen said in an e-mail.

In all, the number of full-time employees in the ministerial satellite offices has gone from 20 to 30 in seven years.

The NDP is currently fighting a decision by the board of internal economy, which oversees Commons spending, requiring 23 MPs to repay untold millions in salaries paid to aides who worked in satellite offices in Toronto, Quebec and Montreal.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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