OTTAWA — Dozens of MPs working from home didn’t have to worry about the extra cost of downloads and Zoom calls during the pandemic because they shifted the cost of their home internet onto taxpayers.
MPs from most of the major parties billed taxpayers for the internet at their primary residences, while others also covered the cost of their employees’ internet bills, according to expense reports the National Post reviewed.
The Post reviewed the expense reports of all 338 MPs from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2022, the most recent time frame publicly available. The reporting period also covers the House of Commons summer break, with MPs having only returned to Ottawa in the last two weeks of September. The Commons had also lifted its mandatory vaccine policy during that time and while hybrid sitting rules remain in place, most MPs attended in person during that time frame.
Amélie Crosson, a spokeswoman for the House of Commons, said members of Parliament are allowed to bill for their home internet service, a policy that predates the pandemic.
“Members may acquire internet service for their primary residence and charge the related connection and monthly service fees to their member’s office budget,” she said in an email.
Among the expense reports, 49 MPs charged the internet bill for their primary residence. An MP’s primary residence is in most cases their home in their constituency, but it can be wherever they spend the majority of the year. All 338 MPs billed for internet service at their constituency offices.
The bills for home internet service ranged considerably, with some MPs paying less than $70 per month, while others, especially MPs in rural locations, paid more than $200. In total, taxpayers paid just over $15,000 for those three summer months to provide internet service to the homes of 49 MPs.
Conservatives took the most advantage of the benefit, with 27 members billing for home internet service, including the party’s then interim leader Candice Bergen, as well as MPs James Bezan, Mark Strahl and Rachael Thomas.
The Post contacted many of the MPs and current Conservative Leader Pierre Polievre’s office but received no response before press time.
The Liberals had 16 MPs who claimed the benefit, including party whip Steven MacKinnon, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and veteran MP Hedy Fry.
Fry pointed out that Parliament covers the expense and because of health concerns she has to do everything via Zoom and online.
“I work very extensively virtually because I’m immunocompromised, and my physician does not want me to be in a position where I could catch COVID or the flu,” the 81-year-old Vancouver MP said.
The Bloc Québécois had six MPs submitting their home internet expenses. No New Democrats claimed the benefit for themselves, but in many cases MPs covered internet expenses for their employees.
Liberal, Conservative and Bloc MPs also covered home internet expenses for their employees.
The federal government doesn’t have a blanket policy to cover internet costs for civil servants working from home.
Franco Terrazzano with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said working from home for MPs shouldn’t come at additional cost to taxpayers.
“We live in a new world, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers should be paying more,” he said. “Many people work from home, so if politicians want to expense taxpayers for home internet, then they need to find other ways to save money.”
Terrazzano said MPs could cut back on flyers they mail to constituents or look for other ways, but it shouldn’t be a mounting perk for MPs, who make a base salary of $185,800, with bonuses for cabinet ministers, committee chairs or other special roles.
“If they don’t want to find other expenses to cut, then they can use the pay raises they took over the last couple years to pay for new expenses.”
– with additional reporting by Christopher Nardi
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