An unaffiliated senator from Manitoba is the Red Chamber’s biggest spender, but she defends her spending by saying she’s an active MP who needs a lot of help and wants to pay her consultants fairly.
Marilou McPhedran, appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016, spends comparatively more than other senators to hire outside aides and consultants.
Since January 2021, McPhedran has awarded contracts worth $193,881 to casual and part-time employees, mostly students, researchers, government relations professionals and an activist who has written about lowering the federal voting age to 16, a cause that the senator has defended in recent years. .
In an interview, McPhedran admitted that he would probably spend more than he does now if Senate finance officials did not routinely deny his requests for more resources.
“I’m someone who gets told ‘no’ a lot because they don’t understand how I try to do things,” he said.
“I don’t do things the way most other senators have done. I’m not interested in that.”
McPhedran said he doesn’t want to rely solely on full-time staff; He also wants outside experts to work on his various projects.
“I want to be able to create a learning environment using the resources I’ve been given. I think that’s completely within my limits,” he said.
The Winnipeg senator is also known for outspending her colleagues on travel. She posted travel expenses that totaled more than $54,000 in the last three months of 2022 alone, according to Senate data.
Since July 2022, McPhedran has spent $108,082 on travel.
Under Senate travel policy, senators have the right to fly business class, which can result in expensive fares for taxpayers.
McPhedran’s recent flight to Victoria for a conference It cost more than $5,000..
While he taps the federal treasury more frequently than others, McPhedran is also among the most transparent senators when it comes to financial disclosure.
‘A rigorous review’
she publishes a detailed statement on their Facebook page every time there is a new spending report released by the Senate administration.
The senator spent nearly an hour with Breaking: explaining in detail the increased expenses she has incurred over the past two years.
All spending has also been approved by Senate finance officials, a process she describes as “a rigorous review.”
In addition to her work to lower the voting age, McPhedran has been leading a push for institutional reform in the Senate, particularly on issues of harassment and abuse.
He also campaigns for safe sport and has denounced the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by organizations such as Hockey Canada.
These initiatives cost money, the senator said.
Of the nearly $200,000 McPhedran’s office has budgeted for contracts from January 2021 to June 2023, about $113,000 has been paid out so far, according to figures provided by his office.
‘The expense is high’
Those contract staff costs are in addition to the salary paid to McPhedran’s full-time parliamentary affairs adviser.
“Yes, the spending is high, but I don’t think any other senator has had more than 50 young people in their office,” he said, referring to job opportunities for young people and recent graduates.
Among the recipients of McPhedran’s expenses is Syntax, an Ottawa-based communications and lobbying firm that has been advising her on how best to spend her remaining three years in the Senate before her mandatory retirement in July 2026. That contract is valued at $30,000.
Last year, the government accused McPhedran of distributing questionable letters to potential Afghan refugees seeking to flee that country after the Taliban takeover, an accusation she strongly denies, insisting that her efforts were sanctioned by the chief. cabinet of a federal cabinet minister.
That “nightmare,” as she called it, nearly derailed her other work at the Red Chamber, McPhedran said.
Syntax has been advising her on how to recover from that experience, she said.
“I was really shocked and sensitized about how I spent so much of my time last year trying to respond to this cowardly act of referring the matter to the RCMP,” she said.
“I sat down with Syntax and said, ‘These are the women I want to work with.’ And they helped build a three-year strategic plan. I’m a feminist, an activist, a human rights lawyer, and now a senator; I’m very open to advice on strategic decisions”.
Other senators also hire outside consultants.
Earlier this year, conservative Senator Elizabeth Marshall hired the firm Government Analytics for $15,000 at the expense of taxpayers. Conservative senator Percy Mockler paid the same sum to the same company.
Kris Sims speaks on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an interest group calling for smaller government and lower spending.
‘Is this really necessary?’
“Just because senators sit in the royal chamber doesn’t mean they have to act like royalty,” Sims told Breaking:.
“The affordability crisis for workers is real. Senators need to take a hard look at their spending right now and say, ‘Is this really necessary?'”
He said McPhedran’s reliance on outside consultants is “really concerning,” given that taxpayers already pay for a complement of nearly 500 Senate civil servants.
“Taxpayers are paying for every penny of this. This is not some magical fund that senators can tap into whenever they want. This is costing real people real money. Some senators are getting too comfortable, thinking they are entitled to their rights. and they’re not,” Sims said.
“Senators are there to soberly reflect and review legislation. They are not paid to travel the world on our money and endlessly give contracts to outsiders for their own benefit.”
A spokesman for the Senate Committee on Internal Affairs, Budget and Administration (CIBA) declined to comment on McPhedran’s spending.
“Senators are responsible for their expenses and for explaining how their contracts support their parliamentary functions,” Alison Korn said in a press release.
McPhedran also hired an Ottawa law firm, Conway Baxter Wilson LLP, for $10,000 a year to provide advice on parliamentary procedures.
McPhedran said that as an unaffiliated senator, she does not enjoy some of the same privileges that conservative, progressive and independent senators enjoy as members of a caucus. She said the law firm is providing additional support.
Dave Meslin, creative director of Unlock Democracy Canada and the author of Disassembly: Reconstruction of democracy from scratch, has been hired by McPhedran’s office to provide consulting services for approximately $24,000 a year. Meslin is helping the senator in her effort to lower the voting age.
The other contracts include agreements to hire workers, mostly younger, for short periods of time to help on particular projects, McPhedran said.
He said employers sometimes exploit recent graduates, or force them to work without pay to gain experience.
McPhedran said he chooses to pay his younger staff unless their work is for school credit.
She said that when she was first appointed, she promised Trudeau that she would help revitalize the image of the Senate by making its work better known to young people and seeking more input into how the government should work.
“I’m term-limited as a senator; this can’t end with me. Our democracy is in trouble and one of the things we need to do is revitalize it, engage with young people and really build an intergenerational leadership movement,” McPhedran said.
“Any time I can engage a young person and help them navigate the parliamentary system and provide them with support, encouragement, feedback and resources, I am investing in our democracy.”
As for his travel expenses, McPhedran said he frequently engages with civil society groups who he believes deserve a face-to-face meeting with an MP.
🙏 for the warm welcome last night in Winnipeg to give the keynote address on bringing home the UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Peace. Security #WPS / Youth, Peace + Security #YPS in it #PeaceDays community meeting called by #Women4WomenSouthSudan < a href="https://t.co/ABumiwp3Fs">pic.twitter.com/ABumiwp3Fs
He pointed to a recent meeting with South Sudanese activists in Winnipeg who are organizing for peace.
It would be unfair to ask groups like this to cover their travel expenses, he said, because they don’t have much money available.
“I see that my work is available to civil society organizations. That is my responsibility. And they could never pay for me,” he said.