Monday, January 18, 2010

Cost of Proroguement: $36 Million

***UPDATE: In receiving a response from the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page the total cost calculated in this post is extremely low. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat estimates the annual cost of both houses of Parliament to be over 510 million dollars. When this is used in the below calculations, the more accurate cost of proroguement is $130,407,733 million. A more detailed explanation is found in this more recent post.***


In combining the direct cost of Canadians paying for a legislature to do nothing for 22 days and the indirect cost of Parliament's lost time due to scrapping a portion of viable Bills, the total cost of proroguement can be conservatively approximated at $36,552,142.


First and foremost to determine the cost of wasted public money on a prorogued parliament it is necessary to determine the cost of an un-prorogued parliament.

Through Parliament's own website, the salaries of our elected officials are easily found; those in the House of Commons are here and those in the Senate are here. After finding out how many Ministers of State and Parliamentary Secretaries there are, among other particulars, quick multiplication and addition put a rough conservative total of both houses of Parliament at 144 million dollars a year.

Now that the cost of our legislative branch each year is known, the value of lost work for Parliament can be estimated. For simplification, there are two time periods that reflect lost production for Parliament, one direct and the other indirect.

Time Lost Directly From Proroguement

Because of proroguement 22 days were directly lost for Parliament to do its work. The value of these forgone days of parliamentary activity must then be calculated; the difficulty is how this should be done. As each alternative method of calculation could be seen as biased, for the sake of expediency the total annual cost of parliament will be divided by the average days in a session to give a cost of an individual work day for Parliament. Then that average work day cost will be multiplied by the 22 days lost for a running total.

If one was to use the average days in a session as provided by the Conservatives, the number would be 109, which would make each individual work day all the more expensive. However to be fair, as this Toronto Star article points out, using an average 173 days for a session seems more appropriate. Using that latter average the cost per parliamentary work day is $837,184, giving a total cost to Canadians of losing 22 legislative days at approximately $18,418,044.

Time Lost Indirectly From Proroguement

As mentioned above, Parliament's time was lost directly and indirectly as a result of proroguement; directly through the loss of 22 work days, but also indirectly from the time spent on legislating the bills that were in Parliament at the time of proroguement that are now scrapped.

This indirect cost of lost parliament production is much harder to measure as one would have to know which Bills would have received Royal Assent if proroguement had not occurred and which Bills would have naturally been cut off from the ending of a session. Then in finding those Bills that were unjustly ended, the amount of time Parliament spent drafting, debating, and rewriting them would then have to be calculated to determine the cost of scrapping them.

Though it is difficult and beyond the scope of this post, a reasonable approximation of a base figure of this indirect cost could be made. The second session of the 40th Parliament concluded with 35 bills being scrapped due to proroguement; if one would grant that if proroguement had not occurred, at the very least, 5 of these scrapped bills would have passed, then 1/8th of Parliament's work was ended prematurely by Stephen Harper suspending Parliament. And the cost of 1/8 of Parliament's time can be calculated, putting a very low indirect cost of proroguement at $18,104,099.

Total Cost of Proroguement

In combining the direct cost of Canadians paying for a Parliament to do nothing for 22 days and the indirect cost of Parliament's lost time due to scrapping a portion of viable Bills the total cost of proroguement can be conservatively approximated at $36,552,142.


Concluding remarks:

I have included the operating budgets of MPs because they are a part of the cost of Parliament. These operating budgets are necessary for our elected officials to do their jobs, represent us.

As to the exorbitant costs associated with these budgets however and the overall costs of Parliament, that discussion is for a later post on excess.

It should be observed that the Senate is proportionately cheaper than the House of Commons, possibly offering some financial justification for the Upper Chamber. In fact two years of the Senate operating is less than the cost of Harper's proroguement. If Senate reform is a priority for the Conservatives perhaps their own actions should for cost-effectiveness.


CanNurse said...

Thank you, Scott! This is a question I have been wondering about since the Proroguement was announced & I haven't seen it addressed anywhere else.

ian said...

committee chair salaries are not paid as committees are disolved on prorogation. said...

Ian: I am sure you are right. However I should stress that the total I arrived at is still very low in relation to the actual cost. I have been looking at broad costs cited in other government documents in the Commons and I seem to be missing other parlimentary expenditures. This page in the conclusion puts the Senate at 56 million a year.

If the Senate does in fact cost 56 million, it is likely the Commons costs greatly more. And in turn proroguement would be all the more costly.

Doyen said...

Let's look at the amount of time the house would have been off this year had the house not been prorogued...

January - three weeks
February - one week
March - one week
April - two weeks
May - one week
June - one week
July - whole month
August - whole month
September - 2 and a half weeks
October - one week
November - one week
December - two weeks

Let's add that up, shall we? A gob-smacking TWENTY-FOUR weeks the house is off over the course of the year. That's basically one week off for every week they work.

Where are the numbers for that?

I think it's a bit late to complain about parliament's "time off" when no one is complaining about how much time they get off already. said...

Doyen, you are seriously making the claim no one has complained about how long Parliament sits? I think you are not being earnest.

On another point, in regards to this prorogation it was not by a non-partisan decision that this session ended, it was at the behest of one man, Stephen Harper. And this is the point of this post, Stephen Harper alone is responsible for this extra cost to taxpayers.

Doyen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doyen said...

(corrected a typo)

Yes Harper prorogued the house, and yes it was a partisan decision since the constitution demands such. Only the Prime Minister can prorogue the house, and it has been that way since confederation.

If you don't like the numbers on how little the house sits, how about we look at the numbers for the length of the last session in comparison to past sessions before it.

While some people are suggesting this last session of parliament was abbreviated, reality would suggest otherwise. Of the 144 sessions of parliament since 1867, for length this session ranks as number 117. A whopping 116 (~80%) were SHORTER than the last session. If you want to talk short, 42 of the sessions were less than 100 days long. Heck, a full 88 (~60%) of the sessions were less than HALF as long (169 days) as the last session. (Here's some trivia - 3 of the sessions were less than a week long!)

In terms of actual sitting days, the result is very similar. The last session ranked as 111th out of 144, leaving only 32 sessions that had more sitting days.

So have we been getting ripped off all these years with short sessions?