Cost to taxpayers of protecting members of Parliament hits a record high

The cost of keeping Canada's members of Parliament safe has hit a record high, CBC News has learned. Experts say higher costs and increased threats are likely the new normal.

Experts say threats to MPs have escalated since pandemic, convoy protest

A woman with a close-cropped haircut shouts in a crowd.
An RCMP officer, right, watches as a protester, centre, shouts while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigns with Richard T. Lee, the Liberal candidate in the Burnaby South byelection, in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, February 10, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The cost of keeping Canada's members of Parliament safe has hit a record high, CBC News has learned.

During the first nine months of this fiscal year, the RCMP spent $2.5 million on security for MPs. If spending continues at the same pace, the cost of MPs' security for this fiscal year could hit $3.4 million — almost double what it cost a year earlier.

Over fiscal 2022/23, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spent $1.8 million to protect MPs, up from $1.3 million the year before.

The figures obtained from the RCMP do not include the cost of protecting the prime minister. They also don't include spending by other bodies that also provide protection for Canada's 338 members of Parliament, such as local police services, the Parliamentary Protective Service and the House of Commons.

The House of Commons has also taken steps to increase security for MPs but has not said how much it has cost.

While the cost of protecting MPs has been rising, it's still a fraction of the more than $30 million a year it has cost to protect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family over the previous two fiscal years.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is escorted by his RCMP security detail as protesters shout and throw rocks while leaving a campaign stop at a local micro brewery during the Canadian federal election campaign in London Ont., on Monday, September 6, 2021.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is escorted by his RCMP security detail as protesters shout and throw rocks while leaving a campaign stop in London Ont., on Monday, September 6, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

Former public safety minister Marco Mendicino said the rising price tag reflects a change in the "threat environment" since the pandemic and the Ottawa convoy protest.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the threat environment has escalated over the last couple of years," he told CBC News. "I think there are a number of reasons for that, one of which is the pervasiveness of disinformation and propaganda online.

"And that has had a real impact when it comes to how people behave, how they mobilize. And so we are seeing threats go up, not only as it relates to ministers, but equally to parliamentarians and, quite frankly, to anyone who serves in public life who has some profile."

RCMP regulations state only a handful of public officials are entitled to RCMP protection "whether or not there is an imminent threat to their security." They include the prime minister, the governor general, Supreme Court justices and cabinet ministers.

The RCMP typically provides protection for political party leaders only during election campaigns. Backbench MPs and parliamentary secretaries usually don't receive RCMP protection.

But the regulations also allow the public safety minister to authorize Mounties to protect any Canadian citizen or permanent resident if the RCMP believes that protection is necessary.

Mendicino said he authorized protection for various MPs as minister and his successor Dominic LeBlanc has continued the practice.

"I was doing it often," said Mendicino, who served as public safety minister from 2021 to 2023. "We were constantly receiving threat assessments, and on the strength of the advice from the public safety agencies, including the RCMP, PPS [Parliamentary Protective Service], sergeant-at-arms, along with the officials that work at Public Safety. This is now very much part of the day-to-day operational environment in which ministers and parliamentarians are offered protection."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is joined on stage by his wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu and their daughter, Anhad Kaur following his Leadership Showcase at the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. Saturday, October 14, 2023.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is joined on stage by his wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu, and their daughter Anhad Kaur at the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. on Saturday, October 14, 2023. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

While the RCMP won't say who has received protection, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is among the MPs who have been spotted accompanied by plainclothes Mounties. RCMP plainclothes officers were seen standing next to Singh during a demonstration on Parliament Hill in September and at the NDP's convention in October. Singh has appeared without security on other occasions.

"We follow the recommendations provided to us by the RCMP regarding security," said Alana Cahill, director of communications for the NDP.

In August 2022, after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was verbally harassed during an event in Grande Prairie, Alta., Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that he had arranged for private security for his family.

"My wife has received so much horrific material directly to her social media account that we have had to hire a private security firm to protect our family against all of that abuse," Poilievre said during a leadership campaign stop.

A man and a woman in business attire wave to a crowd on a convention hall stage.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his wife Anaida wave to delegates at the Conservative Party Convention on Friday, September 8, 2023 in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

CBC News has asked the Conservative Party whether Poilievre's family is still being protected by private security, and whether he also benefits from RCMP security. The party has not yet replied.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet doesn't often get RCMP security, said party spokesperson Joanie Riopel.

"Mr. Blanchet has occasionally benefited from RCMP services, notably during the 2021 election campaign," she said, adding that most of the party's "specific" requests for security protection "are refused." She said the Bloc would like to see the RCMP provide Blanchet with security for what the party considers to be riskier events.

Green Party Co-Leader Elizabeth May said she has only received protection a few times.

"The RCMP only insisted on providing protection once — for the Paris 2015 COP 21, because the terrorist attacks had been so recent," May said in an e-mail response. "They also helped me during the convoy with RCMP help to access West Block. But other than back and forth to the building, they did not stick with me — no need!"

'I've received death threats'

Mendicino said people angry at the government have shown up outside his home.

"I've received death threats," he said. "My family has been the subject of death threats online and I'm not the only one. Many of my colleagues continue to receive threats, are harassed."

He pointed to a recent incident which saw protesters upset with Canada's position on the Israel-Hamas war gather outside Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly's home in Montreal.

"It is perfectly legitimate for Canadians to protest," Mendicino said. "But once people start to mobilize in front of private residences, and certainly once they move into the space of inciting hatred and violence ... I think that that contributes to the elevated threats that we are seeing towards parliamentarians."

An RCMP officer carries a rifle.
An RCMP officer carries a rifle during a changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, June 24, 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Mendicino said he's also concerned about the effect threatening or abusive emails are having on MPs' staff.

Pierre-Yves Bourduas, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and president of P-Y Safety Management, said Mounties are dealing with a threat environment very different from the one that existed only a few years ago.

"Five years ago was a different world than it is today," he told CBC News. "I'm sure you can appreciate that the more polarization you're seeing in Canadian politics, the more there's overt threats against different parties, members that are very vocal."

WATCH | Why is it costing more to protect Canada's MPs?

Why is it costing more to protect Canada's MPs?

3 months ago
Duration 1:31
Pierre-Yves Bourduas, former deputy commissioner of the RCMP, talks about threats to members of Parliament.

Bourduas said the pandemic and "public policies that didn't please some" have contributed to the unstable environment the RCMP now has to navigate.

Bourduas said that while the RCMP has taken steps to improve protection and reduce costs, such as centralizing protective policing operations in Ottawa, it's also had to swallow cost increases like a recent 23.7 per cent pay hike for Mounties.

"The cost of policing in our country writ large skyrocketed over the recent past," Bourduas said.

Bourduas and Mendicino agree that costlier security for MPs is likely the new normal.

"Sadly, I don't think this is a one-off or a temporary blip," said Mendicino. "I do think that we are now living in an era where we are beset with disinformation and propaganda and foreign interference and cyberattacks and transnational repression — all of which makes for a very complicated threat environment."


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.