Friday, December 16, 2011

What would Peter do?

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation has recently been uncovering some rather embarrassing expenses incurred by the Minister of National Defence, including $3,167 for flights to Boston to attend a “seafood show”. (To be fair, Mackay isn’t the only politician to abuse the public purse, he just happens to be the one who is doing so most outrageously at the present time.)

In response I threw up a quick Facebook comment suggesting that money could be much better spent on a variety of social services such as the Ottawa Mission ($3167 would provide more than 1,000 Christmas dinners for those who have no home to go to this year), women’s shelters, or halfway houses. But then I got thinking about it some more.

taxpayerThe problem is – as has always been the case in government – they are not spending their own money but rather money that comes from a bottomless pool (at least from the average politician’s/bureaucrat’s perspective). Now I don’t think for a moment that Peter Mackay, if he considered the cost at all,  thought about how that money could be better spent for the “greater good”.  And I am certain that his people didn’t either. (“The boss wants to go to this seafood thing, so better book the tickets. Never mind what it costs.”)

But imagine what would have happened if, for example, when Stephen Harper realised that his 2-day G8 photo-op was going to cost $2 BILLION or thereabouts, he said to his team, “That’s ridiculous. If we have $2 billion to spend let’s put it somewhere useful. Cancel the G8 meeting, we’ll do it by teleconference, and redirect that money to social programs for the homeless.” Just think what that would have meant for the homeless in this country, or anyone else to whom the money was directed (gazebos in Muskoka don’t count). And think about the legacy that would have created for Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

But governments don’t think that way. Unlike those of us who have to live within our means, they don’t have to adhere to a zero-sum budget – if A gets $B then Y can only get $Z is a foreign concept to bureaucracies. And with nearly 300,000 federal public servants and countless provincial and municipal employees all sucking off the one taxpayer teat it doesn’t take long before it’s totally out of control – as it is now. So I applaud the Harper Conservative’s pledge to reduce taxes (if only they were smarter about it), but I would applaud even louder if they were to reset the priorities and direct the money they do collect to issues of concern to most Canadians – which, contrary to the Harper agenda, are NOT F-35 fighter jets, more and bigger prisons, tax breaks to the oil sands, or flying to a “seafood show” in Boston.

This is a wealthy country and governments collect more than enough revenue to meet our real domestic obligations. All they need to do is align spending with Canadians’ priorities (and I’m not referring here to the ~24% of eligible voters who elected the Conservatives, but rather the broader 100%, all Canadians, most of whom don’t drink the Conservative kool-aid).

Anyone who does that and clearly (and transparently) treats the public purse as if it were his/her own could count on running this country for a long, long time.

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