There’s a passage in Margaret Wente’s otherwise readable Globe column that bothers me:
No matter how outraged we may be, the actual amount of money scammed from the public adds up to peanuts. The cost of Mr. Duffy’s lengthy trial, to say nothing of all those auditors monitoring the meals of all those senators for the past 14 years, will be many times more than that. Is this whole circus even worth it?
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. One: Camembert cheese, even under our milk marketing system, is not actually that expensive if you buy some at the grocery. It’s mainly because it has a … um, unique taste and texture that it’s considered a staple of the one-percenter’s daily diet.
Two, we are talking about airline food here, and that particular style of feeding people has never been especially considered to be a treat. Senator Nancy Ruth might have elicited more sympathy had she pointed out that eating airline food is not necessarily a hardship that citizens should put up with if they had a choice. Where the debate should have arisen is whether the Senator should have expensed her breakfast as opposed to paying for it out of her own pocket.
I wonder if Ms. Wente remembers the old saying: “look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves.” What we’re looking at here is a situation that perfectly evokes Parkinson’s Law of Triviality: citizens may not understand the nuances needed for legislations that helps further the cause of women’s rights or national defence, but by gadfrey we do understand our own personal spending habits and the need for discipline for our wallets and credit cards. Yes, we do expect our political elite, elected or otherwise, to spend money wisely, be it the taxpayers’ or their own; and no, we won’t buy the excuses that “it’s been done in the past and no one complained” or “everybody else does it, why not me?”
The National Post’s Matt Gurney articulates Ms. Wente’s plaint a little better:
Canadians have a weird cheap streak when it comes to our government and related trappings of state. We are not an opulent people, but we are a great and rich nation, with tens of millions of citizens and a trillion-dollar-plus economy. We can splurge a little at the top. Our government can have nice things … or should be able to have them, without it being frontpage news. Our habit of freaking out about stuff like this is why 24 Sussex Drive will probably collapse in on itself before any prime minister dares investing in fixing the damn place up, lest they be slagged for spending money on their own “personal palace” or some similar nonsense.
Ah, but there’s a reason why we have this “cheap streak.” When you’re bombarded for the past forty years with news stories highlighting the rapid expansion of government at all levels, complete with doomsday diatribes of deficit spending and pundits wringing their hands about the aging of the baby boomers and the shrinking of the revenue base, and when you throw in those stories about the elites in government splurging on 18-dollar orange juices and demanding privileges that are out of the reach of mere middle-classers — is it any wonder that taxpayers are a tad reluctant to trust the political elite with their conception of petty cash?