Friday, July 16, 2010

There is no free lunch in politics, is there?

Ida Chong probably never thought that her dietary habits would provide the spark for yet another debate over the attitudes and entitlements of politicians. But the Victoria MLA, seems to have become the flash point of anger for those that feel the political class are heading off to the trough a few times to many these days.

CKNW's Gord McDonald  outlined some of the background of the tempest, just one of many commentaries we imagine on the topic of expectations that politicians seem to have these days. 

McDonald rightly points out that no one begrudges Ms. Chong or any other MLA, MP or city councillor we imagine a meal from time to time, but the idea that you have to claim for the cash just because it is there, is somehow indicative of the problem these days.

His thoughts were presented in an email to CKNW listeners, below are his observations on the issue, which probably will resonate with more than a few of those on the payment end of the lunch bill.

Will these politicians ever learn? By now you are well aware of Russ Hiebert – the Conservative in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale who talked about holding the Liberals' feet to the fire when it came to wasteful spending, got himself elected, and then became the second highest spending MP in all of Canada, billing you the taxpayer for $637,000 in 2008-2009 – over $204,000 more than the average among all MP's – and including at least 30 trips for his wife and two kids – flying first class from Vancouver to Ottawa and back again. 

Now here comes Liberal MLA Ida Chong who is winning her very own war on poverty, and once again, you the taxpayer are paying. She represents the Oak Bay-Gordon Head constituency – maybe a 20-minute drive from the Legislature. She also billed the taxpayer for $5,921 last year for meals. Her explanation to reporter Rob Shaw with the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper – "When the house is in session, you are not able to leave the legislature". All MLA's can claim up to 61-dollars a day for meals. So it doesn't appear Ida Chong has broken the rules. The rules, it must be remembered, are set up by the MLA's and as Jon McComb so aptly pointed out earlier this year during the Hiebert kerfuffle - the rules are set up by politicians, for politicians. 

Great work if you can get it. This is the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell that brought in the HST because the worldwide recession kicked the crap out of provincial government revenues. This is the government that just last year – the same year she claimed $6,000 for meals – laid off hundreds and hundreds of civil servants. All of that is fine – I get it. The recession hurt. But hasn’t Ida Chong ever heard of bringing her own lunch to work? Is that such a radical concept? She sleeps in her own bed every day, eats breakfast in her own kitchen – but hey, if a perk is there I’m damn well going to take full advantage because someone else is paying the bill. I'm sure Ida Chong works hard and I know as a politician, she sometimes works long hours, but $6,000 for lunches and dinners? 

In the grand scheme of things, $6,000 is not a huge amount compared to the billions the government spends. Then again, Russ Hiebert's $637,000 is just a drop in the bucket in the overall federal budget. But that's not the point. 

Arrogance and entitlement – that's what Hiebert displayed and Ida Chong is doing the same thing. Ida Chong – how about a little humble pie for lunch, and you pay the damn bill for once. Will these politicians ever learn? 

 Gord MacDonald CKNW News

With one of their own in the spotlight, the posse both riding NDP and Liberal horses has been quick to arrive, the Vancouver Sun outlining how a number of MLA's , while apparently unable to offer up a total of their yearly lunch budget, none the less felt that it was unfair to question Ms. Chong about her spending.

Of the bunch that offered up their complaints on the controversial topic, only MLA John Horgan seems to make the most sense, when he said it was unfair that Chong alone was targeted, indeed a valid point, perhaps ALL spending by ALL MLA's, (and by expansion MP's and civic councillors) should be properly documented and provided for the folks paying the bills to examine.

Out of a work week that for some politicians seems rather short as it is, would it be too much to expect that brown bagging it from time to time, would be an idea, not only could it be beneficial to the health of our politicians, it would be beneficial to the accounts payable departments of all levels of government.

While we don't expect those that are in service to the public to starve on our behalf, loading up at the buffet table of entitlements isn't exactly what we had in mind when we offered up our endorsement of their efforts on our behalf.

Considering how quick all levels of government seem to be to increase our expected contribution to governance, we perhaps are owed a few explanations as to the lifestyle that it seemingly is providing.

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