Trudeau needs to nip careless spending in the bud. Posting ministerial expenses online would be the smart move.

If Liberal skills negotiating limousine and photo contracts are any indication, the Chinese are going to end up owning Canada following Justin Trudeau’s maiden voyage there next week.

I’m not saying Liberal ministers are naive, but at the moment no one can get through to any of them because the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross are jamming their phone lines with offers of prime swampland.

First it was Health Minister Jane Philpott and her Cadillac-priced-if-not-actual-Cadillac “executive sedan” rides. In case you missed it because you were too busy struggling to get by, there was the $1700 tool around the GTA, followed by a $1900 saunter to Niagara, with twenty $190 rides to the airport thrown in for good measure. The owner of the service? A volunteer on her recent campaign. Whatever happened to Friends and Family discounts?

Then came word that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was so proud to present Stephen Harper’s greenhouse gas emissions plan to the recent Paris climate change conference that she had every waking moment captured by a French photographer, to the gassy tune of $6,600. No wonder “Canada is back” (in deficit)!

Trudeau needs to nip this carelessness with taxpayer dollars in the bud. These are the cuts that eventually add up to a thousand and do in a government. Most citizens can’t get their heads around billions of dollars in deficits, but they know what a cab ride costs, and they know they don’t have the money to hire a photo diarist.

The ministers in question are hardly rubes; indeed, both McKenna and Philpott are intelligent and exactly the kind of people we want in public life. So what happened?

Government happened. You never spend other people’s money as carefully as you spend your own. Having an entire departmental budget in your hands can feel, in the wrong hands anyway, like winning the lottery. Philpott would no sooner have forked over two hundred of her own bucks for a ride to the airport than Bev Oda would have forked over her own dosh to cover the $16 orange juice of legend.

As her followers on Twitter and Instagram know, McKenna is adept at taking her own photo, so why the rush to hire a professional to produce snaps that no one but her department were going to use? Because Canada wasn’t going to announce anything substantial on climate change, appearance became everything.

For his part, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mouthed the right words when pressed on Philpott’s spending at the Liberal cabinet retreat. He said it was right for Philpott to apologize and vowed not to repeat the error. That McKenna’s revelation came the very night he promised better must surely rankle.

A smart move would be to post, as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation has suggested, all ministerial expenses online. Currently, only general descriptions of expenses by ministers and their staff are disclosed on a quarterly basis. Nothing concentrates the mind like knowing your spending habits will be subject to the scrutiny of the people who pay your salary. It the prospect of your spending appearing on a front page terrifies you, the money probably shouldn’t be spent.

Indeed, all MPs should commit to posting their expenses online. Sunshine, not sunny ways, is the best disinfectant.

Photo: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

 


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