OPINION: Stop being so cheap, pay our politicians some perks

National Post columnist Matt Gurney argues that we need to loosen up the purse strings—and loosen up in general—to allow more perks for politicians.
Senator Nancy Ruth is facing heat after saying she'd prefer to expense an extra breakfast while travelling, than eat the "ice-cold Camembert" served on some of her flights.

The trial of Mike Duffy got underway this week, with Crown prosecutors detailing some of the suspended senator's expenses. Duffy is charged with fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.

On day one of the trial, Crown gave examples of hundreds of dollars spent for hair and makeup services, flights to see family members, and a trip to a dog show with the intention of buying a pet.

While the courts will determine whether any wrongdoing took place in this case, Canadians appear to have little tolerance for political perks even on the small scale. For example, MP Bev Oda made headlines for expensing a $16 glass of orange juice on a trip to London in 2011. Most recently, Senator Nancy Ruth was criticized after suggesting she'd rather expense a second breakfast while travelling, than eat the "ice cold Camembert and broken crackers" aboard an airplane.

But Matt Gurney, a columnist and editor with the National Post thinks, while the rules of expense claims and hospitality spending should be clear, Canadians could really lighten up when it comes to spending money on their politicians.

If we're really deploying the Auditor General of Canada and his army of bureaucrats to look at who expensed what breakfast when, I think we have basically gone off the rails a little bit here.- Matt Gurney, Columnist, National Post

Gurney says that it shouldn't be unreasonable for a hard-working senator to put a couple of meals on the public's tab, as long as it's done transparently and in good faith. As well, Gurney believes there's something uniquely Canadian about objecting to small luxuries for politicians, and it is negatively affecting politics in this country. 

'To me, the bigger issue is how cheap we are as a country. I think it's a really toxic and corrosive thing for our public life, and for those who might even be considering public office."- Matt Gurney

For a physical example of how what eh calls our "cheapness" goes from public sentiment to political consequence, Gurney points to 24 Sussex, the publicly-owned official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada. 

'24 Sussex, the official residence of the Prime Minister is falling apart. It's been falling apart for years. And yet no Prime Minister will ever authorize improvements because he knows what will happen.... "Oh look! The Prime Minister is spending on his own personal palace!"- Matt Gurney

Gurney suggests that if expense rules and hospitality budgets were clearer and more transparent, Canadians would feel more comfortable spending more money on politicians, be it on Camembert and orange juice, room-temperature or ice-cold.


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