During yesteryear’s federal election, Justin Trudeau lamented the financial struggles of the middle class. He claimed that his party was going to take the reins of power and assist the financially distressed. He also declared that his government was going to be far more transparent than the “secretive” Harper government.
Now nearing a year in power, the Liberal government all too frequently seems to forget the middle class’s hardships (never mind the dire circumstances of much of the lower working class and homeless) and is no sanctuary of openness.
Of course, though, the Liberals’ deserve credit for following through on lowering the middle class income tax from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent (although cutting other tax breaks) and enacting a new Canada Child Benefit, which took effect last month.
However, government handout and minor tax cut aside, the general economic outlook still looks bleak for many Canadians. The recent job numbers from Statistics Canada revealed 31,200 jobs were lost last month, the national unemployment rate rose to 6.9 per cent, and the number of full-time Canadian workers dropped by 71,400. Furthermore, many Canadians’ wages have stayed stagnant for years in contrast to rapid inflation. According to a new Fraser Institute study, the average Canadian family now spends more on taxes ($34,154) than on housing, food, and clothing combined ($30,293). To top it off, oil continues to slump and new pipeline development looks more than ever a pipe dream.
When all of these sobering statistics and realities are taken into account, it’s no surprise that everyday Canadians are angered when politicians are caught glutinously wasting taxpayers’ money on frivolity; especially when these same politicians are saying they sympathize with Canadians’ financial plight.
That’s what makes Trudeau’s case so curious. He has shown zero ascetic restraint in indulging in the public purse since being sworn in, yet is hardly affected politically. Trudeau has taken six vacations since taking office, including most of this summer, and has had the gall to justify his lax work schedule as necessary for good “work/life balance”. The average Canadian probably can’t relate to having the luxury of taking (fully paid) months off at a time, especially when only ten months into a new job (if they can even say they have full-time employment at that).
Other Trudeau extravagant personal expenses on the taxpayers’ dime include the estimated tens-of-millions of dollars for the 24 Sussex Drive renovation, charging taxpayers for two nannies, renting out an entire resort for–one of several–cabinet retreats costing $150,000, and spending over $100,000 for a family and friend trip to the Caribbean.
Beyond his own expense claims, our PM doubled Canada’s contribution to the “fast-start climate financing” of international development projects up to $2.65 billion over the next five years, pledged another $32 million to development projects in South East Asia and Africa, rewarded the CBC–a broadcaster rife with recent scandals and ratings failures–with another $675 million (of a total of $1.9 billion earmarked for new cultural spending in the next five years) to its billion-dollar-a-year-boondoggle budget, is donating billions to resettling tens-of-thousands of Syrian refugees, and earmarked an extra $60 billion in infrastructure spending (though much of this money may end up a cost sink instead of an economic plus, and critics believe is an excuse to hire Liberal-allied companies and unions to pay them kickbacks for their allegiance).
All of these excessive budgetary expenses have already resulted in a $30 billion deficit in this year alone ($20 billion more than projected by Trudeau). And although the reader may find some of these massive expenditures noble, I find it ignoble to spend more on foreigners than on your own compatriots suffering from economic malaise. Furthermore, Trudeau’s father was the last PM to put us in such a massive deficit that took decades to recover from, so Canadians should prioritize fiscal restraint and not repeating history above our glowing hearts.
Despite Trudeau’s lavish lifestyle and his economically masochistic national budget, the push pollsters (their results skewed in favour of the Liberals in the past, but that’s for another article) and the ga-ga-for-shirtless-Justin media claim Trudeaumania is still alive and well, as his approval rating apparently remains well above 50 per cent and coverage remains fawning.
It must be handed to the Prime Minister’s Office–along with the assistance of a cheer-leading, $150-million-a-year-richer-thanks-to-wonderful-Trudeau CBC et al.–for being able to constantly inundate us with feelgood PR stories that go viral. It helps that the press has so far been willing to compromise itself by going along with the carefully stage-managed access.
But the press shouldn’t kid itself that endless photo-ops means transparency. A Globe and Mail journalist covering Trudeau’s personal photographer asked Trudeau a single softball question (“[W]hat is it like being the most photographed person in the country”) and was scolded by Trudeau’s policy director: “That was kinda bullshit.” The director then insinuated and threatened pulling access to Trudeau from the Globe. So apparently sunny ways is only as sunny as the light shone on Trudeau.
The PMO’s thin-skinned response to a flattering question seems odd and incredibly insecure when the bulk of coverage has been fawning.
Trudeau hanging out with Obama. Trudeau cuddling two baby pandas. Trudeau hugging and getting approval from Gord Downie. Trudeau “explaining” quantum physics. Trudeau declaring he’s a feminist. Trudeau marching in the Pride Parades in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Trudeau wearing flashy socks. Trudeau doing a yoga pose. Trudeau greeting refugees. A shirtless Trudeau photo-bombing a wedding.
These stories’ gimmicky charm(?) have lulled a majority of Canadians into an approval of Trudeau ranging from lukewarm to idolatrous. For now, it appears many Canadians and reporters are willing to overlook or defend Trudeau’s questionable and intemperate spending because of the way he makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.
However, In spite of Trudeau’s early immunity to scrutiny, his cabinet ministers do not have the same celebrity status and charm to distract from gross indulgence in taxpayers’ money.
Trudeau’s cabinet ministers, Jane Philpott and Katherine McKenna both felt the wrath of the exploited taxpayer when their extravagant expense claims were made public.
Now bear with me as I recap these expenditures. No matter how trivial these costs may seem in the grand scheme of the billions spent by government, there is an important lesson to be learned.
Health Minister Jane Philpott got caught–like Winnie the Pooh’s head in a honey pot–charging taxpayers $1,700 and $1,900 highly inflated bills (by as much as ten times market price) for daily limo service from a Liberal supporter and volunteer from her riding. The ostensible kickbacks to a party faithful are now being investigated by Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to see if she violated the Conflict of Interest Act by giving “preferential treatment”. To further complicate matters for Philpott, she potentially mislead parliament when she signed a document claiming she didn’t expense any limo services. Her office is now adamantly arguing the semantics of what a limo is by claiming she instead billed for the car service of a “Lexus Sedan”, thus not obligated to disclose it when questioned. Philpott has agreed to pay the money back, which is basically an admission of guilt, but in what other job than a politician can you basically embezzle money and then simply pay it back when you’re caught red-handed?
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is feeling some severe political climate change since it came to light that she hired a personal photographer during COP21 climate summit and burned $6,600 of taxpayers’ money. The third-rate photos posted on flickr were defended by McKenna’s office as an actual saving for taxpayers because she didn’t have to expense the flight and accommodations of a personal photographer from back home. The outrage over ridiculous expenses has only heated up for McKenna since new revelations from yesterday show the federal government’s expense bill for Paris COP21 was just shy of $1 million. A lot of that tab was racked up by McKenna’s piglet bureaucrats, with three of them burning $12,000 just to satiate their refined palettes over the two week summit.
Overall, these personal expenses are minuscule in the grand scheme of the government’s coffers, but these abuses of the taxpayers’ money only creates an atmosphere of distrust towards a new government attempting to be above the intense cynicism of today’s politics. At worst, this greedy waste of taxpayers’ money makes one wonder how they are managing contracts worth millions and billions of dollars, especially when they are planning to have a string of deep annual deficits.
Justin Trudeau’s best friend and the PMO’s Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, the alleged brains behind Trudeau’s government, displayed the cynical hypocrisy of Trudeau’s utopian government. Complaining about an article covering the expense controversy, Butts tweeted “[the] story made it seem like a new practice with this govt. (It isn’t)”. So essentially all the talk of change by this Liberal government doesn’t apply to the way they abuse taxpayers’ money.
Other interesting responses to the controversial expense claims came from mainstream journalists. A quintessential example was Walrus Magazine’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Kay’s response to McKenna’s photography debacle. Kay tweeted: “Dear media, there are Cdns who pay similar amounts to get weddings/corporate events photographed[.] Who the F cares?” Kay of course doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds. The Walrus has long been deemed a foundation by the government, giving it tax exempt status, and it is now getting a large contribution from Trudeau’s government to host events across Canada for the nation’s 150th anniversary celebration next year. And that’s exemplary of the problem: too many journalists and media organizations are in some way paid by the government. Canada needs a press that is full of adversarial watchdogs willing to pressure the government on issues and hold it to its ideals, not a government-dependent, lapdog PR media that dismisses, excuses, and apologizes for the government’s abuses of power in blase fashion. (Two great examples of new independent online media organizations are Canadaland and The Rebel Media, and both push well above their weight in breaking stories.)
Too complicate matters, Trudeau promised transparency, but has thus far failed to deliver. Trudeau struck down Harper’s transparency act that forced union bosses and reserve chiefs to disclose their organizations and bands’ finances. Furthermore, Trudeau has done nothing to address the parliamentary Board of Internal Economy that shrouds MP’s finances from public scrutiny. As the Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Aaron Wudrick, said over email, “The default positions should be transparency; any exceptions need to be justified by reference to exceptions with defined parameters.”
Ultimately, however, it’ll be up to Liberal government whether they continue to fritter taxpayers’ money away and if they choose to keep MPs’ expenses hidden from the public eye. Justin Trudeau should learn from Oscar Wilde’s sole novel’s protagonist. Dorian Gray appears publicly to be an honourable man of eternal youth, but underlying superficial appearances he is dissolute, lazy, narcissistic, and corrupt. With each misdeed his self-portrait–representing his inner character–degrades. Eventually the painting becomes too ghastly for the original, pristine subject to look at, and he is the author of his own demise.
Trudeau still has three more years, possibly many more, to determine his self-portrait–the true picture beneath all the selfies and perfectly-edited photos courtesy of his 24/7 personal photographer. He’d best heed the importance of being earnest and frugal.
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