Does privilege improve the performance of politicians? Do they function better not having to worry about that expensive second brandy, or the marble hot tub in their luxury suites?
After all, they can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the wealthy elite all day and then drive off in a rental to the local Comfort Inn. Can they?
Well, as the ones who have to pay for it, most of us like to think that, yes, you bet your sweet fanny ass they can.
Not only can they spend responsibly, but they are ethically and fiscally bound to do so.
Yet, it seems upgrading to a super-exclusive hotel and blowing thousands of dollars on limousines is fine for International Development Minister Bev Oda.
In London last year, Oda racked up $1,000 a day staying in a hotel — the Savoy — that was twice the cost of the five-star hotel at which meetings were taking place, and then was shuttled back and forth in a chauffeured car. Her bill included a $16 glass of orange juice.
Oda tried to undo the damage Monday morning by paying back the difference in costs.
It’s a little like her performance last year in the House of Commons, when she fessed up after having lied to a parliamentary committee about altering an official document. You can’t just undo a lie once you’re caught.
And it’s not the first time she’s been criticized for cruising around in limousines like a high-rolling financier. She did the same thing in Halifax during the Juno Awards in 2006.
In what universe does someone like this keep her post?
The Conservative universe
The same universe, clearly, that allows Peter MacKay to keep his job. The defence minister has somehow survived a steady stream of lies he’s told ever since he’s been in politics.
It’s not often you can safely use the L-word when referring to a public figure. MacKay is one of the few exceptions.
Email records prove he lied when he said his trip aboard a search-and-rescue helicopter was a pre-planned training demonstration.
The recent auditor-general report proves he knew about a $10-billion gap in the actual vs. reported cost of F-35 fighter jets. And he fibbed when he said he wasn’t familiar with the policy of including maintenance costs in the price-tag — because he faced the exact same question in 2010.
The whole formation of the Conservative Party of Canada hinged on a lie. In a hastily scrawled and signed note, MacKay gained David Orchard’s support for PC leader by promising he would not negotiate a merger with the Reform Party.
Once in power, MacKay immediately started talks to do just that.
He lied. And few of his cohorts, least of all Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seems to care. (As Newfoundlanders know, Harper has his own history when it comes to whoppers.)
Back to Oda, though, it is astounding to consider — as Maclean’s Paul Wells did on Monday — the timeline of Oda’s high-priced travels.
It happened in June 2011. This was shortly after an election that was forced by the opposition when the Speaker found the government in contempt of Parliament.
Why was it found in contempt? Among other things, it was because Oda lied, outright, to a parliamentary committee about ordering a document to be altered in order to cancel funding to an aid agency.
Oda lied. She broke the rules. Yet she only had to sit comfortably and quietly in the House while Harper and other senior ministers leapt to her defence.
Then, after the election, she was given her post back with no prejudice.
She was, in essence, treated like a hero, a model minister, rewarded for lying to Parliament and splurging on the people’s dime.
As Wells put it: “There’s no orange juice too good to celebrate the way that must feel.”
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor.