By Jason Menard
I’ve never been a knick-knack person. I don’t understand them, but I’ve grown to appreciate them. Despite my protests, I’ve come to realize that, beyond the depth and scope of my understanding, we have a need in this world for pretty things.
That’s why criticizing our elected and non-elected representatives for their spending can, at times, be counter-productive.
Recently former Royal Canadian Mint president David Dingwall and Governor General Adrienne Clarkson have been pilloried in the press for their questionable spending habits, ranging from lavish expenses on trips to seemingly petty reimbursements for coffee and doughnuts.
Yet, looking at the nature of business alone, these expenses warrant no more than a shrug. And, when you factor in the inflated cost of pomp and circumstance, then these expenditures are almost downright understandable.
Why does the average person get so angry at Dingwall’s spending, when we all do the same thing, when afforded the opportunity? When travelling on business, don’t we expense each and every item, meal, and out-of-pocket cost back to our company? I do. I’m doing business on company time, away from my home, without billing for extra time, so why shouldn’t my expenditures be compensated?
Or does the fact that this money is coming out of our own pockets in the form of tax dollars make all the difference? Ironically, many of us in the public have been demanding that government conducts itself in a more business-like manner – yet, here’s an example of business practices and we’re up in arms. And you don’t think those business expenses incurred in the private sector hit you in the pocketbook? Of course they do – they’re rolled into the cost of sales and are transferred to you in the purchase price of the product or service you’re buying. It’s just that we aren’t privy to the behind-the-scenes machinations of private enterprise.
When it comes to the office of the Governor General, there is a matter of pageantry that must be factored into any cost. Government officials, heads of state, and other elected and non-elected officials are not just selling Canada to the world – they’re selling an image of the country. You can’t do that on the cheap.
Throughout my life I’ve watched my father, who works for a major multi-national, travel on business meeting with vendors and various corporate interests. And, without getting into detail, I’ve been aware of the expense of doing business. Sure, you could take your clients to Taco Bell, but should you? Comping a fine meal may cost more initially, but the potential return on the investment is far greater. You don’t think that applies to anyone? Well, try taking your wife out to Burger King on your anniversary, justifying it by saying a meal’s a meal… Let me know how you make out when you regain the use of your fingers.
It sounds cliché, but in the world of business you truly do have to spend money to make money. Whether it’s communicating with clients, rewarding your staff, or travelling to trade shows or meetings, there is an expense that needs to be incurred for a business to have any chance of success. But, because it’s the government, we feel we have the right to do things on the cheap.
Unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, money does make the world go ‘round. We can’t expect to compete on our merits and merits alone. We need the flash and dazzle, we need the glitz and glamour, we need the pomp and circumstance – essentially, we need those little pretty things to draw attention to ourselves, so that the substance behind the style can stand out.
We live in a global marketplace and we have to move at the speed of business to compete. It’s an investment in our future where only the bottom line matters. Did Dingwall’s cost of doing business harm the Mint? No, in fact it turned a profit under his stewardship. We need to look at the return on investment and not just the initial expenditure when weighing our public representatives’ spending habits.
No, they shouldn’t go unchecked and there should be financial checks and balances to approve these expenditures just like in any private enterprise – which there were. But the public needs to strain their vitriol through a filter based on the reality of doing business.
It’s the knick-knack theory of economics. While decorations aren’t integral to the existence of a home, they certainly make living there much more appealing – so why should we sell our country short? Politics is a business and we should treat it as such – there’s no difference between private expenditures that are rolled into your retail price and government expenses, except visibility.
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