COLUMN

Helping taxpayers by using fewer ‘jerks’

Think how many people complained in the last Parliament over such unseemly words as ‘liar’ and ‘sleaze bag’

STEWART MACLEOD March 13 1989
COLUMN

Helping taxpayers by using fewer ‘jerks’

Think how many people complained in the last Parliament over such unseemly words as ‘liar’ and ‘sleaze bag’

STEWART MACLEOD March 13 1989

Helping taxpayers by using fewer ‘jerks’

COLUMN

STEWART MACLEOD

Accepting the proposition that the media—probably because of their negativism—are the most unpopular practitioners in the land, followed by politicians—probably for blatant and bellicose bull—we timidly offer to redress these parallel problems with one simple money-saving solution.

This is a positive suggestion from the media—or a tiny twig thereof. And, in the unlikely event of its acceptance, it will convert Canadian politicians into international role models— perhaps even tourist attractions—while saving Parliament untold, if theoretical, millions of taxpayers’ greenbacks.

All it takes is one joint caucus of all three parties, 295 MPs huddled behind closed doors, to make the deal of the century. “Let’s forget that section of Beauchesne’s Parliamentary Rules and Forms that tells us what words and expressions are unacceptable and, instead, simply agree to ban all exaggerations and, especially, repetitions.”

“Sure, we’ll offend constituents for a time,” someone might say, “but we’re all in this together.” With 127 rookie MPs in the new Parliament, there has never been a greater opportunity.

And just imagine the money that MPs can claim to be saving. If you forgive some questionable bookkeeping here, we’ll start with the annual cost of running the House of Commons, roughly $185 million a year. Based on the average number of sitting days, the per diem rate is roughly $950,000, and with the House sitting an average of 5V2 hours per day, it’s approximately $172,000 an hour—or $2,900 a minute or $48 a second.

Surely no one will arise from a couch to dispute the proposition that the primary purpose of Parliament is to provide a forum for talking. When legislation eventually dribbles out from a spate of lengthy, long-winded

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.

Think how many people complained in the last Parliament over such unseemly words as ‘liar’ and ‘sleaze bag’

speeches, it’s always a bit of a bonus.

Okay, that having been accepted, we can move on to specific cost savings. Now, figures for the last Parliament may be somewhat incomplete—dozing off can be a problem—but there are at least 33 cases in which MPs said they had the privilege of representing “one of the most beautiful areas of the country.”

Please repeat that phrase, podium style, 33 times at about five seconds each, then total the seconds and multiply by $48. What we have, without even allowing for applause, is some $8,000 worth of politically recycled scenery.

And to think how many people—tightwads all—complained in the last Parliament over unseemly language, such as “liar,” “sleaze bag” and other little flattering asides. Heck, these cost us only about $100 a shot, although, admittedly, the subsequent uproars probably set us back $10,000 or so.

Go through Beauchesne—I dare you—and you’ll find all sorts of inexpensive slanders which, from a financial viewpoint, are not worth banning. “Parliamentary pugilist,” “pompous ass,” “blatherskite” and “dim-witted saboteur” scarcely rattle the cash register. Even “political sewer pipe” rolls off the tongue with money-saving efficiency.

Oddly, one of the cheapest words is “jerk.” Uttered at least a half-dozen times in the last Parliament, it’s invariably on someone else’s time, usually when the target of the assessment has paused for a $400 sip of water. We don’t double-bill.

Tell you what does cost dearly, though. It’s when 52 MPs from various regions of the country stand up to tell us that “we don’t want any special treatment; all we’re asking for is our fair share.” When you double the time for the hear-hears, the applause and the occasional “You tell ’em, Bill,” we’re into big bucks.

Another remark, mainly from rookies, that does nothing for our national deficit is that bit about being “honored that my constituents saw fit to put me in this great institution.” Now we’re into horrendous costs because that obligatory observation is seldom missed in a maiden speech. Try it 127 times.

Cabinet minister John Crosbie spent a wad to tell Parliament that “no person who cares for his reputation is ever going into politics .... ” But then, he had spent just as much earlier to call Liberal Robert Kaplan “a cowardly, despicable, dastardly member of Parliament.”

When the NDP’s Jim Fulton 17 months ago whizzed off his two-worded critique of Prime Minister Mulroney—a “lying scumbag”— Parliament erupted into a damn-the-money pandemonium of protest. A $150 personal assessment had become a $10,000 partisan rejection.

It should be said that the Prime Minister himself can be less than cost-conscious. In the last Parliament, one Ottawa columnist counted 18 occasions on which Mulroney reminded Parliament that it was a Liberal government that closed oil refineries in Montreal.

With each reminder, there was an appropriate verbal embellishment. Astronomical costs!

But costs aside, imagine how the credibility of our parliamentarians would soar if spectators could crowd into the galleries to hear, even occasionally, the unvarnished truth. “Mr. Speaker, I come from one of the more nondescript parts of Canada and, quite frankly, my constituents, who tend to be somewhat intolerant, want me to grab more than our fair share of federal goodies. Since they voted for me, despite the fact that they detest my leader, I would like to produce some payoff.

“Incidentally, I find Parliament a bit stodgy, and I haven’t even seen the Senate. I also don’t think much of the other official language. But, to save taxpayers’ money and avoid boring you, I am going to send you all copies of a speech I made to the 4-H club last year. And, for the record, I would like it known that I don’t have a very good sense of humor.”

That last line alone would bring the member, along with Canada, international acclaim for honesty, not to mention hordes of curious tourists. Bet you can comb the records of every public institution in the world without finding such a devastating admission. And it could be thrown out for under $1,000.

Just an idea. Some of us don’t have to worry about re-election.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.