Nova Scotians get angry over theft, but are OK with government waste

By Charles Cirtwill

So, Nova Scotians are outraged, and rightly so, about the mismanagement and downright abuse of MLA expense accounts. The arguments that “the rules allowed this;” that the “Speaker’s Office approved the expense,” or that the spending is “all a part of doing business” as an MLA, send us into fits of rage and frustration. Watching this I too am outraged, incensed, and indignant – at Nova Scotians. Yes, that’s right I am mad at us.

Why? Because, first off it takes a $700 coffee maker to get us up in arms. Wasting a million here, forty million there, we shrug our shoulders and move on, that’s government for you. But hey, buy a 40-inch plasma TV so you can watch Paul Withers from your constituency oflice instead of a nice, inexpensive I8-inch from Walmart and we want your head,
on a platter, today.

First I figured well maybe it’s the simple scope of the dollars involved, few people cut forty million dollar cheques every day but most of us have a computer or a TV. We know how much they cost and how often they usually haveto be replaced. We have even “made do” with something not so nice as what the Joneses have because money was tight and we needed to pay for more important things.

But then I realized it wasn’t about waste it was about theft. Most Nova Scotians look at the lists trotted out so far and respond as if they have been robbed. There have even been calls for police investigation. This works for me, Nova Scotians are OK with waste but not with theft.

I don’t think we should be OK with waste either, but I can live with the fact that the majority might be OK with waste as long as they feel it isn’t intentional.

But I woke up this morning with a new question in my mind. If we are so sure that we would never, ever, do the things our MLAs appear to have done, why do we do the same things ourselves all the time? Certainly not all of us, but enough of us as to make the MLAs look like pikers.

Just think about it. Think about the anger and ridicule you directed at your local MLA or at the premier or at the speaker or at whomever. Think about it the next time you take a sick day when you are not sick, or worse, the next time you stand around with your colleagues and figure out who is taking what time off sick and who will be filling in that shift for time-and-a-half or double time.

Think about your accusations of theft the next time you check that box in your EI claim form that says you are willing and able to work, and yet you have either not looked for work at all or wouldn’t take it if it was offered.

Think about your finger pointing the next time you “stamp up” your employees so that they qualify for EI and therefore you get a wage subsidy and can be sure you can shut your business down for three to six months but your workforce will still be there when you can maximize your profits, at taxpayers’ expense.

Think about “those crooks” the next time you use your “government fee schedule” when bidding on a contract or supplying a service, a fee schedule that likely looks a heck of a lot higher than what you charge your private sector clients, or what you would charge private clients if you had them.

For that matter, think about your anger at the “climate of entitlement” as you respond to the program review and budget consultations underway. As you argue that ANY program you benefit from is essential, or must be expanded, or can’t be done ditlerently or more cheaply.

Yes, our MLAs have a lot to atone and account for, but so do we. Government waste, like corporate waste, generally isn’t accidental, and, while we won’t get it all, we might get a lot more than we expect ifwe ALL accepted that we too are not entitled to our entitlements.

Charles Cirtwill is the President & CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (www.AIMS.ca). a nonpartisan,independent public policy think tank based in Halifax.