Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The first snowflakes

Summer is over. Fall has begun. The first snowflakes are attacking the ground and dying in droves. There will still be lots of nice days, but notice has been served. Winter is coming.

On the bike for a hour quickie. Progressive warm up. Then 5 minutes between 245 and 250 watts. Easy for a while, then >250 watts for as long as possible, which turns out to be 3 minutes.

Then a yummy dinner that I won't tell you about because some of you would almost certainly show up on our doorstep looking piteous and eager to be fed. You'll have to go some to do better than the cats on that front.

Expenses claimed by elected and non-elected officials have been much in the news up here lately. Our Premier just released several years worth of itemized expenses, and I can only applaud this. There have been some serious abuses lately, and some fingers need to be slapped, but I think some caution is needed on this front.

We pay our officials to represent our interests. That occasionally means travel, meals, and various out pocket expenses. I do not think it reasonable for any elected official to be taking the cheapest possible red-eye flights and staying in Motel 6. Their time is certainly worth something, and I don't even really have an objection to flying business class if that makes good use of their time, and if there is a valid reason for the trip at all. They could well be reviewing confidential papers, and having some extra room can make them that much more productive at the end of the trip.

The optics of hotel stay often look bad, charging what appear to be exorbitant rates, but I wonder sometimes. I've paid just over $300 for one night's stay in Toronto, and have had nicer rooms for much cheaper that also included Wi-Fi, but there were balancing considerations. Being able to walk from the plane to the hotel room in about 5 minutes without going outside was worth a big chunk of that.

Hotels near the centers of power are not cheap at the best of times. Where you and I can sometimes dicker for a discounted rate, no government official ever gets one. Ever. They pay full rack rate and probably more. Sometimes the reservations are made or changed on short notice. Often they might require a room that has a functional office or meeting room attached. Those are pricy.

Neither do I expect them to eat at Mcwoofies or Tim Hortons. Pick a nice place, fine, but they can hold off on the buffet of endangered species and the really expensive wines.

All that said, they have an obligation to keep the taxpayer in mind, and spend prudently, trying to get good value. That means good planning, ensuring there is a real reason and value added for the trip. Taking only one aide or a small delegation, instead of a giant herd of hangers-on. This is where the recent Alberta government trip to the Olympics went sour to the tune of $113K of hotel overbooking. Flying commercial where possible, and yes, I accept that the Prime Minister has special security considerations. It means releasing the receipts and expense claims in a timely fashion.

I've been on an expense account, signing for thousands of dollars of motel rooms and car rentals. It's easy to get blasé about it. The policies around expense accounts need to be clear, and they need to be reviewed. Knowing the public will be seeing a copy or photo of the receipts ought to help keep things under control.

Like most things, secrecy leads to corruption and complacency. As a general rule, the taxpayer ought to be able to follow the money trail and understand where every taxpayer dollar goes. As a general rule, taxpayers ought to be able see any paperwork the government produces. There are a few places, a very very few places where there are bona fide security or secrecy considerations, so in such cases there needs to be someone of unimpeachable integrity that has oversight, and can assure everybody else that "yes, I have reviewed the expenses and they're fine" or "No, they can't tell you what happened in that meeting but there is a good reason for the secrecy and everything is being done properly". By unimpeachable integrity, I'm talking about people like those seriously discussed for the Supreme Court. Not some elected and retired riffraff or ministerial appointee.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, winter is coming. Apparently, I should expect snow this weekend, as the temperature slowly drops this week. I did manage to ride my bike to and from work yesterday, but I wonder how many times I have left this year before it's too dark and too cold.

    I have to travel for work, and I noticed that the hotels, flights, and cars are more than I would ever pay traveling on my own... easily twice as much. And sometimes I have to make them get me into the (more expensive) hotel with a workout room. I could easily see this sort of thing sounding ridiculous, especially if I were traveling with an entourage. It's easy to just charge it to the company card when I want a Starbuck's, even though I only go there once a month in the "real world".


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