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Commentary: Fancy hotels inexcusable expense, regardless of reasons

Public expenses
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MVT Simon Ducatel mug
Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up.

While with one hand Premier Jason Kenney expects the peasantry to do more with less and live within our means, our illustrious leader with the other hand spares no expense in doling out extravagantly from the taxpayers’ piggy bank to cover lavish, overseas, five-star hotel expenses for close advisors.

For a low, bargain price of merely $45,000 — more than the salary earned annually by many Albertans, who are meanwhile being told to endure difficult times for the greater good — one of the premier’s top advisors wines and dines his way around England.

And to boot, last week’s headlines broke just barely a week after revelations that the premier had also flown out on our collective dime premiers from neighbouring provinces as well as their wives, all for what seemed like a photo op at the Calgary Stampede. But it’s OK, because Kenney assures us those premiers did Albertans “a favour” by visiting.

What that favour is, I’m not certain. Yet apparently, we’re expected to be grateful to have paid for their trip to schmooze for the cameras with the cowboy hats and boots they wear once a year.

The back-to-back travel expense debacles might conjure up recollections of former premier Alison Redford’s scandalous squandering of taxpayer dollars after footing the bill for numerous flights for her daughter.

Imagine pretending to be a leader of the people, and for the people — someone who can supposedly relate to the average individual’s struggles — while not hesitating to bill them for extravagances most will never experience?

The point is, a person — especially someone in a position of privilege who wants for absolutely nothing — cannot in good faith demand sacrifices of the working poor while showering close pals with fancy overseas trips.

But don’t worry, the $45,000 was just a drop in the $30-plus million state oil and gas propaganda machine; I mean, the war room’s budget.

Taxpayer dollars are being spent to act as a lobbying arm for a multi-billion-dollar industry whose profits are mostly foreign-owned.

All while Albertans with disabilities, who struggle to find gainful work if they can find any at all and were already expected to get by on next to nothing, will now have the honour of scraping by with even less. Or while an elite wildfire fighting unit that specialized in rappelling from helicopters was eliminated. Or taxes getting de-indexed and credits disappearing while health-care and education funding is maintained at last year's levels despite continued growth and subsequent strain on services. This list actually gets pretty long, so let’s just move on. 

We can at the very least all sleep soundly knowing that all of those profitable multi-nationals appreciated their collective $4.7-billion tax break, which has yet to spur any meaningful job creation. Instead, these companies showed their gratitude by laying workers off and pulling up stakes.

Sure, sure, something something Trudeau, something something Notley. Any new material?

Let’s just keep ignoring world trends, like insurance companies and investment firms that are anticipating so many more costly claims in the years and decades to come. As increasingly frequent and erratic weather patterns wreak havoc around the world, insurance rates are invariably going up and investors will get more reluctantly wary.

Since the overwhelming consensus of scientists hasn’t been able to convince enough people, perhaps the concerns of economists, bankers and insurance companies might carry more weight and start to sink in.

Or, we can just dig our heels even deeper into ideological trenches and cheer as the war room frivolously churns through public resources on a political charade. These desperately needed funds that could help many Albertans amount to little more than pennies to an industry so profitable its coffers are all but bottomless.   

Either way, at this point, Kenney’s political career arguably depends on the war room succeeding at boosting the patch and stimulating substantial economic growth.

An oil boom, propelled by world demands regardless of his administration’s effort, would undoubtedly secure his image as the savant saviour he presents himself as.

But if the writing on the wall is as clear as it looks, and the days of $100-plus a barrel cannot be expected to return any time soon, his promises will be exposed as the empty words they were.

Especially if he continues to approve such unjustifiable expenses.

No one’s saying government representatives working on international efforts to forge new relationships and solidify existing partnerships should be accommodated in decrepit, dingy rundown discount motels.

But perhaps the UCP could make the slightest effort to exercise some of that fiscal restraint it expects from the rest of us, and avoid splurging on luxurious palace hotels in favour of a modest place like a two star room, or even an AirBnB?

It can be done. To save some funds for the Sundre Municipal Library to help ensure sustained levels of programs, the board of directors, which I serve as secretary, agreed to reduce the cost of attending an important annual conference at the costly Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge by instead booking more affordable yet perfectly reasonable rooms nearby.

And in the digital age of lightning fast internet speeds — at least in gigabit communities — why meetings, with some exceptions such as large gatherings or conferences, shouldn’t increasingly be held by videoconference is beyond my understanding. That approach eliminates the costly expenses for travel, accommodations and food, and saves the taxpayer the UCP is supposedly going to bat for, a ton of money. 

Perhaps Kenney hopes Albertans already forgot about Redford’s abuse of public funds — a situation that stemmed from nearly half a century of unchecked, unchallenged, complacent and entitled conservative governance — and that he can just rely on unquestioning support to carry on.

Sadly, he would probably be right in that assumption.

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up.

 




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