This column appeared in today’s edition of the Saint City News:
I think I’ve found the answer to a question many of us have been asking for a long time about the Harper Conservatives: Yes! They do think we’re stupid.
Let me explain. Recently I sent an email to Brent Rathgeber, St. Albert’s Conservative Member of Parliament. I wrote:
“Say it ain’t so, Brent! I’m as patriotic as the next St. Albertan, but I was astounded to read in the public prints that you plan to mail a Canadian flag sticker and a reply card to every household in the riding. Good lord! What’s the cost of this frivolous exercise? With Finance Minister Jim Flaherty moaning about the size of the deficit, wouldn’t the patriotic thing be to save our pennies instead of investing them in fripperies like this? How can patriotic Canadians in good conscience return the reply cards during a crisis of national belt tightening? Just wondering.”
Mr. Rathgeber replied – or, rather, Mark Johnson, his communications assistant, replied on his behalf:
“… Mr. Rathgeber, as well as some of his colleagues have begun a Proud to Be Canadian Campaign. The main basis of this campaign is a ‘Householder’ mailing to all homes in the constituency. Every MP is entitled to four Householders per year as a part of their operating cost. Due to the large quantity and bulk purchasing power of the Parliament of Canada, the cost for these mailings is quite minimal. To provide each household in Edmonton-St. Albert (approximately 50,500) with a booklet on the history of Canada’s flag, as well as a cutout paper flag to post in their window will only provide a cost to taxpayers of approximately $200.”
From this, I submit, we can almost certainly conclude that the Conservatives think we are quite dumb. Either that, or the Parliament of Canada uses completely different bookkeeping rules from the “generally accepted accounting principles” required by real accountants.
Leastways, I have been involved one way or another with the publishing industry for more than a quarter of a century, and I can tell you with absolute confidence that you cannot – simply cannot – print and mail 50,500 copies of a single black and white sheet of paper, let alone a well-designed booklet with a postcard and a flag sticker added in, for less than half a penny per copy.
I don’t care how good your Government of Canada discount is, you can’t do this even if you only count the paper and the ink and ignore fixed costs like the designer, the writer, the printer, the press, the roof to keep the rain off them all, the trucks and planes to carry their work to you, the mail sorters, the delivery people … and Mr. Johnson, of course. Never mind the depreciation!
Sorry. No can do! Who do you think pays for those four householders each of our 308 MPs get every year?
Then again, maybe I just spent too much time in private industry where everything is done for a profit. I’ll give you this, if anyone could miraculously create and print 50,500 packages containing fancy leaflets, flags and postcards and deliver them to 50,500 homes (except in new subdivisions with “super boxes,” of course), it could only be a public employee.
No private-sector worker is that hard working, efficient, or public spirited. No private sector employee could do this job at 10 times the cost! Which is a pretty good argument, come to think of it, for keeping public jobs public.
Still, even considering the genuine advantages of using public employees, this yarn illustrates why we ought to think carefully any time a Conservative politician tells us the federal deficit has topped $50-billion, or that it’s been balanced, or that there’s a “crisis” in health care that needs help from the private sector.