The sketch: What price lunch?

The economics of governance

Patrick Doyle/CP

Patrick Doyle/CP

From the far end of the room called out Liberal MP Gerry Byrne. With a question about lunch.

“Mr. Speaker, old habits being the way they are, today the PMO chief of staff and some of the highest paid employees of the ministers’ offices, some earning up to $170,000 a year, just tucked into a big taxpayer-funded free lunch, all in full violation of the rules,” the Newfoundlander ventured. “Yesterday, the President of the Treasury Board tried to blame the PCO bureaucrats, but we know that is just not true. These $67,000 in lunches are part of the PMO disclosure and the only person who could have approved them is the Prime Minister himself. Therefore, to the Prime Minister, what was on today’s menu, compliments of taxpayers?”

According to the Huffington Post, last week’s lunch was delivered by Indian Express. But the nature and origin of this week’s lunch would remain a mystery, at least for this day.

“Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that since the Liberals—who kind of mainlined their hospitality expenses—were in power, we have actually been able to cut hospitality expenses by the Government of Canada by 48%,” Treasury Board president Tony Clement happily responded to Mr. Byrne. “We are proud of that number. We are going to continue to respect the taxpayer and do the exact opposite of what they did when they were in power.”

The question we must ask ourselves now is simple and profound: How much should we, as a society, as individuals, as a collective, as a shared humanity, be willing to contribute to the weekly dietary requirements of those who administer our mutual governance?

According to the Huffington Post, our total contribution to this fund over a 39-month period between July 2010 and October 2013 was $67,789.48. That review of official lunching does at least provide for some interesting insight into the culinary preferences of government staff and we could perhaps parse the list to assess the wisdom and taste of those in charge of ordering (Cafe Deluxe does a nice chicken-and-vegetable sandwich and their chocolate chips cookies are good). But it is Mr. Clement’s assurance that no rules were contravened in the procuring of these lunches and that, anyway, it is not politicians who make decisions about how people are publicly fed, but officials with the Privy Council Office.

A similar amount of money was, just last week, sufficient to draw two statements from the Defence Minister, who was sufficiently confident on the basis of the basic evidence to declare that $72,000 appeared “grossly excessive” as it pertained to assisting a retired general with a move—with the Liberals protesting that everything was within the rules and according to policy. But, as the saying goes, the grossly excessive is in the eye of the beholder.

And so the timeless, necessary, but often tedious and beside-the-point work of rooting out “waste” and “excess” continues.

Indeed, now the Sun has tallied some $130,000 in sustenance and it was on this sum that the NDP’s Charlie Angus stood to complain.

“It cost $7,000 for one pizza party in the Prime Minister’s Office,” Mr. Angus reported. “Would they put the chicken bruschetta platter aside for one minute and tell us why they think it is okay for the Prime Minister’s staff to break rules that are in place to protect the taxpayers?”

Mr. Clement was confused. “Mr. Speaker, I find it curious that the opposition members will not even disclose any of their expenses,” he said of the New Democrats, “yet they stand in their places and criticize a government that has cut hospitality expenses by 48%.”

The gaul.

“That kind of hypocrisy is not tolerated by taxpayers,” Mr. Clement boldly declared. “We are on the side of the taxpayers.”

At least so far as the taxpayer’s side is within the mandate of the parliamentary budget officer.

Possibly we shant rest until every individual associated with the public administration of this country is made to cover each and every of their meals and snacks and the most a retiring general is allotted is a parting gift of a signed copy of Prime Minister’s hockey book.

Soon though Alexandre Boulerice, Charlie Angus’ tag-team partner, would up the ante rather dramatically. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (it of the shirtless, beltless porcine mascot) had, Mr. Boulerice reported, awarded a top prize to the government’s $2.5-million advertising campaign for the Canada Job Grant, a program that still does not yet exist. “Are they beginning to understand that when they receive lemon awards from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation their transformation into Liberals is now complete?” he asked.

Pierre Poilievre jokingly shouted across the aisle that Mr. Boulerice had now gone too far.

“Mr. Speaker, the government has a responsibility to educate Canadians about the important programs and services that are offered,” Mr. Clement explained. “Advertising is essential for the government to inform Canadians about important issues.”

And if there are no free lunches, we are only ever figuring out what we are willing to eat.

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The sketch: What price lunch?

  1. Anyone remember a few years back when Cons complained about the GG serving state dinners to visiting world leaders? Apparently they wanted her to send out for pizza.

    Anyone remember when cabinet ministers went to 24 Sussex for working dinners….and food was served partway through the night? Lamb chops were held to be scandalous.

    And yet lookie here….all this money for a lunch crowd.

    LOL ‘ a shared humanity’ indeed!

    • Not to worry, there isn’t a chance in hell Tony tipped anyone.

      • LOL probably inquired as to their pensions.

      • He probably has any leftovers packed up and takes them home.

        • Orders extra meals, has them packed up and takes them home. Invites neighbours to gazebo for picnic.

      • Are you guys sending your leftover jokes to Justin for Question Period ?
        Justin`s delivery and weak content of his attempt at humour reminds one of George Costanza—-might be your model too.

        • Since you brought it up we might speculate on just how little good comedy, [or art of any kind really] the hard right of the political spectrum produces[ outside of a wonderful tradition of Jewish humour]
          Hmmm, i wonder why?Could it that YOU guys are laughable?

          • PP is a cabinet minister and he is on the public dime as part of the Conservative government. We pay him to do his job. He does it well. That job description does not include doing comedy.

            Mercer has been on the public dime for a long time now. Not a lot of funny in him for years now ( not since the Quinlan Quints ).

          • So PP is on the good public dime, Mercer not so much…get over yourself please!!!

            I would agree that his best work was along side the Walsh era at 22 mins. Still, he hits the odd rant out of the park.

          • Witness PP, on QP now, school Mulcair in the details of Election Reform in regards to vouching. You may not like his style but he`s extremely well prepared, fearless in answering the angry Mulcair, and a useful ability to get under the skin of the opposition.

          • I don’t deny he’s efective at times, as is say Baird.
            I haven’t seen that exchange today, but i will say there are at least two sides to the question of vouching. For you to claim that PP’s opinion is the only one that counts is both poor logic and crappy partisan politics.

          • If you happen to see it, notice that Mulcair sparred reasonably well with PP and then sent up Turmel and Mathysenn, two of the most intellectually and charismatically challenged MP`s in the whole House ( and they have some good competition for those awards on the CPC bench ). They read of two rambling questions in both official languages and PP picked them apart with ease.

            If you want to see why the NDP will always be a third party look no further than these two and those who would elect them.

  2. Yes, sonny, I remember the days when early, primitive objectivist libertarians would shout TANSTAAFL at the slightest provocation, or hint of subsidy without complexity or irony.

  3. The gaul?!?

    Is there a French joke i’m missing out on?

    “Mr. Speaker, the government has a responsibility to educate Canadians
    about the important programs and services that are offered,” Mr. Clement
    explained. “Advertising is essential for the government to inform
    Canadians about important issues”

    One of these days a large ironic gazebo is going to fall right on Tony’s head.

    • Surely, we are reaching peak irony. In that spirit Con Central has banned all jokes.

  4. “The gaul.”

    What do the Gauls have to do with this?

    Thanks for the laugh – amusing typo!

    • It might be a sly reference to Maxie… the Gaul.

  5. I don’t care what Party is in power…there is NO WAY we should be buying lunch for folks to do their job.
    Brown bag it for cripes sake.

  6. I think that if an organization, private or public, calls a meeting that runs through lunch, it should be provided albeit in basic soup and sandwich form.

    By the way, taxpayers also pay for lunches and even late night entertainment expenses for profitable private sector companies that lop those costs off their taxes as legitimate expenses. When will the Canadian TaxPayer’s Federation be tallying how much the banks and insurance companies are deducting from their taxes for spending on luxury boxes, meals and accommodations that ought to be considered personal?

    • Damn right! I hear rumours on any given night half the tickets at the oilers[nearest nhl team to me…about 1000kms near] are provided gratis from the business community, not so gratis from the tp. That’s a double affront given how far the oilers have fallen from grace. You might think it therefore quite cheap to take a family to an oilers game given normal market conditions…you would be wrong.

      • Yes, should have had oil and gas companies on my short list.

      • As a business owner (one employee!) I can tell you that sports tickets, golf fees, private boxes are not allowed to be written off for tax purposes, while 50% of the value of meals can be written off. Businesses can, and do, buy tons of Oilers tickets for their clients, but only at their own expense,as the CRA folks are very strict about auditing for these things.

        Meals provided for employees can sometimes be written off but only because the meals are taxable benefits for employees and are taxed at the personal level (reported on T4 slips).

        EDIT: Sports tickets are treated the same as meals (50% can be written off)

        • I don’t really want to make a big issue out of something i can’t prove[ owned my own proprietorial business also…one employee – me] but i think you may be mistaken. Corporations can and do right off nhl tickets…so i’m told. As to what % they may write off i can’t say either.

          • This practice was disallowed in the early 1990’s by what was then called Revenue Canada. Paid golf memberships and lavish country-club entertaining was the political lightning bolt that led to changes in the corporate income tax code.

          • If that’s the case why are corps continuing to hand out freebie tickets? For one thing it doesn’t sound like them at all to do that and in effect artificially keep prices up…which obviously make it tough for ordinary citizens to attend. Something doesn’t add up here. Do you happen to have a source for that opinion?

          • In my research I see sports tickets for clients are counted the same as meals for clients. 50% of the amount is deductible in most circumstances. Employees receiving these are taxed personally.

            Golf fees or membership fees are NOT allowed to be deducted. If a company pays for memberships for an employee, the employee has received a taxable benefit and income tax/CPP/EI is deducted from that employee’s wages.