The coffee-maker conundrum - Macleans.ca

The coffee-maker conundrum

Are we ready to know how our MPs furnish their offices?

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This is likely a reality that we will need to confront as we proceed toward a world of total and full transparency: some of the people who represent us have purchased coffee-makers for their offices.

If every MP’s every expense was made public tomorrow—as they should be—we would probably learn that several of them have purchased coffee-makers. Some of them might even have purchased vaguely fancy coffees to go with those coffee makers. And then it would be possible to write stories about how “Our MPs spent $7,000 on coffee-makers last year!” and “While you struggle to pay the bills, MPs are using your tax dollars to give themselves offices that are something more than windowless concrete squares with spare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling.”

It is, for sure, for our MPs to explain and justify how they spend the public’s money. But we should always be careful to avoid lazy outrage. Or at least we should be mindful to focus on the real enemy—flagrant abuses of the public trust that lack justification. Perspective is also important. Parliament’s ability to scrutinize the billions in spending that it approves each year should, I will earnestly suggest, generally be of greater concern than however much parliamentarians spend on coffee-makers.

Of course, the possibility that we might be distracted by coffee-maker purchases is no excuse to avoid detailing the exact cost, shape and usefulness of every coffee-maker purchased with public funds. I suspect that after some fussing over coffee-makers, we’d all adjust to a world in which we understood our MPs to sometimes both consume coffee themselves and provide it for their staff and guests. Or so I dare to dream.