No rea­son to spend our money on swag

The Beacon Herald - - OPINION -

Gov­ern­ment waste is in­evitable, but tax­pay­ers ought to ex­pect their elected of­fi­cials to do ev­ery­thing they can to cur­tail it. In­stead, some mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors are spend­ing our money on use­less swag.

An Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen free­dom-ofin­for­ma­tion re­quest shows coun­cil­lors in that city are buy­ing hockey pucks, blan­kets, ice scrap­ers, play­ing cards, Fris­bees, travel mugs, hand san­i­tiz­ers, mint tins, aprons, bal­loons, mini hockey sticks, in­su­lated cooler bags, shirts, tote bags, mag­nets and tents. It’s par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­point­ing to see even those who are usu­ally con­sid­ered thrifty de­cid­ing that they need to spend our money in this man­ner.

True, the swag spend­ing is minis­cule in com­par­i­son to most mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets — just a few thou­sand dol­lars here and a few thou­sand there. The prob­lem is this spend­ing is purely self-pro­mo­tional and ben­e­fits only the coun­cil­lor — un­less you con­sider a mug with your coun­cil­lor’s name on it a ben­e­fit in some other way.

The real mes­sage of all these give­aways that promi­nently dis­play a coun­cil­lor’s name is clear: “Hey, I’m your coun­cil­lor. Vote for me.”

It seems an un­prof­itable sort of spend­ing for all con­cerned. No rea­son­able per­son would vote for a can­di­date be­cause of the gift of a hockey puck or an ice scraper. Even in the 19th cen­tury, the price of a vote was a bot­tle of whiskey. So why do politi­cians do it?

Ego comes quickly to mind. Per­haps it’s satisfying to see one’s name on stuff, es­pe­cially if some­one else is pay­ing the bill.

The pen­chant for per­son­al­ized prod­ucts is also tied in with the no­tion that every politi­cian should have a brand. In this case, the brand is ei­ther cheap­skate or waster of pub­lic funds.

Coun­cil­lors might want to re­mem­ber that for­mer prime min­is­ter Jean Chré­tien made head­lines dur­ing the spon­sor­ship in­quiry for spend­ing $1,200 in pub­lic money for golf balls with his name on them. Judge John Gomery called the prac­tice “small town cheap.” Chré­tien pointed out that a prom­i­nent Mon­treal law firm also put its name on golf balls. The dif­fer­ence was that the law firm was spend­ing its own money.

If mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors re­ally feel that the pub­lic needs ice scrap­ers with politi­cians’ names on them, then by all means they should buy them — us­ing their own credit cards, not the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s.

Bet­ter still, coun­cil­lors could ac­tu­ally work hard for their con­stituents, speak up on key is­sues at coun­cil and treat tax­pay­ers’ money with re­spect. It seems like a bet­ter way to get re-elected. — Post­media Net­work

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