Let’s Hear It For Our Politicians

Spending yesterday morning at City Hall watching the budget committee in action, it struck me that we, the citizens, need to pause every now and then, between bouts of invective and ill-informed petulance, to recognize and appreciate just how hard our elected officials and the bureaucracy that toils to keep them upright and pointed in the right direction work diligently on our behalf.

I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Laggards, the lot of them. Parasites just living off the avails of us hard working people. Do you know how long I had to wait in line for __________. Everyone’s got a horror story to tell about the neglect and abuse we’ve been subjected to by the do-nothings and their unionized minions who regulate our lives, right?

Colour me skeptical. No doubt there are layabouts and slouches within the political ranks and the civil service. What workplace doesn’t occasionally possess such individuals? There will always be a certain percentage of the population who are simply freeloaders, always with an eye open to doing as little work as possible while being paid as much as they can get away with. That’s what attracted me to a career in blogging.

But those types remain part of a solid minority of working folks who are driven by the basic urge to do as good a job as they possibly can while being fairly remunerated for it.

So it is with our politicians and those that help prop up our public sector (and in so doing, civil society itself… No, I don’t think that’s an overstatement.)

Wednesday’s budget committee session was the second day of the proceedings. On Tuesday, they had ground through nearly 14 hours. Budget Chief, Michael Del Grande, declared that he would not allow that to happen again, vowing to keep yesterday to its scheduled 12 hours. Other committee meetings were on similar time lines.

Granted, this isn’t a regular occurrence. It is budget season after all without which nothing else could happen at City Hall. And this year things were on an even more turbo-charged clock after the mayor pushed through an entirely unnecessary shortened time frame to get the budget done. While some have assigned more nefarious reasons for it, such as an attempt to squeeze outside oversight of the numbers, I think it has more to do with stage managed optics (which Team Ford is very, very good at.) Speed = efficiency. Efficiency = Stopping The Gravy Train.

Watching various councillors scramble back and forth between committee meetings yesterday put the lie to our mayor’s claim that he could half the size of council without any disruption in how the government was run. Our municipal politicians really do have a lot of balls in the air even outside of budget time, and that’s not taking into account the work they do at a constituency level. It’s more than a full time job.

So what, you’ll say. Who cares if our pols and municipal bureaucrats have to put in a little overtime every now and then. We pay them very, very well. We all should be so lucky to have such generous terms of employment.

Not one to sniff at a 6 digit salary but I am unconvinced that’s the case. Many of those at work at City Hall would very likely be able to command much larger incomes if they were working in the private sector. Mayor Ford already does. Ditto his brother, Doug; so much so that he’s donating his councillor salary to charity. Why should we assume Michael Del Grande would make less, plying his trade out there as a chartered accountant than he does as a city councillor? The rigour, diligence and hours that other councillors put in — the likes of Shelley Carroll, Adam Vaughan, Janet Davis, Gord Perks — would be amply rewarded by any non-governmental employer that hired them.

Another assertion, of course, that simply does not jibe with the current perception of politicians and anyone else paid through the public purse as only doing what they do because they’re incapable of getting ‘real’ jobs. Teachers teach because they couldn’t get into law school. Politicians politic because Starbucks wouldn’t hire them. Etc., etc.

The irony of this view is that it’s largely propagated by politicians themselves, usually of the right wing persuasion. They diminish other practitioners of their chosen field and the concept of government itself in order to lessen its influence in our lives and open the door for further encroachment of free market principles into areas of our lives best kept in public trust. So all politicians (except for the right thinking ones) are 2nd-rate, lazy, inept, overpaid, underworked and only in it for themselves. The bureaucracy is bloated and ineffective. There’s too much red tape. We pay too much in taxes and get too little in services.

They rile us up, get elected and start to slash and burn with abandon, crippling the very system they claim to be fixing. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy as the government’s ability to contribute positively to our well-being is hampered, ultimately serving to prove Ronald Reagan’s campaign declaration that government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

That was patently absurd back in 1980, of course, and remains very much so. Government is us and if anyone, politician or not, tries telling you otherwise, they are simply lying and doing nothing short of the devil’s work. We adhere to such a destructive ideology at our own peril and with our eyes wide open. It is laziness on our part; an unwillingness to get involved and to make hard choices that will sometimes mean greater sacrifices on our part to serve the greater good. That’s what a good politician does. It’s called public service.

More of us should take a trip down to City Hall and see for ourselves that, in fact, most of our elected officials and their bureaucracy are dedicated in their pursuit of doing just that.

cheerleadingly submitted by Cityslikr