Learn the difference between expenses for the office and for its holder

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If you’re new to political punditry, if it’s a slow news week, or if everyone else has covered every possible angle of the scandal du jour, you can always write about government spending.  A questionable purchase by those elected to represent the taxpayer’s interests can turn itself into 500 to 750 words well ahead of deadline.  Best of all, it doesn’t require subject matter expertise from your readership, who can be provoked into giving your commentary likes upon comments upon shares if you cite just the right dollar amount.

That said, there is a key distinction between what is easy and what is lazy.  So it is disappointing, though completely unsurprising, to see how quickly “bureaucrats deliberate helipad at Harrington Lake” turns into “Trudeau’s opulent spending of your money to make him feel comfy.”

This was one of two columns in as many days from Sun Media’s Brian Lilley to cover the “story” of a helipad possibly, maybe, being built at the official summer residence of the Prime Minister of Canada.  The first revealed that such an expense was ever under consideration, as revealed in three out of 68 pages of documents obtained under Access to Information laws.  The second framed it as the latest in a long line of examples of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fancy tastes.  Sadly, Lilley did not take the opportunity in either to accuse Trudeau of having a major thing about helicopters, which would at least have been mildly amusing.

The more important oversight on Lilley’s part was the proof that Trudeau’s office ever requested a helipad.  Per press secretary Eleanore Catenaro, they did not.  Those 65 redacted pages might have revealed otherwise.  That Lilley was left with circumstantial evidence is a harsher indictment of Canada’s Access to Information law than it is of Trudeau.  But it’s so much faster to write – and read – about the latter.

None of this is to suggest that a Harrington Lake helipad would be worth anyone’s money.  The manse is located 30 minutes from Parliament Hill and 44 minutes from Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, where the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 412 Transport Squadron, which operates four business jets for government VIP use, is housed.  Five other planes reserved for this purpose are kept by the 437 Transport Squadron at CFB Trenton, over three hours away.  To justify installing a helipad at Harrington Lake, you would have to reasonably presume that the 412’s planes might all suddenly become unavailable and the Prime Minister would have no choice but to make an emergency flight to Trenton, where he would board one of the 437’s planes so he could get to . . . somewhere.  You never know.  Maybe there’s an emergency feminist conference in Copenhagen that desperately requires his keynote address.

Regardless of the merits of the helipad, it was not under consideration for the personal benefit of Justin Trudeau.  He won’t be able to take it with him when he leaves office, and he’ll never be able to use it again after that.  The helipad is for the Prime Minister of Canada, whomever it happens to be, to use in performing their duties as such.  The same is true for 24 Sussex Drive, which, despite some protestations that it is “gorgeous” and “good enough for some hillbillies from Calgary (and their VIP guests) for nine years,” is manifestly unfit for purpose.  Contrast this with, say, saunas, boat racks, golf carts, and patio furniture, which have absolutely nothing to do with exercising the office of Prime Minister and should be covered in full by its given holder.

In an era of multi-billion-dollar budgets, stories like this are always shiny distractions.  But as long as we insist on having official government residences, we assume some responsibility as taxpayers for their maintenance.  Until we decide to level Harrington Lake, 24 Sussex, Rideau Hall, Rideau Cottage, Stornaway, and The Farm and replace each one of them with something more useful to Canadians – like some spare toilets – we ought to frame their related expenses accurately.  The Prime Minister of Canada does not need a helipad at Harrington Lake.  Justin Trudeau does not need the National Capital Commission to pay for the installation of his sauna.  There is a difference.

Photo Credit: Toronto Sun

More from Jess Morgan.    Follow Jess Morgan on Twitter at @JessAMorgan89.

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