For over two decades, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has described what their vision of good public policy should be. One of the best symbols, descriptors, of their view has been the Teddy Awards. The Award is named for a former federal appointee, Ted Weatherill. Mr Weatherill had the unfortunate distinction of being dismissed in 1999 because he submitted a panoply of dubious expense claims, including a $700 lunch for two.
Through the naming of the award, one can see that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has nominated those politicians and departments which have, in their view, wasted money. Former Alberta Premier Alison Redford, won a Teddy and received several nominations. In 2014, during the 16th awarding of this “prize”, Premier Redford won because she spent $45,000 for an aide and herself to get to South Africa for the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela.
Now what is ironic is that Derek Fildebrandt, once the Alberta spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, might be eligible for this award. During his tenure as spokesperson, form 2009 to 2014, he railed against many politicians. One of them was the former Premier Ms. Redford. Given that Mr. Fildebrandt spent a lot of time criticizing various politicians for their mistakes, malfeasance and other bad behaviours, one would think that he would not have found himself in hot water when he became a politician. After Mr. Fildebrandt was elected, he went so far as to say: “I’m my first 2 weeks on the job, I’ve voted against higher taxes & spending 24 times. #abpoli #ableg”. (Brock Harrison: In Alberta, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has mastered the fine art of political trolling, National Post, by Brock Harrison, July 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT; Last Updated, July 3, 2015, 12:21 AM EDT)
Yet, earlier this year, he did get into trouble. During the summer holidays, we found out that Mr. Fildebrandt had problems with his meal receipts and his subsidized suite. Or put differently, we all found out that Derek had misfiled receipts and rented out his subsidized suite on AirBnB.
He started off, as many people do, by blaming it on being a poor administrator. “There were some administrative errors in processing meal receipts for staff, constituent and stakeholder meetings, with a potential total of up to $192.60 over a period of two-and-a-half years,” he said. “I should have been more careful in reviewing them before signing off. I will fully reimburse any discrepancy and take immediate action to ensure that errors like this do not happen again.” (Brian Jean speaks out as Derek Fildebrandt expense scandal widens: ‘It was the wrong thing to do’, By Phil Heidenreich, Global News, Updated: August 15, 2017 6:22 pm)
However, it eventually became clear that there was more to this story when Mr. Fildebrandt repaid $2,555 because he rented out his subsidized suite. For that, he announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his job as the party’s finance critic.
Now, I am not a big partisan. I find it distasteful and narrow-minded. For while, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation may find it easy to criticize Bev Oda for her $16 glass of orange juice and the Senate of Canada for being…,well the Senate, I want to think that I take the high road. While, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation heaped scorn on the County of Richmond, Nova Scotia, former CAO Warren for submitting to his employer bill “dubious mileage claims, double dipping on meals, and $582 at two Houston strip clubs”, I know that politicians are just human; and, as a result, are imperfect and make mistakes. Derek Fildebrandt, at the time, should not have said that he knew better; for, his time in office says otherwise.
Derek Fildebrandt’s experience should be a lesson to us all: we should be better and we should be held to account but we should not drink at the punch bowl of schadenfreude.
With that being said, I am curious as to whether the conservative leaning Canadian Taxpayers Federation will be honest and keep to their word. I wonder whether they would give the award to one of their own – a former Canadian Taxpayers Federation employee – rather than find a partisan target in Alberta, such as the Notley Government.
To be fair to them, Jason Kenney won the award in 2014 when his Government advertised a non-existent programme. He once ran the organization. So anything is possible, but this is what I will be watching for: Will the Canadian Taxpayers Federation be honest and fulsome and recognize Derek Fildebrandt’s mistakes? For if they do, Derek Fildebrandt should win an award and that is why I hereby nominate Derek Fildebrandt for a Teddy.
Now, some smart reader out there might ask a simple question: “is there anything we can learn from this saga?”. Anyone who knows me knows that that is what I am all about. I am about better public policy. I am about organizing government to get a better result and better outcome. Unlike the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, I don’t believe in being “penny wise, pound foolish”.
In 1973, the Winnipeg Agreement showed that being “penny wise, pound foolish” didn’t make sense. For, the Winnipeg Agreement drove the development of the Athabascan Oil Sands. In 1954, C.D. Howe – a Liberal Cabinet Minister – created the conditions for the building of the TransCanada pipeline and the creation of TransCanada Pipeline Ltd. Yup, the energy infrastructure of Canada was built because various Canadian Governments were not “penny wise, pound foolish”. We can talk about the railways or the formation of Canada in the same way. All of things happened because of big ideas and big spending.
If we were smart, we would take a cue from another jurisdiction: Singapore. In Singapore, politicians are not under paid. Consequently, they don’t play games to get reimbursed. This is probably why Singapore is the seven cleanest country in the world, while Canada is the ninth. By underpaying our politicians and civil servants, we are asking for trouble. If we just paid our civil servants what they are worth, we would likely have better outcomes and have fewer of this petty issues to deal with. We would end the Teddy Awards and we could concentrate on other things, real things, important things. So let’s be smart and pay our public service responsibly before Derek Fildebrandt, or anyone else, makes another mistake.