Power + expense accounts = Moral drift

plecas-reportThe report by BC’s Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, was released Jan. 21st to the legislative committee looking into the alleged misdeeds of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and clerk Craig James. Sadly, it confirms what many in the legislature already knew and most people rightly suspect: That an atmosphere of entitlement is created in the minds of many as soon as they are in a position of social power and have access to an expense account.

You have to read it to believe it: Truckloads of expensive liquor. A very expensive wood-splitter. Luxurious, lengthy overseas excursions. And the list goes on. But one item that particularly stood out for me was a so-called retirement allowance in excess of $300,000 — this for an individual who already has a very generous pension plan.

The Plecas report prompts me to ask a philosophical question: Why does it appear to be the case that so many individuals lose their moral compass as soon as they have access to an expense account along with some sort of power?

All this reminds me of something that happened repeatedly during my six years on Vancouver city council. The city clerk would annually publish a report listing all expense reimbursements for each city councillor. At the risk of giving the impression that I’m tooting my own horn, I was always the only city councillor with “nil” adjacent to my name.

I felt that as we were already generously paid, and since councillors were spending taxpayers’ money, I didn’t need to be reimbursed for any expenses. This would infuriate some of my fellow city councillors, one of whom complained directly that my failing to submit reimbursement requests for myself made him look bad to voters.

When I was chair of Vancity credit union’s board of directors, as was the norm, I was given a corporate credit card to be used for any business-related expenses. I didn’t use it once throughout my two-year term! I felt that if I took someone out for lunch, even in my capacity as chair, this was an expense I should be willing to cover myself.

The public expects those in a position of power to act in a selfless manner. As a society, we must work to eradicate perqs. This is especially true given the tough financial situation so many people find themselves in.

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