How do I get one of these jobs?

Some days the headlines make me think I'm in the wrong business. Like Wednesday when it was reported that Premier Dalton McGuinty had personally appointed the two top executives of eHealth who caused a scandal by doing highly expensive nothing with a bunch of their cronies. Where do I get a job like that?

OK, so they eventually had to resign because they weren't doing anything useful. But that would happen to me too, sooner and without the lavish salary or untendered-contract-to-crony bit first. Let alone the $317,000 severance former eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer pocketed. They don't pay columnists that kind of money to stay and write, let alone to go away.

Actually I know of one exception. Boris Johnson, the overly colourful mayor of London (England), gets a quarter of a million pounds to write a newspaper column, just over $450,000 Canadian, while his day job brings in another £140,000. Unfortunately, I think you have to be mayor as well to pull in that kind of coin which in Ottawa might mean spending most of my term under investigation or on trial and three quarters of a million bucks on my legal defence which, even on Mr. Johnson's salary, doesn't leave that much for groceries.

I should probably also admit that I haven't yet approached my editors to ask whether they'd pay me that lavishly if I somehow deluded voters into entrusting me with the keys to the municipal treasury. They are not as a rule choleric individuals but I fear this suggestion might lead them to step dramatically out of character.

By sickening contrast, when the premier of Ontario raised his own salary from $159,000 to more than $200,000, plus perks, voters had no such reaction. He won't actually get rich that way, of course. That's what the consulting, boards and speaking fees afterward are for, especially if you're shameless. Which reminds me that some Canadian federal government tourism stimulus funds will reportedly be used to bring Bill Clinton to speak at the CNE, adding to the $4.6 million the Ozark Casanova already earned between 2006 and 2008 in Canada. For some reason it comes across as carping when I say he was a bad president as well as a bad man and it is weird to pay to hear him deceive you on both counts. See: "some days I think I'm in the wrong business," above.

On such days, the eHealth jobs aren't really the ones I want. In a pinch I'd take Kramer's $380,000 salary plus $114,000 bonus four months into a job she was botching. But what I really want is to be premier. Talk about a job where you get away with stuff.

Remember how Dalton McGuinty started off promising not to raise taxes, then imposed a health care tax he lied was a premium, promptly flopped his flip when he realized he hadn't checked out the fine print in public sector labour contracts about such premiums, and won the next election. In which he shamelessly blasted his main opponent for supporting sectarian schools to which he sent his own kids and where his wife works and not one drop of his own mud flew back and hit him. Amazing.

As the Globe and Mail reported Wednesday, when the CEO and chairman of eHealth both resigned, Premier McGuinty intoned "The buck stops with me," and declared an end to outrageous untendered contracts. Yet it seems he personally ordered the hiring of Kramer without the usual competitive process, a detail he smoothly omitted when, effortlessly adopting that look of wounded integrity that fits him like an oily second skin, he took charge in the name of the outraged citizens of blah blah blah. (He now denies seeing the warnings senior bureaucrats sent to his office about her not knowing enough to do the job.)

I'm not saying I want to be Dalton McGuinty. Like many successful politicians, he too often reminds me of C.S. Lewis's appalling portrait in That Hideous Strength of John Wither, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE), who over many years perfected a rhetorical and intellectual style so automatically genial, equivocal, reassuring yet vaguely menacing that his spirit could roam through dark places while his brain and body conducted everyday business in its absence. And I recognize that Mr. McGuinty's job carries drawbacks, like the forced smile as you shake hands with people you despise (including me on more than one occasion but then I had to do it too and my molars still hurt).

Still, I wish I knew how they did it. Imagine being well-paid, fawned over and taken seriously for years without the ghost of a hint of accountability. It just doesn't happen in my job. So tell me, please: How do I get one of those lavish, untendered ones where ducking blame is a key qualification and I can expense a muffin?

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson