It's fine that government protects us from greed

On mornings like this you wake up and say thank goodness government is on the job. Here in Canada it's a positive pleasure to pay, on average, just 47 per cent of our income in taxes to be protected from the shoddy products, hypocrisy and greed of capitalists. Hey, wait a minute. What's this Gagliano doing in my breakfast cereal? Not delivering municipal services, that's for sure. Nor, apparently, is the City of Ottawa, which is going to freeze taxes that will nevertheless rise on a mere 80 per cent of households so it can slash services. Oh boy. You don't get that from those rotten private companies. Nor will you, thanks to the ever-vigilant state.

For instance, I'm delighted to learn that the minister of Health wrote to her Quebec counterpart last summer asking what the heck the deal was with letting people pay money to private firms in fees to get treatment when they're supposed to pay money to government in taxes not to get treatment. Everybody knows that. Including the health authorities in Britain, who have been scandalized to learn that the National Health Service was paying more to private hospitals to treat medical problems than it was paying to public hospitals not to treat the very same problems. Well, there won't be any more of that sort of thing.

If there is, what could be more pleasant and refreshing than going to the complaints department of your government? Oh, it hasn't got one. Why would it? On the Public Works Quebec sponsorship scandal that the auditor general confessed was hard to distinguish from "packing a suitcase full of $100 bills," yesterday's Citizen reports that "Revenue Minister Stan Keyes said he thinks voters won't punish the Liberals. He predicted Canadians will make the distinction that the transgressions of the past ... were made by people in the Chrétien government who set out to break the rules."

Yeah. It's like when you go into a store to complain that the lawnmower they sold you won't mow and they say well the previous owners were a bit like that. So you say can I have my money back and they say no and you say will you replace it and they say no. Strange that I can't remember the last time a company told me such a thing.

Nor are private firms given to the lovely habit of snatching a guarantee back and rewriting it. But there's Senator Jim Munson, promoted to our august chamber of sober second thought for 16 months' service as J. Chrétien's communications director, assuring us the previous owner was entirely innocent as well. "He wanted answers. The former prime minister has always said that if anybody has done anything wrong then they should be punished." Hey. Didn't this piece of paper use to say that when asked about sponsorship program abuses in 2002 Mr. Chrétien questioned why the press would quibble that "a few million dollars ... might have been stolen" in the course of buying Quebecers' allegiance. Oooh, punish me again.

Isn't it nice to know that private firms can't change their story so dramatically because the state, assured of its superior morality, stands guard against private dishonesty? For the same reason it is not recommended that private-sector accountants shrug off the possibility of a few million dollars having been stolen should agents of the state raise the issue. Or that they bypass the rules to purchase luxury transportation for the boss.

It is also not recommended that if shareholders or customers start complaining about a massive scandal, everyone should start running in circles pointing fingers at one another saying it wasn't me they did it I know they did though I don't know anything about it I'm completely in the dark I just work here I don't know anything I never did know anything so obviously you should let me run everything and trust me completely.

Sure. I'm game. When did they ever go back on their word? Um, except here where way back on Feb. 2 the speech from the throne said "the government of Canada is unalterably committed to fiscal prudence, as evidenced by annual balanced budgets ..." but on Feb. 11 the Finance minister told us "My fear ... is that if this economy turns south that the government will then take action to protect its balanced budget, which I think is inappropriate." But don't worry. He says it won't happen soon. Phew. Mind you, nine days is a long time in politics. And if it does happen, there's no complaints department. And no, you can't get your money back.

Weird, my cereal's starting to taste rather peculiar. Oh, no wonder. It came from one of those private corporations. If only government made it ...

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson