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Criticism of travel needs to view big picture

August 24, 2016 10:23 P.M.
McKenna in Paris.

A NewsKamloops editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

A LITTLE TOO MUCH fuss is being made over Catherine McKenna’s travel pictures.

The federal environment minister is under fire for paying $6,000 to hire a photographer to take photos of her during a climate change conference last year in Paris.

Outrageous, cry Opposition politicians. McKenna immediately went on the defensive, saying she will look at ways to reduce costs. “We need to be mindful of the costs to taxpayers. That’s something we’re committed to as a government, so I have instructed the department of Environment and Climate Change Canada to review the practices so we can reduce the costs to Canadians,” she said.

What else was she to do? Travel expenses are an easy target for political opponents and those concerned about politicians over-spending on personal comforts, and rightly so.

However, McKenna didn’t spend $16 on a glass or orange juice or even on limousine services as Health Minister Jane Philpott did recently.

When we’re dissecting what politicians spend when they’re travelling, we should be cautious about tarring every penny with the same brush.

As McKenna explained, members of government communicate through visual means with the people they serve. The only difference between hiring a French photographer when a minister is in Paris, and a backbench MP inserting a ribbon cutting into his or her 10-percenter newsletter is cost.

Theoretically, McKenna could have had a staffer snap a few out-of-focus, poorly lighted pix with a goof proof, but that would hardly accomplish the purpose. Professionals who actually know how to use a camera don’t come cheap, and she was in Paris for several days.

Philpott was equally apologetic for using a limo instead of a taxi, and promised to do better.

Government ministers should be very careful with how much they spend while on government business — they should, for example, not expect luxury hotel suites, or the most expensive wines at dinner. And maybe McKenna can find cheaper photographers in future. But business travel is an exhausting experience, and relaxing in an airline’s executive lounge or taking a regular limo (as long as it’s not the rock-star stretch kind) instead of squeezing into a cab isn’t exactly flagrant spending.

The Conservatives gave us a pretty good idea of what represents unjustified personal expenses. Let’s give this new government a chance to settle into some reasonable guidelines.

Got an opinion? Leave a comment here or write to letters@newskamloops.com.

David Johnson says:
August 24, 2016 11:49pm

Hear here.
This recent fervence over dissection of every single penny claimed by MP's, is getting ridiculous. This is being led by an opposition that will do anything to try to bring discredit to the government, and to build up a list of talking points for the next election.
This is reminiscent of the recent Republican media approach towards President Obama and the Democrats: do whatever damage you can, at any cost. The American voter psyche can be programmed, and it worked.
If the Canadian conservatives know they can do the same but if they are not careful, they could end up with a Trump.

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