Braid: From council raises to Trudeau trip, politicians know how to protect themselves

Politics are often at their ugliest and most revealing in areas where politicians have power over their own benefits

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Some Calgary city councillors evidently didn’t realize they were getting a raise on Jan. 1.

It’s clueless not to know that, and far worse to take the money once they did know.

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Several councillors said they would donate their raise of 2.4 per cent, or $2,841 a year.

Of course, those councillors will be donating public money — and getting a personal tax receipt.

For many Calgarians, $2,841 is a mortgage payment or monthly rent for a good residence.

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Homeowners face a 7.8 per cent property tax increase, the highest in memory amid the worst inflationary pressure since the 1970s.

It takes truly thoughtless, callous politicians to impose a tax hike like that, and then give themselves a raise.

Coun. Raj Dhaliwal said they weren’t aware of the raise until the year-end break, and thus didn’t have a chance to discuss it.

But they were discussing the raise at the very meeting where he said that. Chief administrator David Duckworth said reversal was possible.

Council didn’t show any interest in refusing their raise, only in decrying it. That’s on the far frontier of hypocrisy.

Coun. Courtney Walcott said they deserve the raise and should just keep it.

He talks like an employee who finally got a break from the boss.

But in this job he is the boss. Council has final approval over every penny that goes into their pockets.

Politics are often at their ugliest and most revealing in areas where politicians have power over their own benefits.

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The UCP changed the rules around gifts MLAs and ministers can accept, raising the base amount and allowing cabinet to approve just about any gift, as long as really expensive ones are submitted to the ethics commissioner.

That’s Marguerite Trussler, whose term ends this quarter and will not be renewed. The government has advertised her position.

The UCP is not pleased with Trussler, especially after she declared Premier Danielle Smith to be in conflict of interest over a phone call to her then-justice minister.

Elected politicians write all the rules for their own conduct, pay and benefits, as well as hiring and paying the “non-partisan” officials who oversee those rules.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the media at McDougall Centre in Calgary on Thursday, December 21, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia file

On to Ottawa, where a parliamentary committee held an emergency meeting Wednesday on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s $84,000 holiday gift in Jamaica.

The committee, chaired by Conservative MP John Brassard, voted unanimously to question the federal ethics commissioner on the trip and the claim that he approved it.

Liberal MPs mounted no defence of the prime minister. They did not appear happy about yet another Trudeau travelling fiasco.

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But as the meeting went on, a majority of the MPs suddenly saw a risk to themselves.

Conservative Michael Barrett, who brought the original motion, moved that the ethics commissioner be ordered to produce all communications with the prime minister — emails, text, voice, the works.

Barrett had a good argument. Trudeau’s office first said he would pay personally for the trip, then revised that to say the visit was “no cost.”

The PM and his family got a luxury villa that would normally rent for about C$9,300 per night.

Justin Trudeau
The House ethics committee discussed if a probe should be launched over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent holiday vacation to Jamaica. Trudeau arrives to speak at a breakfast with members of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, in Montreal, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press

But the motion to disclose all communication fell by a vote of 7-3, with only Conservatives in favour.

The majority suddenly saw a dangerous precedent. They, too, might find their requests for approval disclosed.

Revealing such detail, said Liberal Iqra Khalid, would threaten transparency.

She actually said that.

Khalid also said MPs’ dealings with the commission have “solicitor-client privilege.” The commissioner, by law, is prohibited from revealing any details.

A regular person might wonder why there’s any secrecy at all.

Maybe there should be a registry of all questions taken to the ethics boss.

The mere act of going to the commissioner, after all, implies a problem with a gift or a trip.

But in the end, all the non-Conservative MPs were quick to smother a threat to their own padded privileges.

The attitude looks familiar in Calgary.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Calgary Herald

X: @DonBraid

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