To justify $16,800 in travel and living expenses, which you and I payed for with our taxes, Senator Nancy Ruth complained that on her frequent Toronto-Ottawa commutes she had to endure “cold Camembert with broken crackers”. The senator’s comments are disturbingly reminiscent of the infamous and inflammatory words, “Let them eat cake”, spoken by Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, when she was informed that the French peasants were starving and could no longer afford bread.
And who can forget Pamela Wallen? Or Mike Duffy? Or Mack Harb? Or the ever-growing list of elected government officials who feel entitled to a lavish lifestyle on the taxpayers’ dime. Oh wait … sorry. My mistake. Did I say elected? I meant Appointed, since citizens do not have a say in who becomes a senator. But let’s be fair. If the prime minister called to inform you that he was appointing you to the senate, would you refuse? Of course not. That would be like telling Atlantic Lottery that you weren’t interested in cashing in that winning 6-49 ticket in your pocket.
The fact is – and let’s not confuse facts with opinions, here – the fact is that senators are humans. Humans have an unwavering propensity for greed. Greed is everywhere. There is greed in monasteries and mosques, boardrooms and bus-stops, corporations and yes, even in governments. There is greed in each and every one of us, but not in equal measure. I admit, I’ve reached for the biggest slice of pizza from time to time, but I’ve also given my slice away. I like to think that most people are like me; we look out for one another.
Greed, like wealth, is not equally distributed. I’m not a geneticist, but I strongly suspect that there is a greedy-gene. Like so many other human characteristics, greed would have been advantageous when we lived in caves and were driven by an underlying primordial need to ensure the survival of our familial DNA. By their very nature, certain professions and institutions undeniably attract individuals still driven by these ancient, self-serving tendencies. Greed tends to coagulate in pockets at the top of the economic food chain, while generosity and altruism settle into the crowded strata below.
It is almost impossible to find one year in Canadian history when there has not been a scandal involving unscrupulous behavior or abuse of privilege in Ottawa, so, as taxpayers, it is easy for us to paint our politicians with only one brush, but we must resist the urge. I applaud the men and women who choose to enter politics for all the right reasons. I have the highest regard for those individuals with integrity and conviction who are willing to submit to the scrutiny and pressures of public life because they believe they can improve the lives of their fellow citizens. It must be made doubly difficult when those good people have to work side by side with others, in whom the greedy-gene is so fully and completely expressed.