Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lights, Camera, Cabinet!

In these uncertain times of political unrest, economic uncertainty and raging debates about retirement age, it's nice to know that Canadian members of Parliament are taking time out to discuss something which is critically important: namely, themselves. Yes, the elected members of Canada's Parliament always seem to find time to debate serious issues like their pay increases and the general laziness of the public service, even when dealing with the issues of critical global importance. Their latest? How they appear on camera.

After a few youtube videos displaying less than professional behavior of certain MPs checking out their hair and falling asleep during debate period, the MPs have decided to debate the issue of camera usage in the House of Commons. They're arguing that the use of wide span shots which sometimes showcase the empty seats while in session 'make them look bad' and that they would like to know which cameras are on them and when. Presumably, these measures would make all the parties look good by not featuring their absenteeism rates or their propensity for power naps.

While a riveting hour or so of parliamentary debate often takes a back seat to reality programming like the Bachelor over dinner, the use of cameras in Parliament are useful for so many reasons. On the one hand, they make great youtube videos. Who doesn't want to see a rookie MP earning $157,000 a year for the next 4 years due to his big win in the last election fall asleep in the House? It's a great giggle for us Canadian taxpayers who pay out that salary in the hope that the said MP will actually voice our opinions in the House when a serious social issue concerning our welfare is being debated- or voted on.

On the other hand, they also capture those rare gems that make political life in Canada so fascinating, like John Baird yelling at someone over something or Justin Trudeau's slow and gradual transformation into Johnny Depp. Sometimes there's drama like when the romance went sour between Peter McKay and Brenda Stronach and he called her a bitch while in session. Oh yes he did! It was good enough for a Real MPs of Ottawa reality series to launch on Slice. These precious memories would all be lost to the Canadian public if the MPs pass a bill to tightly control tv coverage of the House. It may make the business of the House seems sterile and stiff- like government or something.

The House of Commons is a public venue and it houses public servants of the highest rank and paygrade, which are the elected MPs. The bottom line is that they are public people now and cameras are just par for the course. If the MPs don't want to look silly, then it's their job not to look silly by conducting themselves like the mature, intelligent, well-grounded people that they pretended they were during their election campaigns. Now that they're comfortably in their seats of power, it's time for them to prove that they belong there by doing simple things like showing up and staying awake. And maybe learning to apply blush.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Idea of Wealth

The Wealthy Barmaid may be an eye-catching title for an article which was posted to Yahoo's website ( a closer read of the article paints a less than rosy picture. The article is centered around the example of Melanie Bajrovic, a highly educated young woman with multiple jobs and a great work ethic, not to mention two income properties that she's planning on using as her own version of RRSPs as she works in bars and restaurants in the meantime. There are a lot of good points for Bajrovic; she's smart, she works a lot, and she's very frugal. All of that would make her a shining beacon to the current lazy, entitled generation of kids who think that budget is a four letter word. And yet...

And yet Bajrovic has been working since she was 14 and has saved well over 75% of her earnings. Never mind the fact that 14 is well below the legal working age; the saving has been largely a result of her not having expenses. Bajrovic continues to live at home and has managed to buy property based on small downpayments and home renovations covered by her parents (to the tune of $30,000). She keeps her social life to a minimum and lives off $100 a week or so to cover her cell phone, gas and cigarettes. She works a lot of the time, shift work with more than one job. You have to wonder: is this truly a model?

Most of us equate wealth with independence. It means we're self-sufficient and that we can make our own choices. Living at home is not a form of self-sufficiency, even while paying your own way on certain bills. Being smart financially is about balancing your income with your expenses and not allowing one to exceed the other; it's not about eliminating those expenses by letting someone else take them on, which is what her parents are doing by subsidizing all of her living expenses.

There is a lot to be said about living on your own. It's not just about being able to balance a budget, but about essential life skills, and that includes cooking, cleaning, laundry and achieving worklife balance. It's also nice to have personal space, me time and to take pride in ownership when you've worked hard to live somewhere. Privacy and freedom are a big part of wealth, not just dollars and cents.

Then there's the whole social life aspect of this equation. While it's true that many of us cut down on expenses by not socializing or going out on the town, what exactly is the consequence of a minimal social life? It doesn't sound fun, fulfilling or meaningful; in fact, it sounds downright lonely, in the old Dickensian sense of staying at home with a bowl of porridge before heading to another day in a chilly office. Aren't friends more important than money?

The economy is tough and jobs are hard to find. Everyone has to make it their own way, and it's great that some people have found a way to make it work for them. But I think it's important for people to remember that wealth is not just about money; it's also about quality of life and happiness and all those intangible things that we sometimes take for granted.