Fire up the old outrage machine, because CTV has one hell of a scoop on the misspending ways of the Auditor General.
It seems that the country’s most esteemed accountant has been throwing team-building exercises and buying his staff pizza. Thankfully, super reporter and taxpayer defender Bob Fife is on the case.
Fife and his merry band found in a very thorough investigation—more on that in a moment—Auditor General Michael Feguson’s office had spent tens of thousands of dollars on various out-of-office activities for staff.
The office spent $23,048 over four years to send employees to places with names like “Funhaven,” “Saunders Farm,” and “The Britannia Yacht Club.” Now, $20,000 sounds like a lot of money to be spending to send employees all around the city to yacht clubs for practicing trust falls and singing songs about each other’s names, but it’s not when you bother to put those numbers in any sort of context.
That spending breaks down to an average $5,762 per year. Former colleague Paul Vieira figures that's about $38 for each of the office's 600 employees—$10 per year. Compared to the AG's annual budget of more than $80 million, that’s about one metric mouse fart. Or, if you prefer your comparisons in actual things, it’s less than 0.0069 per cent of the yearly budget.
It gets worse, though. In the past four years, the office has spent more than $100,000 on lunches for staff. Ferguson told CTV the lunches provided staff pizza lunches. A pizza lunch, for adults! My god, this Ferguson is just running wild with the public purse.
Again, that’s not a meaningfully large number when put next to $80 million.
The grave intonations of Fife’s report really sell how important this whole thing is. CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief™ makes clear that this “investigation” was a hard won battle with anonymous sources and through deep digging into leaked documents.
Just kidding! They added up a bunch of numbers publicly available on the AG’s website. But, as the web file and TV clip notes the figures were “not tallied up for easy reference.”
This is garbage journalism. Not because it asks questions of an office that in the eyes of the public is above reproach, but because the tone and delivery of the whole thing implies that some grave injustice has taken place.
To sell that this is a gross misuse of public funds, Fife says “On Parliament Hill where the Auditor General’s report is always feared, this questionable spending raised a few eyebrows.”
The few eyebrows were those of Conservative MP David Tilson and Liberal MP Mark Eyking. Two shining stars of Parliament who will probably never be heard from again, but happened to be near a camera when somebody—anybody—would do for a scolding quote.
There’s no scandal here. There’s barely even a story. These figures when they stand alone do give the appearance of some scandalously high spending. But when you put them in proper context, they're nothing at all. Seven-thousandths of a per cent of an office’s budget is not reckless spending. But pointing that out would kill the sizzle of throwing around words like “investigation”, as though this were some ground-breaking bit of reporting that will bring down Ferguson and his bean counters.
Fife says as he's wrapping up his report, “I got the sense that [Ferguson] was embarrassed by some of the spending.”
I don’t think that’s what the AG was embarrassed about, Bob. I think he was embarrassed for you.
(Editor’s note: It’s been quite a while since I’ve bothered to write something in this space. That’s not because of you dear reader—hi Mom!—but because of me. At some point I may put up a searching, reflective essay on why I’ve had so much trouble putting finger to key, but probably not. I'm not really into self-searching. Mostly, I’ve just been happy to hang out with my dog and sit in the sunshine. Anyhow, I figured I might channel some of my Twitter outrage into something marginally productive. So, I expect I'll do more of this. If I don’t, well, assume that I’m on the balcony patting the head of a big black pooch.)
*Thanks to astute reader and long-lost friend James Culic for pointing out my rounding error. It is indeed seven thousandths of a per cent, not six. And thanks to reader Naams who points out the proper spelling of thorough, which includes two 'O's. I thoroughly regret the errors.