BC New Democratic Party MLA, Jenny Kwan has received some very negative attention because she benefitted from fraudulent spending by her husband, an executive of the non-profit Portland Hotel Society (PHS).
I think I understand the sense of entitlement that lead PHS executives to pay themselves such ample salaries and to treat themselves to such lavish benefits – which they billed to the Nonprofit above and beyond their salary. Make no mistake. I don’t condone it, but I understand it.
It comes from the world of big business. Political types are wooed by multinational corporations, and wealthy benefactors. And when they are, they get to see some luxury – luxury most of us don’t ever get to see.
The big business executive world is one of first class flights and golf lunches. Some big corps carry leases of suites at stadiums like Air Canada Centre (to name one). Ever wonder what one of these costs? Well don’t. ACC doesn’t post their lease rates online, because we mere mortals, on seeing the price of these things, would curl up and die.
And if you’ve never been to an event at one of these suites, let me tell you what you’re missing. The drinks are plentiful, and paid for from an expense account. Drinks for everyone (all 24 people, depending on the suite). Anything goes! My favourite part of the experience is the trays of sandwiches with the crusts cut off. And not just canned tuna: there’s smoked salmon! Yum! The food and drinks alone can easily rack up a bill of $1000 plus. Quite often you’ll see family members milling about at these box parties. Such is the world of the corporate executive.
For these top execs, what the PHS execs treated themselves to would just be the normal cost of doing business – chump change. It would not be at all unheard-of for an exec to fly his family somewhere to meet for a wee holiday. It really wouldn’t be much of a problem at all. Just upgrade from a small suite to a larger suite, a bit more room service, oh and while we’re at it, an upgrade to first class. It’s covered by the expense account.
And the spouse says something like, “Wow! Are you sure? It sounds like a lot of money.” And the spouse is told, “Don’t worry about it. It’s all covered.” And the spouse believes. Why not?
It is a bit shocking, of course, because the industry of PHS is helping the very poor people from big city streets. It’s pretty hard to marry the ideal of support for the poor with lavish behaviour of the providers. We’re kind of expecting to see the Sisters of Charity walking about there in humble servitude.
But the PHS execs didn’t create poverty, and they are no more responsible for it than anyone. They are no more hypocritical than someone who earns a big salary in private enterprise while tossing a few bucks to the United Way, or his church charity.
It’s easy for the public to imagine how the salaries of the PHS executives takes money directly from the people they are helping, but it’s not exactly clear just how much they should earn. And it’s not absurd to argue that the money made by a bank executive could go to the poor (or at least to reduce our mortgage rates).
Similarly, the commissions of high profile real estate moguls could go to provide low income housing (or at least provide the client with a little more equity). And hell, if I went without cable, or a car, or a family vacation to Disneyland or a meal at a restaurant, I could give more to the poor.
Every cent that anyone spends on himself is money that the poor don’t get. There’s lots of hypocrisy to go around!
Furthermore, the guy who howls, “I paid for this in my taxes!” is missing the point. The taxpayer pays for a lot of things. He pays for for the mining exec’s golf game in the cost of his metal car, the oil exec’s lunch when he fuels it up, and for the bank exec’s skybox in the interest on his payment plan.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t condone what the PHS executives did. Whatever feeling of entitlement they have, they have no business charging expenses to the Nonprofit. They, like everyone, need to live within their means. For this reason, their dismissal (which should be without severance packages) is completely understandable.
But I object to the moral high horse that so many people have aspired to sit on. BC MLA, Jenny Kwan is taking a public flogging just for having been married to one of these guys. She dared to be the spouse that was included in family trips that, unbeknownst to her, had been charged to the Nonprofit.
And she voluntarily paid the money back once the audit found out that her husband had fraudulently billed the money.
A Prada sport coat starts at $2500. Big business is the Prada set. Jenny Kwan’s $35,000 is really not much money in that world. This is the world that the PHS execs saw and wanted to be a part of – felt they were entitled to be a part of.
I don’t know Kwan. It could well be that she is a terrible, terrible person – a self interested Machiavellian who eats kittens for breakfast and drinks the milkshake of suckers like me. If there were a shred of evidence, I’d be asking for her head too.