Budget aftermath: Planes, pompadours

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Sun Media, Friday, March 12, 2010

And now for the question on the minds of all Canadians: Where did Jim Flaherty get that pompadour hairstyle for last week’s budget?

Sitting in the boardroom of his Parliament Hill office the other day for a budget Q&A with Policy Options magazine, Flaherty had a LOL moment.

“One of my colleagues, who’s a woman cabinet minister, said to me in the House, ‘Now you know what it’s like, Jim, about women and their hair,’ ” he said.

The hairdresser did it. Stefania Capovilla, hairstylist to the stars in Ottawa, recommended a new look. Thus, a new budget tradition was born. New shoes, new hair.

Stefania’s other clients include Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and several other members of cabinet, many of whom turned out for Wednesday night’s Politics and the Pen black tie gala benefiting the Writers’ Trust, one of the authentic highlights of the Ottawa social season.

Flaherty’s swept up pompadour didn’t last out the day after the budget speech when he resumed his customary flathead look for a series of television interviews.

One of them was with CTV’s Canada AM at seven the next morning from London, Ont., where he had flown on budget night to do media interviews from a Tim Hortons and a midday speech.

Flaherty’s travel arrangements became news last weekend when CTV broke the story that he had flown to London on a government jet rather than going commercial at a cost of $800.

As it turned out, one reason Flaherty used a government plane was so he could be up in time to do an interview with, uh, CTV, which initially reported he had commandeered a Challenger at a cost of $9,000, much more than the Cessna Citation he actually flew on at a cost of $3,100. Oh, and because he was doing 11 radio and five TV interviews in the morning, three staffers were along. So their equivalent commercial costs of $2,400 meant Flaherty was actually saving $100.

Red-eye to T.O.

Canada is major league country, it only acts bush league.

The finance minister of a G7 country, on tour to sell a $280-billion budget, should be using a government plane. Anything less, when commercial flights don’t fit his schedule, is not a good use of his time.

For example, after meeting provincial finance ministers on pension reform in the Yukon in December, Flaherty boarded a commercial flight to Vancouver, and then took the red-eye to Toronto. What purpose did that serve, other than depriving the media of an easy drive-by shooting?

The media have been doing this since the adoption of Access to Information legislation three decades ago. And so have the opposition of the day, especially the Conservatives when they were in opposition.

“It’s a classic, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’” said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

The NDP’s Tom Mulcair was typically shocked and appalled.

“A chartered plane for a photo op at Tim Hortons,” he fumed, “and this — wait for it — to teach us a lesson about controlling government spending.”

One thousand dollars for doorknobs, that’s different.

The PM’s own department, the Privy Council, growing its budget by $13 million in spite of a spending freeze, that’s a legit story. Ministers using government planes? That’s what they’re there for.

Only in Canada, you say? Pity.

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