Morally right or wrong, it doesn't look good - Denny Scott editorial
Originally, I had set out, in this space, to espouse the important messages that Christmas movies always spread this time of year: love yourself, love your neighbour, love mankind, peace, blessings and, of course, don’t stick your tongue to a metal pole in the winter. Unfortunately for those looking for a reprieve from my traditionally dour tone, I stumbled across a couple issues last week that just made me wonder how people can be so tone deaf.
Take, for example, the Mansfield Private Ski Club which, due to an influx of new customers and the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS), was able to post a huge surplus and upgrade its snow-making system.
The private, not-for-profit club, which costs $15,000 to join and $10,000 per year in dues, posted an $815,000 surplus this year after receiving $563,371 through the subsidy. For those keeping track, the previous fiscal year, the club posted a $52,000 profit. Reports indicate the club brought in $492,000 in those $15,000 initiation fees, which was reported as the club’s “best new member year in several decades.”
According to club information, the wage subsidy and high level of initiation fees is enabling the replacement of a 50-year-old snow-making system.
If you’re doing the math, you may realize that the club easily brought in enough to cover what the subsidy gave. However, according to the CBC, there’s no evidence that the club broke any rules of the CEWS program. I am going to wag a finger at the club, but not for the obvious fact that it didn’t need taxpayer money to make ends meet this year (and even in the club’s own announcements, the owners had planned on replacing the equipment next year, so they obviously weren’t in danger of shutting down), nor am I going to wag a finger at the government for this system coming into being.
No, the finger-wagging here is at the club because this is maybe the worst time to make an announcement like that.
When I said above that the club said the CEWS helped to fund the upgrade, that wasn’t paraphrasing. The CBC reported that club treasurer Gary Walters wrote the following in a report to members earlier this year: "This season's solid financial position (primarily driven by the wage subsidy and high level of initiation fees) has made essential capital work possible and also provided us with the funds to replace our 50-year-old snow-making compressors, a year earlier than planned.”
Ignoring what I would anticipate is a pretty class-based system (I mean, having enough disposable income needed to pay $15,000 to be a member of, and $10,000 to access the club certainly would be difficult for the middle class), the fact that many people were without work or were living on assistance over the pandemic just makes this kind of government-sponsored expenditure look bad.
The club’s representatives could have done it quietly, or say that the higher-than-expected profits put the savings necessary over the top, instead of flat-out saying the wage subsidy is responsible for the upgraded snow machine. It speaks to a level of disconnect with the rest of the country that is morally wrong, if there wasn’t something legally wrong about posting those kinds of profits on top of the CEWS. It just looks bad, right?
Next, we turn to the federal Conservative Party, which took a pretty odd stance last week. The party’s representatives flat out said that international travel was fine for its members, despite many medical officers of health talking about the importance of staying at home right now.
Again, there may not be anything legally wrong with the claim, but when the Liberal Party and the NDP agree that our MPs should set an example, the best course of action is to follow suit. The second-best course of action would be to shut up about it.
The whole thing is tone deaf on a number of levels. First, it’s ignoring the suggestions of the health units, doctors and scientists trying to lead us out of the pandemic. Second, it speaks to the fact that politics is one of thefew careers that is recession-proof because this conversation is taking place at a time in which some people are struggling to give their family a Christmas, let alone travel internationally, due to the pandemic. Finally, it shows that, despite all the best intentions of the party’s leader Erin O’Toole to seem a bit more moderate than his predecessors, the party itself still wants to be a fringe party.
To paraphrase the words of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, just because you’re not in the wrong doesn’t mean you’re in the right.