© Guardian photo
Agriculture Minister George Webster
No matter how hard I try, $1 million doesn’t mean much to me.
Don’t get me wrong. Having that kind of money land in my pocket would be entirely welcome. And I’m not saying money doesn’t mean anything.
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better,” said that deep-thinking philosopher Sophie Tucker.
“Money may not buy you happiness, but it can make life a whole lot more comfortable,” a long-time newspaper owner once told me.
Hard to argue with either of them. But it’s just this side of impossible for me to really understand a million of anything, be it people or money. The number is too large. And the larger the number, the more I nod wisely while not really finding a way to create a mental picture in my head.
I’m not alone.
Go to a school board meeting, where they still have school board meetings. Or try a municipal council meeting. First, chances are you’ll be the only visitor in the room. Second, the longest debates will be over things like the cost of four new tires for the bus or police car.
The $1 million for revamping the whatcha-ma-call-it? It’s likely to be a two-minute ho-hummer. Why? They can’t really understand big numbers either.
Enter P.E.I. Agriculture Minister George Webster. Yes, he of the $37.88 U.S. hotel room movie.
The official opposition had a field day rolling the minister over the coals of public opinion because they’d uncovered a receipt showing the desperately pricey movie was billed to his room in Texas.
Finally! Something we can wrap our heads around.
We’re $2 billion in the hole and sinking fast? Or is it $3 billion? The interest payment alone are north of $100 million, making it one of the larger expenses on the government spreadsheet each year?
Gee, that’s awful. I guess. Million, billion — either way it’s a lot and it sounds really bad. We better make sure our politicians do something about that.
But really, who orders a movie in their hotel room and pays $37.88 — American — for it? That we can understand.
“Must have been all three Godfather movies,” was one crack. “Must have been quite the movie,” was another, followed by a knowing look that suggests perhaps it’s not the kind of movie you’d like your wife — worse, your mother — to find you watching.
It was the perfect bit of political fodder. Easy to understand. Easy to criticize.
Either you ordered it, or you didn’t. If you didn’t, how did you not notice it on your bill when you were checking out? You didn’t check the bill? Must be nice, spending our hard-earned dollars in such a careless fashion. I always check my bill when I leave a hotel, when I can afford to stay in one.
You get the idea.
Certainly, the minister got it. Quickly.
“Maybe I came in and sat on the remote, I don’t know, doing book work,” he said by way of an explanation.
Eyes rolled. Must be quite the talented TV remote.
“I did not watch a movie. I don’t watch movies. I very rarely go to a movie on Prince Edward Island, Madame Speaker. So if that happened, the charge is on your room, what can you do about it? The only thing I could do about it was pay it personally.”
Yep. Beat a hasty retreat. Always the best policy.
Oh, and all that money we owe, the billions and billions? We can take a look at that problem another day.
After all, there’s still that $16 another minister spent to get a room on a higher floor.
Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.