Pulse of Canada: Should politicians fly first class?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada

Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackle the same question.

This week we asked:

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter is under fire for flying first class in two recent trade trips to China. Is it acceptable for high-ranking politicians to fly first class?

Thomas Bink: This one's easy. Of course Dexter shouldn't be flying first class on the taxpayers' dime. We're paying the salaries, expenses and yes, for every $16 glass of orange juice our politicians consume, and not only should they be accountable, but they should endeavour to be as economical as possible. Nova Scotia's asked its citizens to accept cuts in education and health care. What's good for the gander is good for the goose: Dexter should have made a statement by flying economy in a time of budget cuts and belt-tightening.

Matthew Coutts: I don't even see it as an option, I see it is a necessity. Anyone who has taken an international flight knows that economy class is worse than being in a cattle car. The seats are too small, people are snoring and shifting around and loud. You fight over those tiny armrests and there is no room to pull out a laptop or unfold a newspaper. Pay the extra cash and let the premier stretch out. It's a long flight, and I'd be more upset if he didn't get some work done on the way to China. Not to get too regional, but Toronto Mayor Rob Ford refuses to pay for a driver and as a result he drives through traffic with a stack of paperwork on his chest. Penny-pinching is great, but common sense has value as well.

Andy Radia: I'm kind of on the fence on this one. Is there a middle ground? Was there a Business class on this flight? Look, I understand where Matt is coming from — economy can be uncomfortable and tedious. And I certainly don't think the prime minister or cabinet ministers should be sitting in economy. And premiers — even premiers of smaller provinces — probably shouldn't be either. They should have the option of business class or first class so that they can have some more privacy and can get some some work done. On the other hand, I don't think Senators, MPs, and members of legislatures should be awarded the same perk.

Bink: We seem to forget that politicians are hired by us, work for us and are paid by us. If that's the case, why would a politician — regardless of his status — get to fly in a better class than I do? Look, I know travelling sucks, and Mr. Dexter has important work to do for the province. I'm just saying that if politicians are asking all of us to sacrifice during lean times, then they should do the same. Make the gesture, at least!

Matthew Coutts: If I end up next to Stephen Harper on a flight, I'll be convinced the government is taking the economy seriously. I'll also challenge him to a game of Words with Friends, but that's beside the point. We all know that's never going to happen, and we don't really expect it to. So the question is: Where do we draw the line between the haves and have-nots? Are premiers on the list? Cabinet ministers? Opposition party leaders? Nobody approves of wasting taxpayers' money, especially in a time of austerity. We really have to hope politicians follow their conscience on what spending is justified. If Dexter had so actual work to do on the flight, I say so be it. But if he was catching up on old episodes of Game of Thrones, he can sit in steerage with me.

Radia: Come on guys, do you also want our high-level politicians taking buses instead of taxis or limos now? Should they host foreign leaders at the local Subway restaurant? It's not just about getting work done, it's also about privacy and getting rest. Imagine Harper or Jim Flaherty sitting on a long flight, in economy, next to an angry union boss or a jilted EI recipient just hours before representing Canada at a major summit. Harper, the premiers and cabinet ministers are recognizable figures. By comparison, my back-bencher opposition MP isn't likely going to get recognized anywhere (no offence Mr. Donnelly). Harper — and Dexter in this case — should be flying business or first class. Donnelly shouldn't.

Bink: It's clear we can't come to agreement on this one. But I think we can all agree that Andy just lost his MP as a Twitter follower.

What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments area below.

Pulse of Canada appears each Wednesday and Friday
on Yahoo! Canada News.