Maxed Out 

Liberal spending: world class and school class

By G.D. Maxwell

Some days you just can’t believe your luck. A lot of those days, unfortunately, the luck you can’t believe is bad. But when it’s good luck, really good luck, those are days to savour.

So it was the morning I found half a buck walking down the street to catch the school bus. It was a very long time ago and half a buck was two weeks allowance, a veritable fortune for a nine year old to find laying on the ground. Pocketing the scuffed fifty-cent piece with paranoid nonchalance – which is to say looking around like crazy half expecting to be pounced on for taking it – my mind raced through the possibilities. My discretionary funds world revolving pretty much around comics and candy, it wasn’t much of a race.

But then, clarity. It was like the plan revealed itself to me in a single burst of mischievous creativity instead of slowly falling into place.

I dashed into the Sinclair gas station across the street from the bus stop and excitedly told Cecil I wanted 50 pieces of bubblegum. As luck would have it, the gas station just happened to have the best bubblegum available on the market. Soft, succulent, with an almost subliminal underflavour of banana – none of that rock-hard Bazooka Joe, National Association of Dentists and Candymakers crap – the gas station’s bubblegum was what we liked to call a good chew.

Fifty pieces was just about a whole box and Cecil – named after the dinosaur that was Sinclair Gas’ mascot – being both accommodating and up to his elbows in a grease job, said "Take the box." No can do, the box would be a dead giveaway. So counting out 50 pieces, I crammed 24 into each of my front pockets and two in my mouth and rushed back across the street as the bus pulled up.

My pockets were so full of bubble gum I couldn’t sit down without cutting the circulation off to both legs. John Wallace, the school bully and a good friend – me being a wannabe bully – demanded his tithe. He settled for one piece after I shared the plan with him. He was devious enough to recognize brilliance when he heard it.

When we got to school, I emptied my pockets into my desk when the teacher was distracted by 30 kids invading her world and waited for the day to unfold. Mrs. Johnston was the kind of teacher we should all have been lucky enough to get at one time. An archetype, she was prim, bunned, and as strict as they come. She was also a brilliant teacher who intuitively understood how to motivate each of her charges and get the best they had to offer. Scrupulously fair too, I suspected.

But chewing gum in class pushed her button. She made a production of forcing the miscreant who transgressed this rule to walk from his – rarely her – desk to the trashcan in the class’ front corner, spit his gum into it and take the long walk back to his desk in infamy. At which point she’d ladle out her favourite punishment, a page, or two, of dictionary.

This particular torture involved copying a page of dictionary. Every word, every punctuation mark, every everything. She was smart enough to let the evildoer pick the page and most of us read enough of the dictionary to discover which pages were light, which was, I suspect, her agenda. By the end of the fourth grade, my dictionary debt to Mrs. Johnston ran into double digits. She passed me anyway.

The day was one of those early lessons in relativity. It took forever for afternoon recess to roll around. When we came in, thirty sweaty kids took their seats. One was chewing gum.

"Mr. Maxwell. Are you chewing gum?" Ooh baby, the moment I’d been waiting for.

"Yes," said in a diminutive voice. Mrs. Johnston was nothing if not consistent. I knew what was coming next.

"Did you bring some for everyone?" Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, eh Ralph.

The first twinge of fear struck. This could put her over the edge. I lifted my desktop, grabbed a double handful of bubblegum and let the lid fall of its own weight. "Well whaddya know. I did."

"Pass it out then," she said, not missing a beat.

The moment was complete. Not so much an act of defiance, I’d pulled off a wily coup of mythological proportions. The class contentedly chewed gum the rest of the day; I basked in transient glory and felt a little smug about outwitting Mrs. Johnston.

It probably took the better part of the next two days to figure out she was on to me the whole time. But she was a smart enough teacher to let me have my moment of glory and even think I’d outsmarted her.

I was thinking about that incident specifically, and all the other money I’d frittered away in the years since, the other day while wondering what I might do with a billion dollars. Specifically the billion the federal Liberals have pissed away on their firearms registration boondoggle. A billion bucks. The number itself is almost incomprehensible. A thousand, million. 1,000,000,000.

With a billion dollars, for example, about half the population of Canada could buy a lift ticket at Whistler Mountain. Big Joe would like that. Probably get his million and a half bogus, er, bonus if that happened.

A billion dollars would build over 7,000 nice, small homes in the city some people seem to want to build in the Callaghan.

Course, it wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of an Olympics.

If there are really something like seven million firearms in Canada, it’s already costing nearly a hundred-and-fifty bucks to register each one. Except well under half have been registered, partly because gun owners are being understandably ornery about registering, partly because the bureaucrats have so bungled the process.

I don’t know if a firearms registration is worth a billion bucks. I’m not convinced the threat from guns stem from the number of guns around so much as the mindset of the people who have or gain access to them. I think Canada is a less violent country than my home and native land, the USofA, not because we have fewer guns but because we have a social fabric more collective in nature, more nurturing at the margins and more compassionate in its overwhelming desire to be inclusive.

And I think governments that piss away big sums of money on vainglorious projects undermine that social fabric in a more direct way than all the TEC 9s out there.

But’cha gotta hand it to the Libs. Blowing a billion bucks and keeping it a secret is no small trick. That’s world class.

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