In an interview, Mr. Shurman said he bought the house in Niagara becasue he needs somewhere to retire. Asked why he decided to use it to charge the government for expenses, Mr. Shurman said he could not pay for two residences without assistance.
"Frankly, on the basis of... how we're paid at the legislature, I can't afford two houses," he said in an interview. "I make $112,500 a year. Some people think that's a lot of money. To do what I have to do, or any MPP has to do, it's not very much at all."
Where to begin?
I should probably start by saying that I rather like Peter Shurman - he's tough-minded but generally fair. Despite the fact that we're on opposite sides of the political fence and I'm really of no value to him, he has on more than one occasion dedicated some of his time to communicating with me over a couple of issues. He really is a dedicated constituency man, though he's equally good at being a partisan shill (part of the "what any MPP has to do" he refers to).
It also occurs to me that, as chatter grows about a race to replace Tim Hudak as leader, Shurman is a name that has periodically come up; he's a solid public speaker with a booming voice and, as indicated by my affection, could probably be presented as a more appealing face for non-traditional Conservative votes. I wouldn't be surprised if the surfacing of this story is connected to someone trying to mitigate his threat as a leadership rival down the road.
With that out of the way - why on earth should the public be subsidizing a retirement home for an MPP? Isn't that what sound financial planning is for? Shurman's energetic, to be sure, but he's not a young man. The MPP gig is not his first career, either. Has he not been planning for retirement his whole professional career, buying RRSPs and whatnot? He should have planned for retirement self-sustainability; that's what Conservatives are telling everyone else to do.
What about "live within your means?" I can't afford a retirement home; I can't even afford annual overseas vacations. So, I don't take them. For a growing number of people across Ontario, the focus is on second-hand cars, smaller homes, cheaper products and fewer perks, which is exactly how the Tories would have it. It's ludicrous for a Conservative MPP to be complaining about what their salary doesn't let them cover - if he needs more money, he should take on a second job, or a third job, like so many other Ontarians do. Selling Avon or cleaning parks provide no conflict of interest with his political employment. Or maybe he should get out of politics for a job that pays more adequately for the sort of lifestyle he wants for himself and his wife; there's good money in consulting and lord knows, GR firms always find rooms for well-connected former politicians.
Me, I'm a liberal - I think our economic system is out of whack and I agree with Shurman that what MPPs make isn't that much in the grand scheme of things. I think it's problematic to expect so many other Ontarians, especially young ones, to work more jobs for less to make ends meet. I have a real problem with expecting youth to "cut their teeth" on unpaid internships to earn the right to make money. That's a cop-out by the people pulling in millions every year and investing those dollars in second homes in Barbados. Somehow, something's gotta give.
Unemployment and underemployment is a severe problem in Ontario's economy, one that the sorts of policy ideas being fronted by the Hudak Tories (including Shurman) simply aren't going to fix. The current Liberal slate of policies aren't fully up to the task, either. What's needed to solve this deepening crisis is some genuine debate, compromise and creative, shared solutions.
Shurman's idea of an Ontario-based Kickstarter is an example of the sorts of ideas we should be looking at. If our politicians spent more time working collaboratively on defining solutions instead of attempting to pull the rug out from under each other (both across the aisle and within their own Party) we'd probably see more such innovative ideas - heck, they might even come to fruition.
I have some sympathy for Shurman; it's hard not to, he's a likable kind of guy. I have a lot more sympathy for the many, many Ontarians who don't have the luxury of dipping into publicly-funded allowances to finance their dream lifestyle. This is the kind of thing that drives them bonkers and leads to declarations that "all politicians are the same" - entitled to their entitlements, which are paid for by us.
On the odd chance that Shurman is mulling a leadership run, I would recommend that he balance the cognitive dissonance of his position; either people are entitled to public support for quality-of-life or they aren't. The only way to truly demonstrate one's leadership potential is to practice what you preach - i.e. lead by example.