Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Statistically significant

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“Be careful what you wish for.” That’s either an old Chinese proverb — aren’t they all — or something Shakespeare or Mark Twain wrote. Or maybe someone else; it’s not really important. But the use of quotation marks means it’s something I didn’t just make up, meaning it’s way more important than anything I might make up. Or not.

That thought was running through my mind though when I read Joan McIntyre’s bob-and-weave recommendation about the tidy new compensation package she just got for doing her elected job as our loco MLA. For those of you who don’t know Joan, she’s a very nice, very capable woman with a business background in shaping, er, polling public opinion. We elected her to represent us in Victoria last time around because our former mayor, the very honourable if terribly misquoted Teddy Nebbeling stepped down to run for the job of our current mayor, a task he was ultimately unsuccessful at. Victoria, for those of you who don’t know, is where the provincial — that’s British Columbia — government governs. So to put it more simply, Joan is a provincial politician who represents us in Gordon Campbell’s government.

If this all seems too basic, pat yourself on the back. You may be one of the 1.2 per cent of British Columbians who either know or care, quite possibly not both, anything at all about who MLAs are or what they do and how they do it. That’s one of the nuggets of wisdom and rationale in last month’s report crafted by the Independent Commission to Review MLA Compensation.

When 601 “adults” around our fair province were asked, “How many MLAs do you think are in the B.C. Legislature?” only 1.2 per cent got the answer right: 79. This is a troubling statistic. It’s not at all troubling that almost no one surveyed got the right answer. Quite frankly, I’m not certain why anyone knows or cares how many MLAs there are in British Columbia. And perhaps a more revealing question might have been, “How many MLAs do you think it takes to change a light bulb?” If not more revealing, it certainly would have been more entertaining to read the responses to that one, eh?

No, what’s really troubling about 1.2 per cent of 601 people getting the right answer is this: 1.2 per cent of 601 is 7.21! Somewhere in British Columbia there is less than a quarter of a person who got the right answer. Chew on that while I sprinkle another quote into this lowbrow effort at humour.

This highly suspect anomaly clearly brings to mind the wisdom of Mark Twain — unless it was Shakespeare or some old Chinese — who said, “There are lies, damned lies and then, there are statistics.” Or words to that effect. I’ve seen a lot of freaks in my time, and dated a few, but I’ve never seen anyone who came up so short of being a whole person.

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