"Foreign service? Worst. Job. Evar."

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Sorry, but I’m not buying what they’re selling: http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/07/05/its-a-mess-effects-of-ongoing-strike-by-canadian-diplomats-widely-felt-and-very-costly/

I’ve lived overseas. I get that it’s not all glamour and excitement, that even the exotic becomes mundane, even a pain in the butt, after a while. But the public who pay you, some of whom work minimum wage jobs in the same town in which they were born, aren’t going to think you’re hard done by pursuing a career that will take you around the world and provide you with a steady, decent pay cheque.

There’s also supply and demand at work here. A massive number of people want the job these striking civil servants are doing. That’s because, right or wrong, it’s perceived as a sweet gig. Lots of qualified people would do their job for less than they’re currently paid. From an employer’s perspective, if you don’t want to do the job for what I pay you, why shouldn’t I give it to one of the 99 people waiting in line for your single position?

I don’t think it’s just perceived as a sweet gig – I think, for the right person, it IS a sweet gig. Look, if your goal is amassing a fortune by your 40th birthday, the foreign service won’t do it. But if you’re intrigued by foreign cultures, want to live a cosmopolitan lifestyle, hope to occasionally tackle interesting dilemmas and aspire to moving in powerful circles, the foreign service would be great. It just won’t make you rich.

Still not convinced? Read this: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/diplomats-union-threatens-strike-over-pay-equity/article10748196/

You see what the union president is doing? He’s taking what most of us perceive as a perk of the job – a reason you would take it even if it paid less than other government jobs – and casting it in an entirely negative light: “Our families must regularly move homes, our children must constantly change schools, our spouses must quit their jobs, we risk our safety and health in hazardous environments, and we miss countless birthdays and other special moments with friends and family while living for months or years at a time in war zones and disaster areas.”

With that glass-always-half-empty description of working abroad, it’s a wonder any of his members ever sought the job in the first place.

Living abroad isn’t a perk his members get, it’s an onerous burden, he says. Rather than being paid less because the job comes with overseas travel perks and tons of people would give anything for the overseas opportunities they get, they should be paid more (according to him) for this apparently ghastly experience.

Let’s broaden the conversation a little. My criticisms of the Harper government are many and don’t need repeating here. Suffice it to say, I take issue with austerity rhetoric from a government that continues to spend big. But one thing is very clear to me: the civil service will need to be tackled and the fight will be ugly.

Some government will need to take on the sense of entitlement that pervades our truly enormous bureaucracy. Leading by example would be a good first start, and Harper having a giant new cabinet – with every one of them getting a pay hike – isn’t a great example of leading by example.

So, integrity is vital. A government that wants to shrink the civil service drastically needs to first show austerity in its own perks and consistency in its commitment to small government. Hypocrisy is poison to the fight.

But let’s imagine a hypothetical government that actually does what it says it will do, is transparent and open about its commitment to spending radically less, and takes away its own gravy first.

That government will still face a monumental but necessary fight to reclaim this country.

We hear a lot of rhetoric about what civil servants deserve. Sometimes they say they deserve parity with this or that other civil servant or union. Determining what people truly deserve is an endless pursuit, perhaps impossible.

Did you deserve to be born in Canada instead of Sudan? Did you deserve to make $40 an hour assembling cars, when a person in Korea’s life can improve enormously getting a job making cars for less than half that amount?

I will agree that people who work hard and do a good job “deserve” opportunities (actually, I tend to think they create opportunities – opportunities aren’t handed out by a court that judges worthiness) but if your definition of opportunities includes a lofty income, don’t expect that to be handed to you in a government position. Government jobs will, and should be, a reflection of the general experience of Canadians, and medians generated from populations numbering millions will always be modest.

Set ‘deserve’ aside. Here’s what we do know. We know our taxes are high. They could be higher, of course. We could give 99-per cent of our wages to the government, for that matter, although it baffles me the way socialists think justice will be found by giving corrupt governments even more cash.

But taxes are already high. We’ve tried high taxes. Yet governments are in debt, in some cases dangerous levels of debt. And they struggle to make ends meet. We have a healthcare crisis looming as the population ages, and expenses everywhere seem to go up far faster than inflation.

Instead of ‘deserve’, let’s consider math, as in 2+2 = 4.

The numbers aren’t adding up, folks. We’re spending too fast, and increasing the wages of civil servants is the opposite of what will fix that.

If civil servants want parity, maybe the problem isn’t that foreign service workers are underpaid, maybe others are overpaid. And maybe a wide swath of the government workforce needs “parity” in the form of unemployment.

The civil service will fight back against any attempt to curb its appetite. But the attempt must be made, and citizens must be prepared to accept disruption and unrest in the attempt.

I wouldn’t be at all opposed to Tony Clement firing the entire union then filling those positions with one of the 99 people who actually want the job.

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