My boss at a former job, who was in his late 50s, spent a great deal of his leisure time drinking alcohol. Every single day after work he’d go out for beers and he had a belly like a bowling ball to show for it. It soon became apparent that if you wanted to get ahead, you had to go drinking with him. When a posting came up for the position of supervisor, a woman doing an excellent job who didn’t go drinking was passed over. Instead, the lazy, pandering guy who often got drunk with the boss was given the promotion. I’m sure many people have similar stories to tell.
That event took place in the 1970s and was an egregious example of the boys club functioning at its worst. It’s what I have come to call cocktail diplomacy. People were very open and naive about drinking back then. Booze was celebrated and encouraged at every level of society, so it’s no wonder it was commonplace in workplaces, in government, in business dealing of all kinds.
But those days are over. My old boss probably couldn’t get away with that behaviour now; he’d be called out for promoting mediocrity and most likely he’d be fired. Furthermore, after decades of alcoholism, most people are now pretty knowledgeable about the many problems associated with the disease. We all know that alcoholism is about dysfunction; excessive drinking is used to cover up the pain of emotional wounds. Heavy drinkers tend to make poor decisions. They are usually co-dependent. Alcoholics cost society a tremendous amount of money. Alcoholism runs in troubled families. And so on.
With this in mind, I was struck by something I read a few weeks ago in this newspaper’s Council Briefs. It was reported that Council had amended its Travel Expense Policy to “allow council members or staff to purchase alcoholic beverages on occasions when they are hosting or entertaining members of other levels of government or the public, or holding meetings during meal hours when representing or promoting the District.”
Reading this caused me some alarm. I pictured a group of people seated around a couple of tables in a lounge or bar somewhere, the yukyuk factor way up, tables laden with drinks, and my tax dollars footing the bill. And I thought about the wording “during meal hours” and figured this could include the meal at lunch hour. That gave me pause, too. Why would an elected official be drinking during the lunch hour?
So I placed a couple of calls to the municipality. I’ve never done this before so I was a bit apprehensive. I didn’t want to make waves and I wondered about the kind of reception I might receive. But I wanted to know how far this policy goes, how often it’s been used, and if there’s a ceiling to the amount that could be spent.
Let me say that I spoke with two people and both were professional and informative. The first person told me the new drinking policy would allow council members or staff to buy rounds of drinks. The second person informed me that so far nobody has used this particular perk, but that if receipts for alcohol were submitted, no doubt there would be taxpayer scrutiny. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be.
Now I’m not suggesting that there are alcoholics on council, or that there would be fiscal irresponsibility. And I must confess that I myself drink. So I’m not preaching. I appreciate the wonderful effects of mild intoxication, the gentle mind-altering effects which make me feel elevated, expansive and a bit freer in spirit. Nothing wrong with that. Moderation is key.
But not while you’re working. And drinking on the taxpayers’ dime is no longer acceptable, even more so since the District of Lillooet has some distinct financial challenges. As a society we have turned a corner in our collective ideas about booze. It’s not the 1970s, the boys club is being replaced with more progressive, harmonious and inclusive models of organization. Cocktail diplomacy is definitely not cool.
A fundamental sea change in public attitude has occurred and people who don’t understand this, especially elected officials, are woefully out of step. I totally disagree with alcohol being paid for by the taxpayers. Good working relationships of all kinds need to be forged on clear thinking, healthy attitudes and honourable conduct.