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The cheek of Jim Flaherty … expensing his Maybelline while preaching austerity!

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Jim Flaherty

Who would have thought that when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he was going to powder his nose … he was! (Ba-Bam!)

OK. That's already enough. Get the drummer off the stage right now! You get the idea.

But seriously … and I mean that, people, seriously … beyond the obvious hilarity of Canada's hard-ass Finance Minister (the tough guy who's promised to stick around till the deficit dragon is slain one copper penny at a time no matter how many civil servants have to lose their jobs) getting busted for expensing his Cover Girl and his Maybelline, there's a quality of cognitive dissonance to this story.

Leastways, there is out here in Alberta, where the local franchise of Prime Minster Stephen Harper's Wildrose/Conservative Party of Canada, in whose service Flaherty toils, is trying to pass off expenses by public officials as evidence of "corruption" in a Progressive Conservative government that's not as far to the right as they'd like.

Meanwhile, back in Ottawa, the same actors (these types are pretty interchangeable, after all) are pleading the "Rob Ford Defence" and arguing that since the cost of Flaherty's foundation and blush were slight, the offence ought not to matter.

That's not the way it works with principles, alas for them, and the principle in this case is that another richly rewarded Conservative ought not to be taking advantage of his position to get the public to pay for something the rest of us would assume we had to buy ourselves. (I say the "rest of us" advisedly, because, heaven knows, my balding pate reflects the lights alarmingly on those rare occasions I am asked to appear on TV, so I could probably use a tub of Smashbox myself to tone things down a bit.)

I mean, really, the unblushing cheek of these generously compensated right-wing types, expensing their makeup and muffins, their parking and Perrier, not to mention plenty of high-cost items like orange juice and helicopter rides, while they preach at people who live from paycheque to paycheque about the need for austerity and restraint.

The double-thinking Wildrose/Conservatives who recite these contradictory talking points say this little tempest in a compact is meaningless and will go away quickly because the expense in question was so small. It's said here, however, that it won't, for the same reason former Harper cabinet minister Bev Oda's notorious $16 glass of orange juice sticks in the memory like a fishhook: its outrageous novelty.

If a glass of juice so expensive most ordinary Canadians would never even consider it seemed scandalous to those of us who buy our beverages at Tim Horton's with our pocket change, the incongruity of the hard-assed Finance Minister squeezing the fiscal pips until they squeak one minute and powdering his nose with a nice blush the next is certain to remain cemented in the public memory.

This effect is made more intense, it seems to me, by Flaherty's more-than-passing but surely completely coincidental resemblance to J. Edgar Hoover, the late director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation who brought new implications to the hitherto innocent phrase "Little Black Dress."

Unlike Oda, of course, the Prime Minister and his echo chamber of neoconservative commentators and their enraged chorus of adolescent online supporters will work harder to dismiss the criticism of Flaherty, as he is a key part of their team of recycled Mike Harris and Ralph Klein era dead-enders.

But Flaherty -- whatever it was he was trying to cover up, just the shine on his nose or his increasingly unhealthy pallor -- is going to go down in Canadian history as the guy who got caught with his hand in the … moisturizer jar.

The finance minister can take some comfort from the knowledge makeup for men is nowadays de rigueur in Korea, the home of such manly pursuits as Tae Kwon Do and rogue atomic bomb development. But here in Canada, I'm afraid, there's just no way he can avoid a loss of face. (Ba-BOOM!)

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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