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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


Ed Broadbent on splitting the bill Add to ...

Ed Broadbent was leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1975 to 1989 and director of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development from 1990 to 1996.

In group dining situations, do you split the bill or ask for separate cheques?

I’m a social democrat. We just divide the bill up by the number of people who are there.

Some people dislike that. People close with their money. Do you have short arms and deep pockets?

Short arms and deep pockets?

It’s a euphemism. Are you cheap?

I don’t think so. I’m neither cheap nor altruistic when it comes to paying bills in a restaurant with friends or acquaintances. If you are going out socially, you shouldn’t quibble if someone has eaten a bit more or eaten something that was a bit more expensive than what you had. To me, it’s counterproductive to a social occasion to get into that sort of thing.

What if it’s not a “close friends” social occasion? Say it’s a lunch with business colleagues or associates. Does that change the dynamics?

Well, if it is genuinely colleagues – for example, if I were back in my caucus or with academics at the university, the same thing basically would hold. If you are going out and it is entirely business, if you are meeting to talk over something and that person is not a personal acquaintance, then the general rule I would apply is that we would each pay our own bill.

In a recent study of bill splitting, it was discovered that about a third of diners leave the table unhappy at paying more than they see as their fair share. If you were in a situation where a colleague had a more expensive meal, appetizers and drinks and they paid the same as you, would you be miffed, or just suck it up?

Oh no. To use your phrase, I’d suck it up and pay. It is a mug’s game to judge people anyway, but if it became self-evident in the course of the meal that this person – particularly if he or she was known to be cheap already – ate or drank an excessive amount then, yeah, I’d be resentful. But I’d want to be sure if I were making that judgment.

Apparently, two out of three diners in these situations are loathe to speak up or make a fuss. They grit their teeth and pay in silence more than they think they should. Would you be among them?

Who knows? It would vary with the personality. I don’t know many people who would do that to me.

You are a respected éminence grise in Canadian politics. Could you get way with carrying no money at all? Like the Queen?

No, I carry my credit cards all the time.

In group dining situations, when the bill comes, we have all encountered people who are either clueless about what they really owe or are willing to take advantage of everyone else at the table.

I know some people like that. When someone says, “Let’s just split the bill equally,” they hesitate. But they normally go along with it.

What’s that hesitation for?

I think they’re cheap. They do some calculation that there may be one in the group had more than they had and is going to come out ahead or they are resentful that they are going to pay marginally more than if they split the bill up on an individual basis.

What’s the breaking point? How much can you be taken advantage of before you would say, “Whoa! This isn’t fair. Kick in there, cheapskate”?

If it’s with a friend, I can’t think of a breaking point. I can’t think of a friend who would do that unless, for some reason, he or she was depressed or in a celebratory mood. In either case, I wouldn’t object. I have some friends who would prefer to pay individual bills as a rule.

Do you take that as a slight?

No. I can tell you, my former wife Lucille, who is dead now, always thought it should be individual bills. She was the most generous person I ever knew. She tended to want individual bills because she thought we would be getting an advantage off someone else.

I have a daughter who has waitressed and she tells me wait staff hate making separate cheques.

I was going to mention that. It’s a pain in the butt for a waitress or waiter to do individual bills, too. My normal practice is to divide it up equally and agree what percentage the tip should be and then that goes on.

Are you better at the politics of these potentially touchy human interactions – animosities engendered and grudges borne – because of your long political experience?

I doubt it. Politicians, if they bear grudges at all, are marginally less likely to bear grudges than most people. They’re used to dealing with conflicts and differences.

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