'If you went out and bought a new minivan and it was going to cost you $20,000, you wouldn't calculate the gas, the washer fluid, the oil and give yourself a salary to drive it for the next 15 to 20 years," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said recently, attempting to explain the government's failure to reveal the full estimated cost of 65 F-35 fighter jets to be $25-billion, not the $14.7-billion figure previously claimed.
Not so fast, Mr. MacKay. Here are some of the situations in which I would stop to calculate exactly those kinds of things:
1. If it were the specific job I was hired to do: For example, say I was asked by the Speaker of the House, more than a year ago, to hand over "all documents that outline acquisition costs, life cycle costs and operational requirements associated with those snappy new minivans you've been telling everyone you're buying" – much as the government was told to do on the F-35s.
This wouldn't be like the time I worked at the Pita Pocket and no one would tell me whether I should cut the pita open before I toasted it or after (and I had culinary reservations about toasting a pita in the first place). I think, when it comes to clear job expectations and correct procedure, Mr. MacKay has it easy.
2. If the minivan weren't for me at all and weren't being bought with my money. I assure you, if the vehicle in question were being bought by me, for me, it likely wouldn't be a minivan. Not even if the salesman called it a "Fifth Generation Dodge Caravan" and whispered softly that it had Corinthian leather.
3. If the minivan cost 15 billion dollars. Or more. (It's not easy to tell with these particular metaphorical minivans.) At least we know for sure that the figures on this purchase have amazing stealth capability. Still, the second I hear a large figure of money mentioned, the words "maintenance" and "insurance" pop into my head – as any homeowner will tell you, nothing drains the poetry from the soul like purchasing a big-ticket item.
4. If the minivan might not fit in the garage, but I did not want to look at other minivans! Then I would chatter on about mileage, maybe twirl about a bit, just to distract people.
5. If the people who hired me to buy them a minivan were working with a finite budget and asked me to follow the written procedure they use in these situations. Supposing they said to me, "Please determine for us as best as possible the true cost of minivan ownership. Not the price, but the cost. Do it the way you promised you would, after that kerfuffle with those Cyclone and Chinook helicopters you picked up for us a few years back." I would do that. Because I wouldn't want to be fired, which is eventually (okay, after only four hours) what happened at the Pita Pocket.
6. If I'd built my reputation on the promise that I'm really good with money and people trusted that while they might disagree with me on certain social issues, and they might not like me all much personally, they knew I would watch every nickel. Then I would tell everyone how much I anticipated spending on washer fluid. All the time. At the few parties to which I was invited.
7. If I were Minister of Defence and the minivans were fighter jets. Which is a stretch because I'm just a writer (formerly employed in the flatbread sector of the restaurant industry) and the only thing that minivans and F-35s have in common is that they are both single-engine. Which isn't a bad thing in a minivan, provided one doesn't plan to use it to defend Arctic airspace but only for tactical strikes against peewee hockey teams and sneaky trips to the grocery store.
8. If I'd said I would.
9. If I'd said I had. And I had! I'd just kept the higher number in a separate drawer!
10. If I wanted to know that, even if I did lose my job, I could always answer questions such as, "Why did you choose this particular multiperson vehicle?" "Why is there no money for anything else any more?" or "Why are you crying in the dry cleaners next to the Pita Pocket?" by saying, "I asked all the right questions. I provided all the information I could. I am accountable."