Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Political Scandals in Canada: Are they really Scandalous?

A number of scandals have recently revealed the skeletons in the closets of federal, provincial, and municipal offices. On the federal level, the Gomery inquiry has eviscerated the sponsorship scandal, an insidious affair of back-scratching that involved the misuse and misdirection of funds for the promotion of federal Liberal politics in Quebec. The attempt to bring criminal charges against Alfonso Gagliano, the minister who administrated the sponsorship program, might be shunted by Justice Gomery's report itself, as Gagliano's lawyers argue that the public report circumvents his right to a fair, unbiased trial.

The prosecution of public figures, whether celebrities such as Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, or political figures such as Gagliano and more recently Greg Sorbara, Dalton McGuinty's Minister of Finance in the Ontario Government, has sewn a knot in the ideology of equality before the law believed to be integral to Western Democracies (for lack of a better term). The cult of personality involved in celebrity-worship, so encouraged in grocery-store checkout tabloids, makes it extremely difficult for these people to be treated like any John Doe in the eyes of the law. Add to that the income disparity that enables such celebrities and political leaders to hire the best possible lawyers, and this equality evapourates.

Such lawyers have the resources to identify the angles from which to defend their probably ignominious clients, such as the public nature of Gomery's report obliterating Gagliano's chance at a fair trial. The Gomery inquiry was convened to investigate an alleged case of injustice, and yet the result of its machinations might end up protecting him behind a shield of impunity. Members of the cadres that occupy the upper echelon of our society are probably well aware of these thorns in the rose of equality before the law, and they are also probably aware of their dramatically better chances of misbehaving with impunity. Is it any wonder that corruption seems so widespread in these cadres?

Canada does not even have an Ethics Commissioner independent of the government. Such an environment does not only inhibit the prevention of corruption, it fosters corruption. Meanwhile, it is a common complaint to those skeptical of aid granted to Africa through government channels that many African governments are corrupt, and the aid money rarely reaches the people who need it. Paul Martin refused to pledge the 7% GDP to foreign aid advocated by Bob Geldof during the recent Live 8 concerts. When the image of someone in the mirror is ugly, the person looking into it almost instinctively calls his neighbours ugly. Call it projection, call it displaced self-preservation, it all smells like a refusal to take responsibility for one's actions.

Granted, the administration costs of such aid efforts often suck up most of the money donated. That does not change the fact that those who advocate refusing aid on the grounds of governmental corruption in Africa enact a colonial paradigm of projection. Certainly some of these governments are corrupt. But that does not excuse those in the west from washing their hands of the whole affair on this pretext. Why not increase government funding of non-governmental aid agencies in ailing countries such as Niger and Malawi?

Stories of corruption resemble the Greek monster Hydra as they are reported in the news; cut one head off, and two more grow in its place. Yet another example of late is David Dingwall, CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. He ran up an expense account of nearly a million dollars in this position. The Liberals defended him by advocating similar privileges for Crown CEOs and private sector CEOs. This is inconsistent with McGuinty's recent decision to maintain the separation of church and state in the matter of faith-based arbitration in family law, which was only provoked by a group of moderate muslims who tried to institute Sharia-based arbitrations in such matters. Free-market democracy is a religion; hence George Bush and Tony Blair's "mission" in the middle east (although there are other motives for this mission, such as oil and a fundamentalist Christian mission). It has its own rituals, such as shopping, its own codes of behaviour and rules. Its "clergy" is actively involved in converting those whose souls have not already been saved. Separation of church and state in this case would mandate that Crown CEOs not resemble private sector CEOs in the matter of expense accounts.

The word scandal has connotations of an exception, a transgression to the rule of propriety and morality. As scandal after scandal has shown its ugly face in the news media, the exception seems to become the rule. The truly scandalous thing about all the recent scandals is that perhaps they are not scandalous. They are the modus operandi of the status quo. Perhaps, like the proliferation of reality shows on television that ostensibly deconstruct the boundary between public and private and ensure we don't mind our privacy being invaded by security agencies, all the news about scandals makes them less objectionable by habituating us to them. Bombarded by these stories we consign ourselves to resignation; what should be anger devolves into a cool, distant cynicism.

copyright: Trevor Cunnington

2 comments:

James said...

Here is an interesting 1990 article on Greg Sorbara and how he found away around his own government's law to give his residential tenants huge rent increases when he was the Liberal labour minister.

Trevor_Cunnington said...

thanks for that James, I will check that out.