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STEPHEN HARPER AND THE GANG THAT WON’T SHOOT STRAIGHT

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. – Edmund Burke

Frank A. Pelaschuk

If anyone today were to muse aloud about “ethical politicians”, it might elicit a loud guffaw. They do come along, but these days are as rare as fish falling from green skies and direct responses from any of Harper’s gang when asked a direct question on ethical matters. We had Conservative Robert Stanfield and CCF/NDP Stanley Knowles. But that was long ago and in another, unrecognizable country. Today, the phrase is a quaint oxymoron.

But why is it so difficult for Stephen Harper and his Conservatives? They appear to lack a moral compass and come across as simply greedy and stupid. Are they all simply husks of air, bombast and meanness?

Whatever it is that stirs them, lapses in ethical behaviour appears not to be among them. For them, critical self-examination is apparently too arduous and unrewarding; it’s easier to point at the moral lapses of others with one hand while digging in the public purse with the other. While such finger pointing does not absolve one, for these types, there is evidently something pleasurable, if childishly inadequate, in saying, “Well, you did it too,” as if hoping to convince bystanders with their faux and gleeful outrage that moral equivalency is at play, though that is seldom true and is never persuasive as an argument; pointing out the wrongs of another does not nullify one’s own and it certainly does nothing to enhance the image of the finger pointer.

POWER CORRUPTS. BUT DOES IT?

Harper and his gang have amply demonstrated the perils of entering into the shady world of politics. When individuals run for public office, they almost always offer a picture of themselves, as they believe themselves to be, that is, one of us, honest, engaged, reliable, knowledgeable, dedicated, a selfless, and tireless servant and defender of the people. They almost always disappoint. They would have us believe that they are out there working on our behalf, that they will act honestly and honourably in all their dealings. They may even believe it and convince us into believing that what we see is what we’ll get. But it almost never quite works like that.

Politics changes people. Power corrupts. I have heard such said many times and, I confess, in my younger days, I had accepted those as valid truisms. Too, I did not care, the world would run smoothly without my input, there were others who knew more than I did, who were wiser and better. To say that I was wrong is to understate it. Unfortunately, these days there are too many as I was then and yet, in some ways, much worse, too focused into their own narrow self-centredness of getting “things” to concern themselves with the travails of others. But old and grey, perhaps just tired, I no longer believe that of one. I do believe politics can change people, it can open hearts and minds and reward and transform some. But it can also shut them down, replacing hope with bitterness, trust with cynicism. For each, I am certain, the experience will be different; once you enter the murky world of politics, you can never be the same. But I do not believe power corrupts an individual. It only allows opportunities for acts of corruption. The corruption is already within a rotting soul.

The image we see and believe of those running for office is seldom an accurate image of those we elect. No one who enters politics a truly honest man and leaves corrupted can be said to have been truly honest in the first place. The bruise of corruption and venality had already infected him, in need only of the opportunity to reveal itself. A truly honest man may be tempted, but he never wavers, never succumbs. Too many of us, believing ourselves good and honest, guilty at most of “small”, “harmless” sins, say we want politicians much like ourselves. Sadly, we have them in spades, just like us. Contrary to our high opinions of ourselves, very, very few of us can legitimately make the claim to being totally honest, absolutely trustworthy and unequivocally incorruptible. How many of us have got away with something saying, “it didn’t hurt anyone,” “no one saw me.” “it’s only a small thing,” “it’s not going to break them”? Knowingly keeping the extra change the cashier mistakenly gave you. Running the red light when no one was around. Swiping that small sweet. Buying something from someone on the street that you suspect may have been stolen. Stealing that light bulb or paper roll from your company. It’s easy to excuse the “small” and to laugh them off as “lapses” and to dismiss the effects on others and yourself as “harmless”, which they may well be, but they are nevertheless signs of rot. Moral equivocation is not a virtue.

For too many of us, it becomes easier to take it to another level. When a person fudges while campaigning, makes promises he knows he cannot keep, who misleads and lies, who cooks his books and refuses to open them, we can know this with a certainty of that person: he or she bears watching; it is no longer a laughing matter.

THE INTOLERABLE CHINTZINESS OF THE PETTY TIGHT-FISTED CHEAT

By now all of Canada knows of the four senators investigated for illegal expense claims: fraud in other words. Liberal Mac Harb must repay over $230 thousand. Conservative Harper appointees, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, all removed from the caucus, were into the taxpayers’ pockets for tens of thousands of dollars. When it appeared that Duffy had repaid $90 thousand (in reality it was Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright, who gifted the money and then resigned, leaving other questions to be answered regarding the PMO), Marjory LeBreton declared his case closed and senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen doctored the Deloitte report on him. Those three, as well, have a lot for which to answer.

We have seen people appointed to the senate for no apparent reason than what they could bring to the fortunes of the Conservative Party, including two of the most efficient fundraisers, Wallin and Duffy, though of Wallin it can be said she did serve the nation as Canada’s consul general to New York. Both had entered the senate with sterling reputations as far as the public knew. However, their fall from grace has been considerable and deserved, the damage to their standing irreparable. But, for Duffy, his fall from grace was not that far, for it had begun before his appointment to the Senate when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that he had violated broadcasting ethics during the 2008 election, misrepresenting the views of one of three liberal members on the panel of his CTV show as well as airing an interview with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion that was cruelly intended to bring ridicule upon the liberal leader in a manner that “was not fair, balanced, or even handed” (Wikipedia). That same year, Duffy was appointed to the Senate. The Conservatives clearly knew what they were getting and liked what they saw. He was their kind of person.

But if Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin were simply motivated by greed or had made mistakes, as Wallin claimed in an interview on The National with Peter Mansbridge of CBC (June 13) with the admission she had been careless in failing to perform due diligence, what must we make of Conservatives Shelly Glover, James Bezan and Eve Adams who also have problems of their own which, while not as egregious in scope, still need answering?

Not that long ago, the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand wrote two letters to Conservative Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House, recommending that both Glover and Bezan be suspended for failing to file complete campaign expenses. Glover and Bezan, having none of it, filed appeals in court. Incredibly, the Speaker of the House, who is supposed to be nonpartisan, not only denied the request, evidently falling for Peter Van Loan’s assertion he had no right to tender a decision on a matter now before the court, he had also refused to table the letters before the House, sitting on them for several weeks before they finally became public knowledge. Scheer’s was purely a political and partisan decision allowing the two Conservatives enough time to launch their appeals and thumb their noses at Elections Canada with the full support of the Harper Conservative gang. Once a Conservative, always a stooge. Such acts do nothing for Canadian democracy except add another wound. Still, no expressions of shame or regret. Just business as usual.

A question, of course, comes to mind: If everything is on the up and up, why is the Conservative Party and those two members, so reluctant to file full, accurate expense reports? It’s that simple. Come clean.

But what is even more alarming, and clearly indicative of how entrenched is the contempt harboured by Harper and his gang for even the suggestion of transparency and for the democratic process, is that Shelly Glover, has since been appointed to the five-person panel (Conservative dominated, of course) to advise the government in the next appointment for the Supreme Court. Instead of suspension for not following the rules, Glover is rewarded. For Harper and crew, to paraphrase Leona Helmsley, the queen of mean, “Rules are for the little people”. Once again, they thumb their noses at process and Canadian taxpayers pay the price. Absolutely shameless and absolutely revelatory of the moral compass by which they operate.

And then we have Eve Adams, poor, pathetic Eve Adams, the bobble head who sits next to Glover in the House and occasionally appears on Power and Politics with the set responses for the question of the day firmly embedded somewhere in that brain. She, too, is under investigation for making illegal expense claims of $2777. Now Adams states that over $1800 went to childcare and suggests her $260 Shoppers Drug Mart tab went towards toothpaste and grooming for volunteers. Perhaps. But how does she justify her $400 plus spa treatments? Compared to the senate scandal, these numbers are not large but it could be that the thing that may most rile Canadians, however, is the fact that, after the election, Adams attempted to claim for $2.63 cupcakes and restaurant fare. It’s the small things that can trip one up because there is almost something sad about the cheapness and chintziness in claiming those cupcakes as expenses. The amount is so meagre and yet the behaviour so pathetically and appallingly parsimonious that one might wish to pity this example of unpleasant tight-fistedness. One might wish. But not this writer. How trustworthy can anyone be with the big things who fudges on the small things? Not very, I suggest. It’s the small things that can get you. Remember Bev Oda, the minister who may have forged, or whose staffer may have forged, a signed government document, the minister who twice had to repay false expense claims, the minister who was finally felled by a $16 orange juice?

If there’s any justice in this world, one can only hope Eve Adams, Shelly Glover and James Bezan will eventually go the way of Oda and Peter Penashue. They evidently don’t experience the sense of shame that would move honourable individuals to do the right, decent thing. Innocent or not, they are judged by their behaviour. Fairly or not, they cannot be trusted. Nor should they. An open book is all that is required and yet they refuse those who pay that right.

BASHING PUBLIC SERVANTS AND ANYONE ELSE IN THE WAY

And while Conservatives on one side are busy not explaining themselves, we have those Conservatives on the other side, Tony Clement and James Moore, happily looking for a scrap with federal government employees. From the very first, smearing others and scapegoating has been the favourite pastime of Harper and thugs. This is the government, after all, that assumes all those collecting EI are fraudsters, that all critics are enemies, of questionable patriotism or of siding with criminals, pedophiles or of being radical stooges of foreign environmentalist groups. Even veterans collecting disability pay were not immune to the mean-spirited niggardliness of Harper who, before he was elected as prime minister in 2006, had declared, “All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government.” He won and made changes all right, clawing back the disability pensions of veterans (reinstated years later; refer to March 28th post). His troubles with veterans, however, are not over. Recently, Cpl. Glen Kirkland, against the wishes of senior military brass, appeared before a committee of MPs regarding the treatment he suffered at the hands of the military when trying to claim health benefits. This was a soldier who fought and nearly died in Afghanistan while in the performance of his duty. Defence Minister Peter MacKay had made a loud declaration that Kirkland would not suffer as a consequence of his appearance before the panel. That assurance was as good as his word to David Orchard a few years back when the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance Party. Shortly after his appearance, Kirkland was issued release papers from the military to take effect in six months. With the ensuing uproar that followed, the military brass and MacKay met. MacKay ordered the papers torn up and the military busied themselves admitting there had been “a colossal mix-up”. While the military clearly did not like what Kirkland had to say, they cared even less for the public backlash. This was just another betrayal of veterans by the Harper regime and the public did not like it. While the outcome appears to be satisfactory for Kirkland, we are left wondering about the treatment of those other walking wounded by the military and this government.

But, not satisfied with just scapegoating ordinary, but discerning and critical citizens, we have the Conservatives, with frontmen Tony Clement, the man behind the $50 million slush fund boondoggle for his riding, the president of the treasury board which has “mislaid” $3.1 billion, and James Moore, minister of historical distortion and Conservative revisionist propaganda, doing their dirty work stigmatizing public servants with suggestions that they are slackers, dishonest, and incompetent and embarking upon a campaign to bypass the bargaining process in the case of border guards. While these are cynical, despicable diversions, and they are despicable when lives are played with for personal gain, meant to deflect public attention away from the many troubles of this scandal prone regime, with its predilection for padding expenses and fraud, it could be there is more at play here, both men of immense egos priming themselves for the role of Conservative leader when Harper leaves the stage.

But before excited Harperite voters, especially those envious anti-unionists jump on the federal public servant bashing bandwagon, they should pause to reflect on this regime’s proclivity for avarice, mendacity, obfuscation, hypocrisy, and unethical and anti-Democratic behaviour. Unfortunately, when it comes to swallowing Harper poison, Harperites are nonpareil in suspending credulity. Promise them the moon. That’s sufficient. Buy them off with tax cuts. That’s sufficient. Tell the Big Lie. That too is sufficient. Feed them another lie, any lie; repeat the process time after time; do it again and again. It doesn’t matter. Just get the enemy, it doesn’t matter who, and destroy them. And for Harper and crew, the enemy is anyone who criticizes. Those true believer misanthropic Harperites are always there ready and eager to blindly swallow any crap dished out by this group. An incredibly nice and perceptive bunch.

BUT WHO IS WITHOUT SIN?

While this regime has many serious problems and all of them have to do with the secretive, closed, paranoid nature of its governance bolstered by an attitude that is highhandedly convinced of its infallibility and its right to be answerable to no one, Harper and gang, sadly, are not the only party, though by far the worst, that needs looking at.

The Liberals had their own scandals in the past, and Mac Harb, the same Harb who has been told to repay over $230 thousand, was their man in the senate. It does Justin Trudeau little credit to say that Harb will be allowed to return to the Liberal fold if he repays what he owes and faces no criminal charge. Since when is it sufficient to simply pay back what you have illegally obtained? There must be real consequences. It is no justifiable excuse to claim the rules were unclear. If unsure, hire a lawyer or accountant.

Even as I write this, the Conservatives, especially propaganda minister James Moore, are in paroxysms of ecstasy over news that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair had breached Parliament Hill security by blowing by the security guard and ignoring the flashing lights of the police car pursuing him until he found his parking spot. It is alleged, and there is no evidence for this, that he turned on the officer and reportedly said, “Do you know who I am?” and threatened to report him to his superiors. If true, that was cheap, arrogant and evidence that some people probably believe their own press. But it is really stretching it for the Conservatives to hope or believe that this issue should be enough to get the public to forget the senate scandal, Mike Duffy, the $90 thousand gifted cheque by Nigel Wright. With hundreds of thousands of dollars ripped from Canadians, this failure to stop at a security station, while serious, hardly compares to the Conservative obfuscations, evasions, lies, and failure to answer questions. Now that the RCMP are looking at the matter of the Wright cheque, there is little doubt that Harper and gang will now use this as a subterfuge to continue to refuse to answer questions.

The NDP, however, has another more problematic issue that could severely erode whatever support they may have. It is their failure to back Liberal motions to make public online all MP expenses. If unhappy with the motions, the NDP should have presented their own proposals or made amendments. Instead, they simply said that the Liberals were grandstanding and nixed the propositions. It is hard to love a party that demands openness and transparency from others while refusing the same for itself.

While I will never, ever vote Conservatives, believing them the most dishonest and dangerous to Canadian Democracy and to Canadian citizens, I am hard pressed to say that I will continue to vote NDP. I am reminded of these words of G.K. Chesterton: “My country right or wrong is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober!’” My party right or wrong is not something I can do. I cannot imagine being desperate enough to vote for what I don’t believe. If I am missing something, I wish the NDP would explain what it is.

WHY SHOULD I BE INTERESTED?

There is something seriously wrong with Canadian politics. It has become corrupted by the slothful and ignorant where winning for the sake of winning appears to be the goal and getting what you can, when you can, the only purpose. It has become about compliance, about partisan sniping and satisfying the wants, rather than the needs, of special interests instead of a uniting of opposing forces to combat the common problems that afflict us all: poverty, inadequate housing, mediocre health care, failing education, crumbling infrastructures, hunger, and the despair of knowing that the greedy haves will always keep a boot on the base of your neck. There are few visionaries and fewer men and women of principle and courage. Too many in politics are like most of us, believers of nothing and out for the main chance: what’s in it for me?

Recently, Conservative Dean Del Mastro has emerged from whatever hole after eighteen months, under investigation by Elections Canada for overspending while campaigning and then covering it up. Appearing in the House June 13, reading from a statement and near tears of whinging self-pity, he had, he said, “been subjected to unfounded hatred, contempt and ridicule as the result of a leaked document belonging to Elections Canada…” (Ottawa Citizen, June 14, 2013). I was totally unmoved recalling him during the robocall scandal, his loud, relentlessly abusive assaults against opposition members as he finger-wagged, shifted and dodged in a contemptible effort to protect his party while refusing to respond to questions deserving answers and, at the same time, smearing others with innuendo under the protective shield of the House. Not surprisingly, he often resorted to the childish “Well, you did it too!” Some defence. Now, emerged from his warren and clearly unrepentant, Del Mastro’s pitiful display should move no one who recalls his merciless behaviour in the past. As ye sow, so shall you reap.

Those who lie, who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of others, those people who change fashion with every breeze and who believe that, having gained power, they must wield it as a club, are craven and detestable. Yet I see such people every day as well as the arrogant and smug when I watch Question Period or Power and Politics on TV when the Conservative bobble heads appear on screen and mouth the same words time and again without answering a single question honestly and openly. The sly and weaselling are there too, abhorrent toads who worm their way out of difficulties by resorting to legalities rather than to what is ethical and honest. As well, there are the venal, such as we have seen of late, those lowlifes who fudge expense accounts, who nickel and dime us at every turn, who will not come clean with their expense claims and who claim what is not theirs to claim. They are fraudsters, liars, untrustworthy and unworthy and the worst of all are those who sell themselves for so little and who hold no beliefs except the belief that they are somehow better and more deserving and who are pitiless against those who fail, who are weak and in need of intervention rather than incarceration in the firm belief that those people, those lowlifes, have brought it on themselves. They are the feral zombies who float through life in awe of themselves firmly believing that their every accomplishment is noteworthy, cosmic, and solely by their own efforts.

I see all the things I do not like on Parliament Hill, the liars, shills, snake oil salesmen, charlatans, and weasels. I do not believe Harper is an honest man and I do not believe him kind or generous. But I do believe him small and petty and believe the same of his unworthy crew. I have seen little sign of integrity; if it is there, it is as smoke, no more, a puff of air, poof! and it is gone. They would not, could not, behave as they do otherwise.

I would not trust them in my house. I would not shake their hands. If I were locked in the same room with them for an hour, I would feel a need to shower because they are not clean. How can anyone who is in power be clean when he perceives his only duty is to achieve his ends and interests, help his friends, line his pockets, and views all dissenting voices as enemies to be destroyed and treats the concepts of ethics, integrity and Democracy merely as hindrances to be endured rather than lived.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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