Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. – Rex Stout
In every well-governed state wealth is a sacred thing; in democracies it is the only sacred thing. – Anatole France
The people came to realize that wealth is not the fruit of labour but the result of organized protected robbery. – Frantz Fanon
An honest politician is an oxymoron. – Mark Twain
Because I do not believe people inherently good or wise, I am occasionally surprised when they do what I believe the right and moral thing. This is particularly true of politicians and voters. I would prefer the politician to be honest and with a conscience and the voter exactly as the cliché every losing politician trots out to show what a good sport he is: The voter is always right. When it does happen, the voter electing a politician who behaves with integrity and in a non-partisan way for the interests of all citizens, I immediately become alarmed believing I will soon awaken to the political nightmare that is our reality.
While perhaps not to the degree of the transit of Venus, I believe the politician of unwavering honesty and steadfast principle a rarity. It should not be but it is. That is our fault. We make it easy for them by demanding too little and expecting even less. Both politician and voter measure each other by their own values and, because they do, often end with an inferior product: It’s what’s in it for me rather than how can I help make us both better. No voter, no con man, makes the politician corrupt, greedy or deceitful any more than does opportunity, lax rules, or systemic rot within an organization; the culpability lies with the individual, with his failure of character and lack of intellectual and moral substance. Unfortunately, the voter all too often plays the role of enabler and likely for the same reasons. He will forgive almost anything as long as he gets his cut.
They have always been with us, those citizens who put themselves forward, often “reluctantly”, willing to temporarily “sacrifice” personal ambitions and family life for the “greater good” as a way of “contributing” towards a “better” more “just” society and as repayment of a “debt” for the life they now enjoy. “Serving” some will modestly say. Nice sentiments, almost noble, perhaps even true for some – once. Much of it is baloney and most of it self-serving.
There are exceptions of course, there always is, those who enter politics with the best of intentions and the purest of motives. Occasionally they succeed and do honour to themselves, their families, their community, and to the offices they hold. Sadly, they are not the norm. Too many take the easy route adopting the party line or going with the flow; the path of least resistance is much easier than going against the tide. Cooperation, giving a little ground is perceived as weakness and disloyalty to the party or to the government. Too little attention is paid to the concerns and welfare of all citizens particularly the weakest and meanest among us because the real goal of any governing party is to maintain power preferably with a majority to inflict the greatest damage to those in opposition.
But whether a government of years or relatively new as is the Trudeau regime, there is too much effort directed towards enriching the party fortunes when it should be directed towards improving the lot of the citizens they govern. As a consequence, too much goes into secret fundraising cocktail dinners with the wealthy and powerful from all sectors. That such events often fail to pass the smell test and clearly transgress conflict of interest regulations are dismissed as the petty cavilling of envious opposition members unable to sell their favours as easily and as richly because theirs is a toothless power: second place is simply that.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE BIGGER PIGGIES
IN THEIR STARCHED WHITE SHIRTS
YOU WILL FIND THE BIGGER PIGGIES
STIRRING UP THE DIRT
ALWAYS HAVE CLEAN SHIRTS TO PLAY AROUND IN – Piggies by The Beatles
For such as these, optics and public opinion matters not a jot until, as with Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberal party, it becomes a public issue when the media picks up the story. Even then, media attention and public disgust may not work. Christy Clark clearly doesn’t give a toss what the public thinks. If it’s legal but ethically dubious, no matter, they will do it. Ethics are for suckers and imbeciles. These are folks who game the system, mostly in secrecy though, it is true, sometimes openly and shamelessly, because they believe, mostly know, public apathy is their salvation unless it is provoked to fury over the sheer pettiness of some acts such as happened when Canadians learned of Conservative Bev Oda charging to the public purse a $16 glass of orange juice. Tax evaders rob the public purse of billions but it is the orange juice that gets our attention! Even so, not to worry, particularly these days. Extravagant spending, false expense claims, unethical picking of the public pocket has been legitimized; all one has to do is plead innocence, ignorance and naiveté.
It is astounding, not only the extent to which the public purse is milked for claims that are often of dubious merit, but also the shamelessness of such. It is not theft in the legal sense that happens, but it is pilfering nevertheless. Claims are made that to the average person often seem frivolous, questionable, petty, and bordering on illegal. Every once in a while, a politician is caught with his hand in the till. Sometimes they receive a slap on the wrist, most times, nothing happens. Occasionally, the miscreant is forced to resign or shamed into resignation but that is as rare an occurrence as was a direct answer to a direct question in Question Period during the Harper years: politicians are shameless; they have to be when they pander. When they are caught, exposed to the glare of the media, they will justify their acts resorting to legalese weasel words, the wormy deviousness of the shady and dishonest as they extract every nickel and dime possible from the public purse: It was legal, allowed, permitted, within the rules. Occasionally they will claim the rules are “obscure, vague, unclear, difficult to understand”. At other times, they may claim that a higher authority approved their actions. Occasionally they will point out others have done the same thing and that, over time, such acts have become accepted as normative practice. If I am to be punished, so must others. They will often make claim to the adherence of the law by which they mean the “letter of the law” but never in this manner, and will likely keep silent regarding its spirit. It’s what one can get away with that matters.
They do not talk much of moral compasses, personal responsibility, common sense, conscience, and personal integrity unless pushed and pushed hard. Of course, they will insist, they themselves possess all these admirable qualities. Nor do they much dwell upon propriety, possible conflicts of interest, of the public good, or of public perceptions of doing something that not only doesn’t seem right but isn’t right: If it’s allowed, I will do it because it’s allowed. With the verdict of the Duffy trial, that view has apparently become legitimized. I wonder what will happen now regarding other senators who have paid back money for undeserved claims or who have been referred to the RCMP for investigation. Unless things change drastically, we can expect continued pillaging of the public trough with the same foul weaselly justifications.
Ethical behaviour is not about appearing to do the right thing but actually doing the right thing. I have nothing against a senator or an MP making claims, but let them be legitimate claims, earned claims. Don’t charge the public for your meals at home or for the coffee and donut you bought for a friend. Don’t travel across country on the public dime on the pretext of doing Senate business that can be handled with a five-minute phone call because you want to spend a few days with your family. Don’t claim expenses for a home you’ve lived in for forty or so years claiming your other property visited a few weeks a year in a province you supposedly represent as your primary residence. It may be legal but it’s certainly not ethical nor is it justifiable.
Whatever happened to common sense and judgement? Why is less attention paid to these rather than the excuses often stretching one’s credulity when politicians and senators misbehave? I can’t imagine our common variety street corner petty thief being granted as sympathetic an indulgence while standing before a judge. The rules are unclear; I didn’t know it was wrong; everyone else does it; there is no law against what I did; I made a mistake; I believed it was okay; I thought it was standard practice; my staffer made a mistake; my dog ate the rule book, I was told by my boss it was okay (in this instance the higher the level of approval the more likely the chance of absolution and no one paying the price). What is so difficult about knowing right from wrong? One who fudges seldom offers explanations he offers justifications and excuses.
So, when I look at Liberal premiers Kathleen Wynne and Christy Clark, and their responses to breaking stories regarding serious ethical lapses regarding conflict of interest in the way of secret meetings with corporate executives and/or anyone with the money to pay for the privilege, I am torn. While both deeply trouble me, it was the response of each that allowed me to declare Clark the winner among the ethically challenge but not by much.
When news broke of two of Wynne’s cabinet ministers, Charles Sousa, finance minister, and Bob Chiarelli, energy minister, attending an unannounced (secret) fundraiser that benefitted the Liberal party with $165,000 and a cabal of banks to the tune of $29 million with the privatization of 15% of Hydro One, an embarrassed Wynne announced not only an end to ministers raising money from those who may benefit from their decisions but also the end of $500,000 quotas members of her cabinet were instructed to raise each year. Wynne clearly was chastened but not unduly; the changes would be phased in over time and probably not in place before the next election. Was there a conflict of interest? Absolutely. Did anything illegal occur? I don’t know, the rules allowed such shady shenanigans. Legalese. Again. Unethical? Most certainly. Shameful? You bet but one wouldn’t know it from the response by Sousa and Deputy Premier Deb Mathews. Sousa said that was “part of the democratic process”. Mathews, dismissive of a need for an inquiry, said there is “absolutely no evidence ” of wrongdoing. Of course not, nor will there be unless there is an investigation. But explain that to the citizens of Ontario who were recently informed of steep rate hikes because Hydro One didn’t earn as much as expected because of the mild winter. Unethical? Yes. When a consortium benefits from a secret fundraiser it puts on for a political party something is rotten and it’s not in Denmark. If the fundraiser was so innocent, why was it kept from the public and how was it that the finance and energy minister sat with the very folks who raised money for the Liberals and walked away with millions from the Hydro One deal? Coincidence? I think not.
And then we have princess Christy Clark of BC who earns $200,000 as premier and another $50,000 from her party, which calls it a “stipend” for her impressive fundraising efforts. As reported in the National Post, Clark has earned $301,900 in stipends since she became leader in 2011 (Rob Shaw, Postmedia News, April 28, 2016). When questioned regarding this, Clark laughed it off saying she had believed it was a car allowance. Really? It’s all a joke to these folks but I wonder how much laughter there was from the single parent minimum wage earner holding two jobs upon hearing this. Were those who donated to the party amused when some of that money went to Clark who could use it as she sees fit? Stipend suggests a token payment usually to offset additional expenses. Clark’s amused response to receiving $50,000 is the carefree let-them-eat-cake attitude. But, before we feel too bad for those minimum wage earners, she promises to give them a raise from $10.45 to $10.85 this September. That should keep those carpers quiet. It’s contemptuous and callous. So, what does she do to earn this stipend? Well she’ll meet privately with anyone who can raise $20,000 to $30,000. Clark clearly believes there is nothing wrong with this saying she governs for all British Columbians (just works harder for some for a price) and has no plans to review or do away with the private (and lucrative) meetings between her and wealthy suitors. She claims no favours are exchanged for cash. We have to take her at her word for that. It’s difficult. Between Wynne and Clark, it could be a toss up judging which is more ethically challenged. Clark may have the edge simply because of her shameless disregard for public perception. She cares just enough to rub salt into the wounds by raising the stipend of minimum wage earners 40 cents. Car allowance I guess.
And then, of course, we have the newcomer, Liberal Jody Wilson-Raybould, the federal minister of justice, who, along with her boss Justin Trudeau, should know better but apparently doesn’t or doesn’t care. She sees nothing wrong with attending a fundraiser with the very people who stand to gain from her decisions regarding justice. The ethics commissioner Mary Dawson evidently agrees. “The rules are scant,” she told CTV News (Thursday, April 7, 2016). Again, legitimacy is granted to weaselly outs by the very body meant to oversee ethics. Judgement and common sense are not required. It cost $500 to attend the two-hour cocktail event. That’s not much when one considers what it costs for a private audience with Christy Clark ($20K to $30K) or Sousa and Chiarelli ($7,500). I have heard some commentators suggest no politician would risk their reputation for a mere $500. That’s nonsense and beside the point. It’s not a measly sum when it’s $500 times the number of guests and all from the same field holding the same interests and wanting the same outcome. Conflict of interest? Absolutely. Unethical? Without doubt.
Folks who shape ethics to suit their own wants are suspect. Meeting with constituents is not a problem; meeting them in secret in exchange for money is. I certainly do not believe that anyone, regardless of how wealthy, would simply fork over $20 or $30 thousand for the simple pleasure of having had tea with Christy Clark. He expects something in return and the politician princess, regardless of how dim, knows it. Yet we must take Clark at her word: no favours are exchanged. How can we? Why should we?
AND THE WINNER IS…ALL THE LITTLE PIGGIES IN WHITE SHIRTS
Honesty in politics seems to be an increasingly missing ingredient. And I am not talking about folks simply picking our public purse. I am thinking of the integral aspects that make us what we are, character if you will.
The last election provided very good examples of similar failures. We had the Conservatives fearmongering with a vile campaign playing the cards of racial and religious intolerance. There was Kellie Leitch the ambitious bundle of mediocrity now running for the Conservative leadership. There she was standing before the media with Chris Alexander at her side both of them announcing the creation of a snitch line for Canadians to report and stop the barbaric cultural practices of you-know-who. It was contemptible and meant to play to the worst aspects in us. Recently, Leitch on Power and Politics with Rosemary Barton disavowed her role almost on the verge of tears…well it was a good if phony act. “We weren’t talking about race, we were talking about kids … but that message was completely overtaken and I regret that, and I regret that it occurred, and it shouldn’t have been done,” she said (CBC, Power & Politics, April 21, 2016). “It shouldn’t have been done.” No kidding. Leitch is a reputable professional and from all I have found, good at her profession, and I have no doubt she cares for her patients. But the fact is indisputable: she was part of a team that made race and religion an issue. She cannot disavow that. Anyone with a shred of dignity, decency and intelligence would have walked away from the suggestion of the snitch line. More importantly, she would have walked away from the real message of the snitch line. The target was not abuse but the Muslim community. Neither Chris Alexander nor Kellie Leitch walked away from that filthy campaign. That says something about character or, more precisely, lack of same. It was an unpleasant spectacle because so willingly engaged by Alexander (he lost his seat) and Leitch (she kept hers). She is not leadership material but she certainly is a politician. When she says they weren’t talking about race, I suggest she is less than truthful. We have 911 and other services across the country to assist families and children. As with so many of that Harper gang, Leitch is just another sad example of another MP who, in hindsight, sought to refurbish a tarnished image with a subdued apology, faux tears and a flimsy defense without any evidence of sincere acknowledgement of her role in the sorry debacle. Of late we have seen too much of this, arrogant politicians caught in their own snares and then repenting with showy displays of phony tears only when the game is over or when seeking re-election perhaps or the role of leader to their party. They must stand before mirrors these bad actors in every sense practicing the quavering voice, the trembling lips, the tears sliding down cheeks with, perhaps to offer verisimilitude to the act, snot precariously leaking from one of the nostrils. I am unmoved convinced the tears are only for themselves. Perhaps, when done rehearsing the scene of self-abnegation they will then seek to relax by facing the mirror all pretence stripped away hands on hips making rubber faces before finally bursting into genuine laughter as they imagine the sympathetic response of the public they will face with teary eyes.
Anyone can misspeak and err but what happened that October 2 day with Leitch and Alexander was no mistake, no slip of the tongue. It was a media event staged during the final days of a failing campaign in desperate hopes of garnering a rush of support from the fearful and the intolerant. It did not work. Where was the shame at the time?
Conservative Jason Kenney is another likely to throw himself into the leadership race. He should not. When he used government letterheads to fundraise for his party, he demonstrated he was willing to fudge; he crossed the line. Last year he posted tweets on International Women’s Day to rally support for the war against ISIS. He posted two photos, one of women in chains and one depicting a child bride with her “husband”. Her hands were tied. The tweets were clearly meant to inflame sentiments against the Muslim community and ISIS in particular. Both were bogus and he knew it. The first picture was of a re-enactment of an historical event. The second was simply a fake. When asked about Canada’s expanding role in Iraq, he offered this as explanation: “The United States is the only one of those five that has precision-guided munitions. That is a capability the Royal Canadian Air Force has, so one of the reasons our allies have requested we expand our air sorties into eastern Syria is because with those precision-guided munitions our CF-18s carry, we can be more impactful in the strikes we make against ISIL” (David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, March 25, 2015). That was a lie. But Kenney is used to lying. As multicultural minister, he used his government email account to suggest Trudeau held sympathetic views for terrorists based on his visit to the Al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiah mosque when he was an MP. The US intelligence community had released documents that they believed the mosque had links to al Queda. This bit of news was made public a month after Trudeau had visited the mosque. But Kenney and the other Conservative members kept this to themselves. Can such an individual who deceives, misrepresents and proves himself a glib liar time-after-time be worthy of governing a nation? We had that kind of leadership from Kenney’s previous boss. We don’t need a repeat. All the above suggest an individual with serious ethical issues. Evidently he’s a man of some ability. That may be true. He is also untrustworthy.
Behaviour matters. But, judging by the support Donald Trump and the deceased Rob Ford managed to garner, not much to many. Rude, foul-mouthed misogyny, drunken rowdyism, name-calling and shameless lying, racial and religious intolerance seems, in fact, the endearing qualities that draw the stupid and ignorant to support worthless notables of that ilk. Politicians have taken note.
Secret meetings between politicians and influential community and business types for a fee, have apparently been and still is the accepted practice. Does this matter?
Duffy, legally cleared of all charges, will re-enter the Senate chamber and likely make claim for restitution for pay for the more than two years he lost while absent from the red chamber. The Senate itself has made changes but will they be enough, will they endure. I suspect not. As long as there are folks willing to bend rules by pleading ignorance or turning a blind eye, the Senate will remain the dysfunctional, unloved and unwanted institution of a bygone era of partisanship and entitlement. Going along to get along, doing what others have always done is not sufficient. Yet that is how the zoo operated. Men and women took advantage of the laxity of rules and oversight and thought nothing of pilfering from the taxpayer coffers. The Duffy verdict seems to have legitimized such abuses. The offender is not liable. The offender is a victim in fact. Sometimes I want to join Howard Beale from Network and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But then I guess I’ve been doing that the past three years.
But where does the blame really lie? Why must the public accept that a politician can claim ignorance or was unable to understand the rules? If you watch a man going to the washroom, do you pocket the wallet he left behind knowing that it is his? If so, you’re a thief. Would you take that wallet claiming he had left it behind therefore there was not theft? Would you say, “If I hadn’t taken it someone else would?” There are just some things one does not do even when the water is muddy or opportunity presents itself. People without character play dumb, do not question, do not wish to know; they prefer to close their eyes to the wrongdoing of others or to join in saying if it’s okay for one, it’s okay for all.
Politicians who accept money for private meetings are corrupt. What they do may be legal but it is certainly immoral, unethical, and dishonest. They should not hold office and voters should not forget or forgive. Getting away with something simply because one can or because there are no rules against it doesn’t make it right.
But let’s turn our attention to Trudeau and the Liberals. They swept into office promising new and better and, as have all previous governments, promised openness and transparency. Well, they have failed and continue to fail. Think about the meeting with lawyers by Jody Wilson-Raybould. She said she attended as an MP not as minister of justice. When you are a minister of the crown, there is no such distinction. A few years back Shelly Glover was skewered (and I joined in) when she was filmed attending a secret fundraising event that violated conflict of interests guidelines simply because many of the attendees could possibly benefit from the decisions made by her ministry. Now Glover did not want to be caught but caught she was. She at least paid back the money. Wilson-Raybould? Well, thus far there’s no word of what she’ll do but I can guess and suspect you can as well. Remember this next time you vote: She as minister of justice met with the very folk who stand to gain or lose by the decisions she makes.
But there is something equally as troubling and that concerns the CRA offering amnesty to tax cheat clients of KPMG, one of Canada’s large accountancy firms who allegedly helped these tax cheats set up accounts on the Isle of Man. Amnesty was offered on condition the tax evaders paid the taxes owed and kept their mouths shut regarding the deal. Now that is not only patently unfair, that is corrupt providing more evidence to those already suspicious that governments are more interested in protecting the wealthy and punishing the weak and helpless. The scheme is simple. Firms such as KPMG help businesses or wealthy clients create shell companies offshore and then help them get it back as tax-free “gifts”. Recently the CRA proudly announced it had recovered $1.5 billion from tax cheats. Big deal. What does that do about the rest of the estimated loss per year of $7 to $9 billion? Stats Canada says there is a total of $199 billion declared money in offshore accounts. That is likely a fraction of what is undeclared. In the House, May 3, 2016, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair asked Trudeau if he would hold an investigation of the matter and of KPMG. Trudeau responded thusly: “Once again, Mr. Speaker, the NDP is always willing to play parliamentary procedure games as opposed to digging into the real facts of the issue. We’re working with the Canada Revenue Agency,” (CBC News, Question Period, May 3). The answer was clearly “No!” to Mulcair’s question, which, as posed, clearly indicates he and the NDP do want to dig into the facts. Trudeau said the government was working with the CRA…and skirted the issue of a government agency, assisted by the government, also working with tax cheats and those firms who help the tax evaders in their cheating.
So, from Trudeau and the government, no penalties for stealing, and that is exactly what tax evasion is. If anyone is playing a game, it’s Trudeau, but it’s a rigged game with Canadians losing to the wealthy thanks to the our political leaders taking on the role of accomplices. It may have started with the Harper gang but it is unconscionable that our government continues to protect cheats with promises of amnesty and demonstrates absolutely no desire to go after the corporations who help them cheat some more. Even after the story broke the CRA was still quietly meeting with KPMG. None of this however is surprising; the Liberals have a history of scandal, of working with Big Business and dipping into the public trough. With the Trudeau crew it looks like we will, over time, witness the return to the bad old days of bad old ways.
Good words mean nothing. We have heard the Senate to which Duffy has returned is not the Senate as Duffy knew it. Don’t believe it. The Senate fails in all counts. The changes made are too little too late. The Senate members will behave for a time but before long, the greedy greasy fingers will again be picking at the public purse.
Trudeau’s government fails because it has proven itself flexible in ethics when Trudeau sanctioned the Wilson-Raybould cocktail dinner. The government also lied to its citizens regarding human rights when it ignored government regulations by signing off on the Saudi Arabia light-armoured vehicle trade deal. Trudeau lied to our veterans when he said he would restore disability pensions. He didn’t. He just increased the lump sum payments. He has done some things I do like but he could do much better; he has changed the tone of parliament and has a balanced cabinet of many capable individuals, there is more openness (but already showing signs of second thoughts on that front) and a better image internationally; for these reasons and a few others, he deserves very high marks. But he also broke his word on the big things that count and this is where he may eventually fail. I would prefer it if he had honoured Canada’s commitment to human rights when trading with other nations today and not down the road; yes, the Saudi deal is big, $15 billion. There are Canadian jobs at stake that too is true. But, as a nation, we have to be counted. Can we really justify setting aside human rights until the next international trade deal? Should monetary concerns really trump when dealing with one of the worst offenders of human rights?
Nor should he have reneged on his promise to veterans with disabilities. I would prefer he spent less time posing before every camera he meets and think more seriously of what he wants to do and what he will do and be more open about it. He has what it takes, but fudging on ethical matters, even if a little, suggests he is on the same path as others before him. One thing is clear; the people mobbing him still love him even as he jobs them. They at least got a picture with him.
Politics is a filthy game. It needn’t be. But as long as we allow our politicians to bend the rules, to act unethically, to lie, cheat and deceive and to meet in secrecy with the wealthy and powerful special interest, little will change.
Politicians may be corrupt, but so are we. Join Howard Beale: Get mad as hell. Do something!
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin