When Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General, speaks, the media pays attention.

Her reports and quotable press conferences feed the maw of newspaper headlines and form the top items of our national news.

And the electorate listens, often responding with outrage at her tales of excess, misspending and hints of malfeasance in the highest reaches of the Federal Government.

Her moral authority flows from the independence of her office and the inherent credibility of her profession; the foundation of which is based on accuracy and objectivity. What she investigates, what she reports and what she says has a major and direct impact on the public interest and the way we view our relationship to government, the civil service and elected leaders.

Recently, on the weekly “At Issue” panel on CBC News, I voiced a (highly unpopular and politically incorrect) concern that the audit process was running amok and Sheila Fraser was behaving more like the Leader of the Official Opposition than the accountant that she is. In short – and in my defense, I made this statement this not be inflammatory or to be pilloried by my fellow panelists but out of a life long and abiding concern about the public interest and the citizen’s deteriorating relationship with government – I felt that the matters she chose to investigate, and the moral tone of her reports and remarks, were undermining the important role her office is supposed to perform and ultimately, the public interest for which she is entrusted.

It’s been said that nothing focuses the mind more than the sight of the gallows.

Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper had seen the same polls as Paul Martin. And while the projected results produced Liberal visions of an unprecedented landslide, the PC and Alliance Leaders looked into an abyss – and the abyss looked back.

The prospect of annihilation – of the PCs being reduced to an Atlantic, rural rump and the Alliance a Western, rural rump – more than anything else pushed aside all the past concerns that stood in the way of a unification of the right. At bottom, the merger of the PC and the Canadian was a triumph of survival over the divisions that caused the parties to separate and that kept them apart for the last 16 years.

But let us not be over cynical about what has been accomplished – and at what cost.

By their own account, the life of a Canadian University Undergraduate is a pretty satisfying one.

Regardless of educational institution attended, students from across the country report that they are at least “somewhat” satisfied with their overall educational experience; they are giving passing grades to their professors and are reasonably confident that their lessons will eventually prepare them for the workforce.

That however is the view of University life from 35,000 feet.

When analyzing the full breadth of the over 24,000 responses we received to the Second installment of the University Report Card, you cannot but be struck at how dramatically different the student experience is from one school to the next.

When the Strategic Counsel joined forces with UThink to use the Studentawards database to undertake the most comprehensive review ever conducted of Canadian University student’s attitudes to their educational experience, we assumed that we would find some significant differences (why, after all, set out to rank Universities, if this was not the starting premise?). Our assumption was that we would uncover great Universities, middling ones and some that failed to meet their constituent’s needs. In other words, we expected that the top-tiered Universities would be appreciated as such because they were beacons of excellence while the lower ranked Universities would do everything less well.

In some measure, this proved true. Students across the country rate their Universities in very different ways and are able to articulate their University experience in very precise ways.

But what was even more telling was that each of the 29 student body’s we interviewed had highly divergent and distinctive assessments of the school experience and as a result, every University in Canada appears to have their own divergent and distinctive personality.

For many who knew Dalton Camp only in passing, he was something of an enigma. As the slayer of “the Old Man”, John Diefenback, he was a backroom boy, who developed a public profile in the 1960s that was more defined that most of the politicians he worked for. He was a columnists and commentator for three decades whose byline was invariably accompanied by his past affiliation with the Progressive Conservatives, yet he railed against the interests of Corporate Canada, greed and injustice with an uncompromising passion and consistency that created “secret fans” out of the likes of Jean Chretien and former NDP Leader, Stephen Lewis.

His personal personae was every bit as confounding.

Based on my own first encounter of him, he struck me as a bitter, negative, self-possessed man who had been trapped in time. The next time I saw him he was speaking at a private dinner celebrating his 60th Birthday. There, I experienced what to this day was, for me, the most erudite, well-reasoned and inspirational exhibition of public intellectualism I had ever witnessed. His command of language, cadence and pacing and boldness of thought, literally took my breath away.

Bewildered, and in need of some reconciliation between the myth and the man I had just met, I sought the counsel of a much more seasoned and Camp-familiar colleague. He explained my conundrum with (what at the time were), two incomprehensible words …”maiestas desidero”. He went on to point out that while Dalton was a true giant of considerable accomplishment and talent, he was also extremely bitter and harboured deep personal resentments over his failures, the most lasting of which was never becoming Prime Minister of Canada. I learned afterwards that his description of Camp (loosely translated) was “greatness missed”.

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