Our outrage over a dwindling sum of abused money is damaging Canadians’ perceptions of politicians and public servants

Justice John Gomery’s first report provides ample opportunity for those who wish to add their voices to the howls of outrage over “the biggest scandal in Canadian history” (according to Opposition leader Stephen Harper).

However, Judge Gomery offers another service that should cause blood to flow, not just into our throats, but also to our heads, for the complete picture he paints now allows us — for the first time — to give more precise measure to the scandal that has been seizing the political imagination for almost two years.

That there was something amiss in the communications-contracting operation of Public Works was known for some time. An internal audit in 1996 was followed by another in 2000 that discovered continued “administrative irregularities” in the tendering and payment of sponsorship programs.

Alerting her fine nose for unearthing dirt, the audit drew the attention of Auditor General Sheila Fraser who turned her flinty gaze to the department in her 2003 report. Obviously not garnering the attention she was seeking — and notwithstanding the fact that the RCMP had already been called in to investigate criminal wrongdoing in the case — Ms. Fraser chose to report on the scandal in more detail once again in February 2004, this time adding her editorial “outrage” about the breaking of “every rule in the book.” This seemed to have the desired effect and the political agenda has been cast in the shadow of Adscam ever since.

Even Albertans and Quebeckers are showing a profound commitment to the nation, say politicos Peter Donolo and Allan Gregg

From the Manitoba schools question in the 1890s to the 1995 Quebec referendum, Canada’s peaceable history has been punctuated by regional conflicts that threatened to tear the country apart. Such tensions are evident to this day and often dominate the national agenda. Whether it is Newfoundland’s Premier, Danny Williams, banishing the Canadian flag to protest Ottawa’s “betrayal” over offshore resources or Alberta Premier Ralph Klein telling the rest of Canada to “keep your hands off” his province’s oil, regional grievances have come to be accepted as a permanent part of the Canadian condition.

It’s high time Canadians see past the clichés and recognize that when these grievances surface, they are often a function of self-serving sabre-rattling rather than a lack of commitment to the nation; a misconstrued stereotype rather than any deep animosity by citizens in one region toward those in another.

A good example is the most recent survey we conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, released last week. It reveals a reality — particularly regarding Alberta and Quebec — that is much more nuanced than the rhetoric we often hear from politicians and political commentators. The results show a level of commitment to Canada by those provinces that belies the long-held view of Quebec and Alberta as the “crybabies” of Confederation.

The recent Liberal and Conservation Party National Conventions left me with a sinking feeling. After days of policy deliberations, I looked at the end product and wondered ….what if the chorus of lamentations (mine appearing among them in this very magazine – “How to Save Democracy”; October, 2004) bemoaning falling voter turn out, cascading political cynicism and mounting examples of civic disengagement, had completely missed the point? What if, these trends were not the product of a slothful, anomic electorate, more interested in the results of The Amazing race than the welfare of their communities and neighbours, but were indeed rational responses to a political process that has run out of ideas? Could it be that voters had been persuaded that politics is uninspiring and irrelevant, because most adult Canadians cannot cite one inspirational or relevant thought or initiative that has emanated from the political process?

The leadership and delegates of both Conventions emerged from their gatherings declaring great successes. Sadly, the measure of success however seemed to be that both parties had averted (predicted) political disaster rather than generated any new policies that might propel us along a path to a better Canada.

Out of the midst of some of the most cynical and depressing politics I have ever witnessed, conventional wisdom among the media elites and pundits has it that Jack Layton and the NDP acquitted themselves pretty well.
With Harper hyperventilating over vote timing, Martin bribing every bribable entity in sight and Duceppe looking like a wolf getting ready to feast on the chickens, Layton called for calm and exhorted all parties to make Parliament work. Alone on the high road, even Martin took note of Layton’s applause, and started moderating his own partisan rants.
The deal the NDP stuck with the Liberals to support the government in exchange for budget amendments was also given a glowing verdict by those in the know. Above and beyond another demonstration of constructive behaviour, Layton was able to draw attention to his priorities in a way 100 speeches on rubber chicken circuit, never could. (more…)

Notes for Remarks to the ADM Forum
Ottawa, May 11, 2005
By Allan R. Gregg

Over the course of the next few hours, we will undoubtedly hear a lot of talk about section 93 and 94 of the Constitution, “Orphans of Confederation”, fiscal imbalances and probably even the dreaded “asymmetrical federalism”.

Before we settle comfortably in, deciding what form of federalism best fits modern-day Canada, it may be wise to take a step further back and begin by re-examining why we even have a central government.

It starts, of course, with a tacit recognition that we are better served acting as citizens than as individuals – that our goals are better pursued as a group, than alone, in isolation. As part of that tacit recognition, we also freely give up some of our unbridled freedom for stability and order. We erect a stop sign, knowing it delays our arrival to our destination, in exchange for the comfort of knowing we are reducing the risk of head-on collisions. Group activity is also more efficient – we can do things together than we cannot do alone. Less recognized but no less important, we come to appreciate that membership in a group has a ennobling effect on the individual – our adherence to the rules necessary to function as part of a group forms the foundation of citizenship.

Even with recent polls indicating the Conservatives have lost the electoral advantage they enjoyed two weeks ago, it seems that Stephen Harper still wants an early election and Paul Martin would prefer to go to the people at a later time.

Considering that these two individual’s electoral interests are diametrically opposed, we should assume their assessments of their fortunes are identical — Harper thinks his chances of winning are greater, sooner rather than later, and so does Martin.

What both men know is that the corruption issue cannot be sustain as the principle antecedent of voting intention for any length of time.

“Event driven” concerns like these tend to fade over time, invariably to be replaced by more enduring issues such as health care, the economy as so on. Harper therefore wants to capitalize on the incendiary testimony of Jean Brault and Chuck Guite by precipitating an election in the next three weeks and Martin is buying time in the hopes that these memories will fade.

As they pursue their respective strategies apace, what they may not be taking into full account is how much the current climate of voter cynicism works against both men’s plans.

Pierre Trudeau tried to stop a cycle of blackmail, where one province held up the national interest by bargaining solely for its own parish. Paul Martin’s new health accord is an invitation not just for one blackmailer, but for ten.

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.

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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