Friday, April 8, 2005

If the Liberals are the party of fairness, then why didn't I get my share of the Adscam kickbacks?

The extent of the Liberals' latest corruption scandal is now widely available in the mainstream Canadian media now that the publication ban has been lifted for the most part. Outrage is certainly appropriate, but we shouldn't be surprised — corruption is an inevitable part of every government in Canada, but the Liberals have been particularly adept because Canadians have felt disinclined to hold them accountable for their actions. The trick of the trade in a government-controlled economy is kickbacks in the forms of subsidies, grants and tax exemptions for so many different special interest groups that much of the Canadian electorate now feels that its particular interests are dependent upon a Liberal government, never minding that they are paying high taxes to support others' particular interests at the same time. Of course, if you are a Liberal party functionary, you stand to do better in the balance of redistributive schemes.

Andrew Coyne put it nicely, back in 2004 when Adscam was first coming to light:

The scandals were an inevitable outgrowth of the Liberal way of governing. Indeed, they are the Liberal way of governing. The rot extends far beyond a mere $100-million skimmed by a few advertising firms. And it covers much more than mere criminality. It's more insidious than that. It is the whole system of discretionary dispensations — a billion for farmers here, a billion for fishermen there, and so forth, until you have assembled a large enough coalition to get back into office — that is corrupt, and corrupting. It depletes the treasury, distorts the economy, incites envy, encourages special pleading, and rewards friends — of the regime, if not of individuals within it. As I wrote two years ago, "Liberal ethics is Liberal politics is Liberal economics." They are all of a piece. To improve the ethics, to clean up the politics, you have to change the economics. You have to remove the sources of temptation. You have to take away the moneypots.
For the majority (minority?) of Canadians who can subsist without electoral bribes of government-laundered money, the immediate and obvious answer is to kick out a Liberal government that has been complacent in its assumption that governance is its natural birthright and that morality or ethics are immaterial. However, Laurent of le Blog de Polyscopique, one of the best Canadian blogs, states what should be the obvious:
… but a new government will, after years of rule take their toll, end up as much inclined to corruption as the current Liberal government now is.

We can also […] scale back the State. The smaller the budget managed by the State, the less the State multiplies its fields of intervention, its various programs and subsidies and its alphabet soup of government agencies, the less the State is a gigantic machine whose working details are difficult to understand and the more difficult it is for potential scandals to hide in the middle of an undecipherable spaghetti.
Currently, the Conservatives are leaning more toward reducing the scope of the State in the economy, and should probably be given first crack at government. But the Canadian voters must also hold their feet to the fire, in a way that they have failed to do with the Liberals.

In the meantime, we can avail ourselves of ideas about public accountability from the past, when we were not so burdened with a top-heavy boot-stomping bureaucracy. Laurent also dug up an article by Larry Cornies of the London Free Press that had some excellent information a while back on the Comptroller of the Treasury, an office created by the Conservatives in 1931 that reported to the Ministry of Finance and provided a check to protect Canadians from bureaucratic expenditures not directly authorized by parliamentary vote.
"[The Comptroller] was responsible for pre-audit," [retired federal government accountant and financial planner Clair] St. Cyr said, "that is, for examining invoices prior to cheque-issue, to ensure proper authorization, that they conformed with Treasury Board rules and regulations, that they were charged to the proper account, and that any associated contracts were properly authorized. He was also responsible for commitment control," St. Cyr continued — making sure every penny spent had been authorized by some parliamentary vote.
One of the causes of sponsorship and other pecuniary government scandals can be said to be the 1962 Royal Commission on Government Organization, chaired by Grant Glassco, that recommended the removal of that overseeing office under the pretext that bureaucratic managers manage themselves rather than suffer oversight. Look where that's got us.

In any case, for those who have been waiting for the London Free Press to get out from under the publication ban, there's plenty of stories in today's edition:
Now it can be told
Worst-ever scandal, opposition proclaims
Scandal fallout
Key players
Cash flow
Transcript details money paid in washroom of restaurant
Chretien kin tied in
Aide steps down
and the main editorial, Election may be warranted

What area MPs have to say is a disappointment, because almost every local MP was unavailable for comment, most notably London's own Liberal troika of Joe Fontana, Sue Barnes and Pat O'Brien. But feel free to email them and let them know what you think of the Liberals' service to the country.
Joe Fontana (London-North-Centre) — Fontana.J@parl.gc.ca
Sue Barnes (London West) — Barnes.S@parl.gc.ca
Pat O'Brien (London-Fanshawe) — OBrien.P@parl.gc.ca

For extensive background and commentary on the latest revelations about Adscam and all the other dirt that preceded them, these blogs have been doing amazing work:
Angry in the Great White North
Small Dead Animals
PolSpy
Political Staples
and Mike Brock, who's got the best CNN mediastormtrooper-style banner going yet.



Of course, please visit and leave your thanks to Ed Morrissey of the Captain's Quarters, who, it has been suggested, is worthy of the Order of Canada — certainly more so than David Ahenakew at least…

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