Scandals: Making Better Governments?

There was an interesting article recently in Canada’s “Globe & Mail” newspaper; normally I respect the body as a reliable and accurate source of news, but sometimes their opinion pieces are a little off-the-mark. This one was called “Why political scandals make better governments”, and really it was nothing more than an exercise in propaganda. It’s a 51-second video read by? described by? John Ibbitson, Chief Political Writer for the newspaper. With such a title I would have expected that he would think through the implications of his words, but apparently that’s too much for even as fine a paper as the Globe and Mail. I’ll start this post right off the mark and say that if I had a choice between a government that had scandals and one that did not, I’d choose the one that did not.

Political scandals reveal cultural entitlement”. That’s a fancy way of saying that where’s there’s a scandal, there’s a person who wants something that’s not theirs and has the power to get it… and I guess they’re clumsy enough that they get caught. My problem with simply accepting scandals (or rejoicing in them, as Mr. Ibbitson does) is that it makes us, the people, the supposed power in a democracy, completely reactive. We should be proactive with our legislation, especially considering the number of scandals lately. The result is that we feel disconnected from our government, frustrated by our so-called leaders. We’re just waiting for the next politician to “reveal cultural entitlement”.

Perhaps it also “reveals” a flaw in our penal system. What punishment do politicians and Senators receive when they try to cheat the country? Perhaps they have to pay back the money they… stole is such a harsh word… claimed incorrectly on their expenses? But is that the extent of it? So after trying to rip off the public coffers of thousands of dollars, we (the people) are expected to have “confidence” that they can have any input at all into the way our government is run? Really?

Oh. But I forgot. They’re also “revealing cultural entitlement” and making “a better senate”.

This question came up a recent airing of “Cross Country Checkup”, where Rex Murphy said, “All these scandals involve a range of people both high and low, from elected, to appointed, to hired into public service. All expected to put their own interests aside and work for the betterment of all citizens.” I’m not really sure I believe that second statement. Maybe I’m just jaded, maybe I’ve seen too much political wrangling at too many levels, in too many countries. But what I’ve seen is that very few politicians are willing to (never mind expecting to) really “put their own interests aside and work for the betterment of all citizens”. At least those at the top. Most of the politicians I’ve known: especially when it comes to the leaders of the ilk (with some notable exceptions, but significantly less than half) have been of the Rob Ford and George Bush variety: men (and women) who’ve been spoiled rich kids before they reached office, and, if anything,expect not to “put their own interests aside”, but to have their own interests supported by their political wrangling. That’s why they became leaders. Most see themselves as the CEO of an organization, and expect to be compensated… either directly or, well, indirectly, if they have to. They see no problem with taking what they are not given. They deserve it, if you believe Mr. Ibbitson’s rhetoric. They’re making the system better. By cheating the system, they’re illustrating where there are flaws.

Mr Ibbitson’s thesis in the video seems to be: “Scandals… make things better…scandals reveal cultural entitlement… the Senate Expenses Scandal will result in a better Senate. How do we know that? History tells us.”

I cannot believe that someone is trying to “teach” us, to “educate us”, that scandals are not only acceptable, but beneficial. History tells us that there is a reaction to abuse of the system, but that is the point, now, isn’t it? It’s abuse of the system. It damages both the system itself and the public perception of that system. Might it not be a better idea reject scandals, to punish those caught in them: to be pro-active and prevent the abuse… to create a cultural ethic where preventing such abuse is considered “better” than taking advantage of it? Is this the state of our Canadian politicians, or just the Senators?

No. Scandals are not good, or beneficial, or even acceptable. They are wrong, and abusive, and damage the integrity of the country. There are much better ways to build a “better Senate”.

If Mr. Ibbitson ever runs for office, I hope we remember this article. It says a lot about the kind of country he thinks he lives in: and I certainly wouldn’t vote for him. Then again, he’s just the type who’ll probably get appointed to the Senate. Once there, he’ll probably try to make it “better”. But only if we can catch him.

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