Mike Duffy trial – we have come full circle again
By Peter Ewart
Ten years ago it was the scandals associated with the Chretien Liberal government’s “Sponsorship Program” (brought to light by the Gomery Inquiry of 2005).
Ten years before that in 1994, it was the Airbus scandal and the controversial brown paper bags of cash handed over to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at hotels in New York and Montreal.
Ten years before that in 1984, it was the Turner Liberal government’s patronage appointments to the Senate and other plum government positions.
Today, in 2015, ten years after the Gomery Inquiry, it is the Mike Duffy trial and the revealing of even more lies, deception and cover-up by the ruling Harper Conservatives.
And so it is that about every ten years, the rot and corruption of whichever government is in power overflows the garbage can and spills out into the public arena to stink up the politics of the country.
This doesn’t mean that there are not lots of other smaller scandals during the intervening ten years. For example, the Harper government has had many mini-scandals since it took office, as have previous governments. However, with those ones, the party in power is usually able to wrap them up in perfume-scented plastic bags and disappear them down the maw of the garbage can.
How can we break out of this circle of rot and corruption? It is clearly not just a question of throwing out the reigning party and electing another. Yes, the Harper government deserves to be defeated, just as the previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative ones did. But what will stop the newly-elected government from simply filling up a new garbage can?
Clearly the problem runs deeper. Indeed, it is systemic in nature. The opposition parties are calling for electoral reform such as bringing in a proportional representation or alternative ballot voting method. While there may be some improvements over the current first-past-the-post method, a fundamental problem remains.
And that is, under the current party-dominated electoral system, the Canadian people are kept out of any real input or decision-making. Instead, the political parties in Parliament (and especially the governing party), have a monopoly on power and operate together as a cartel that keeps Canadians marginalized, reducing us to the level of mere spectators watching a highly-scripted reality show.
Unfortunately, as experience has amply shown, governing political parties, which are private organizations backed by private interests, are prone to corruption and influence-peddling .
There is much talk about the importance of “checks and balances” on government power. However, as many observers have noted, the existing “checks and balances” are not working and are becoming increasingly disfunctional. As a result, we move inexorably towards more dictatorial government and the erosion and snuffing out of our rights.
We do need “checks and balances” on government power, just as we need more transparency and accountability, rather than the existing garbage can politics. But how can this be achieved?
We need a profound reform and renewal of the electoral process, one that will institute new mechanisms to expand and deepen democracy, empower Canadians, and enshrine our right to be decision-makers on fundamental issues.
Instead of major decisions being cooked up in the backrooms of government and faraway corporate offices, and then shoved down the throats of voters, the citizens of Canada must be brought into the process, whether it is on economic development, security, taxation, resource extraction, health care, or other issues that impact our lives and futures.
This is not simply a matter of having referenda on issues or other isolated reforms but rather a profound restructuring of the political process.
Garbage cans operate in the dark. True democracy brings light, transparency and accountability. The best check on government is the people themselves – the governed become an integral part of governing. But we need an electoral system that can bring this about.
We need to break the circle.
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: email@example.com