Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
Month Date, 2004
Wipe out cynicism with courage
Canadian taxpayers are right to be outraged over what has come to be known as the Quebec sponsorship scandal. In one week, polls showed a drop in popularity of the governing Liberal Party of 12 per cent, an unprecedented collapse of a party's support outside of an election campaign. All this over the government funnelling $100 million through crown corporations to advertising agencies who did little or no work for the large cheques they banked.
In sheer dollar amounts, the sponsorship scandal dwindles in comparison with the billions of dollars in tax cuts the federal government has given to the wealthy over the last 20 years. But that was a policy decision, carried out in the light of day, while the sponsorship grants were a deliberate misappropriation of funds carried out by stealth in the dark of night. This, combined with other lesser scandals, has given the public the sense that they are pouring their money down a chute to be wasted by corrupt politicians and upper-level bureaucrats.
Sadly, the sponsorship money, part of a government thrust to show Quebecers the financial benefits of belonging to Canada, may have had the opposite effect. Angered at being unfairly tarred as a province rife with political corruption, Quebecers are fleeing the Liberals in droves into the arms of the Bloc Quebecois.
Political commentators are now speculating whether the public uproar over the scandal will be enough to turf a Liberal government that only a month ago seemed invincible. But whether voter rage lasts until an election, public cynicism about the political process has now been deepened to a point that impinges on the legitimacy of the governing process in Canada.
Cynicism will not be blown away over night with heart-felt promises of reform.
Cynicism was already widespread before the scandal broke, evidenced by falling voter turnout and ever-more frequent complaints that all politicians are corrupt. It is a reminder of Pope John Paul's comment in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus that corruption is a threat to the economic and moral development of society.
Yet the fact is that we need government. Government is needed to protect the human dignity of the weak from the might of the strong. It is needed to enable all people to participate in devising solutions to the problems of our era. Civilization cannot exist without government and, since we are stuck with having a government, it behoves us to work to have the best government we can.
While we cannot yet judge what responsibility Prime Minister Paul Martin might have for the current scandal, we have to applaud his stated desire to make the scoundrels pay and to open up the process of government.
Openness may have to go a lot further than Martin has so far envisioned if public cynicism is to be overcome. But openness and an end to the "democratic deficit" are essential to restoring public trust in our governing institutions.
Political power can no longer be centralized in the prime minister's office or the governing party; it will have to be decentralized as much as is possible in a representative form of government. The government will have to make transparent its opaque system of financial management. It will have to put a decisive end to patronage and cronyism in the civil service and in the awarding of government contracts.
Accomplishing this will not come easily. There are forces in every political party that want to receive favours when their party is in power. But we need political leaders courageous enough to overcome opposition and develop a governing process that enjoys wide respect.
Without that courageous leadership, we will be stuck with a form of government that is worthy only of disdain and that will undermine the moral development of Canadian society.
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