Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 26, 2007
Government – the buck stops with you
It's not at all surprising that many people are cynical about politics. Prime Minister Stephen Harper no doubt did the right thing in announcing a public inquiry into allegations concerning Brian Mulroney and German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber. Such an inquiry will attempt to uncover wrongdoing if it has occurred or clear the air if it has not.
But the fact that such an inquiry is necessary so soon after the Gomery inquiry can only foster the cynical view that the majority of people who get their hands on the wheels of power are only in it for themselves.
Voter turnout has slowly but steadily declined over the past few decades. While there may be many reasons for this, the perception that all politicians are crooks is surely one factor that leads citizens to throw up their hands in despair and opt out of the responsibility to take an active role in the political process.
Yet, despite their cynicism - indeed because of the perceived corruption that incites cynicism - citizens should vote and become involved with political parties and candidates. It is often said that if you don't vote, you don't have a right to complain about those who get elected. That comment hardly goes far enough.
One need only look at countries where there is no right to vote - or where election results are manipulated - to see results that are devastating to the populace. The level of corruption in Canada is mere child's play compared with the subjugation of basic freedoms to the military, murder and martial law that one sees in countries such as Burma and Pakistan.
Canada has a history of freedom and prosperity in no small part because of its tradition of liberal democracy.
Elections do not ensure that only good people hold public office; but they are a valuable check on the power of elected officials to do as they please. We can at least throw the rascals out at the next election - and often we do - if they abuse power too openly.
Likewise, a corrupt democratic government is better than no government at all. If government were to be abolished, the field would be left open for a bare-fisted war of all against all. Government maintains at least some level of legal and moral order where rights are protected and the powerful are restrained from doing whatever they will.
In short, the act of voting holds back the forces of dictatorship, on one hand, and anarchy, on the other.
Nor is it helpful to sit back and complain about injustice and corruption when one has the opportunity to get involved in the political process and try to make a difference. To get involved is to also face the fact that nobody, including oneself, is sinless and incorruptible. But people who do the best they can to build the common good and avoid the temptations of power are badly needed in all fields of voluntary activity, especially politics.
Government is not simple. It is demanding in terms of time, energy and intellect. If some elected officials get higher salaries and pensions through holding office than they would in their previous jobs, others make financial sacrifices in order to contribute to good governance. Canadian democracy would be well served if we had more politicians who fit the latter description.
Canada and the world face momentous decisions that affect the sustainability of society and even life on this planet. Better if those decisions are made by those committed to the common good than by those preserving their self-interest.
Obviously, not everyone can or should be an elected official. But everyone should be involved, at least by keeping informed on public issues and voting at election time.
Political corruption is a sad commentary on the human condition. It should also be a call to action for those who believe things ought to be better than they are today.
- Glen Argan
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