Dam­age lies in per­cep­tions

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

The par­al­lel be­tween the MLA spending con­tro­versy and Cli­mate­gate is not ob­vi­ous, but try this. Nova Sco­tia MLAs and the sci­en­tists in­volved in the UN’s re­ports on cli­mate change have failed the pub­lic in sim­i­lar ways by pro­vid­ing too easy op­por­tu­nity for the harsh­est crit­ics to dis­credit th­ese en­tire en­ter­prises.

In the over­all scheme, abuse of ex­pense en­ti­tle­ments, as Fi­nance Min­is­ter Gra­ham Steele points out, amounts to a drop in the bucket. Sim­i­larly, the al­leged mis­deeds of cli­mate sci­en­tists at East Anglia Uni­ver­sity, whose emails were leaked in Novem­ber, and the goofs un­cov­ered in the 2007 re­port of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, do not, as the skep­tics and de­niers claim, un­hinge the case for hu­man-driven global warm­ing.

How­ever, care­less in­dul­gence, amount­ing to ar­ro­gant neg­li­gence in both cases, has re­sulted in open sea­son on pol­i­tics and politi­cians in the first in­stance, and on cli­mate sci­ence and sci­en­tists in the sec­ond.

The dam­age could be se­vere. In the po­lit­i­cal realm, the view that politi­cians are par­a­sites who do noth­ing use­ful has mi­grated, for the time be­ing at least, from the fringe of opin­ion into the main­stream be­cause so many Nova Sco­tians are out­raged by what they in­ter­pret as politi­cians ex­ploit­ing loose rules they wrote for their own ad­van­tage. On cli­mate, the fusil­lade against the cli­mate sci­ence con­sen­sus that’s been rag­ing since Novem­ber has added to pub­lic con­fu­sion on the is­sue and thus weak­ened pres­sure for ur­gent gov­ern­ment action.

We’re start­ing to hear the ar­gu­ment now that MLAs have been pil­lo­ried enough on ex­pense spending, out of all pro­por­tion to the ac­tual mis­deeds, and that it’s time to ease up for the sake of pol­i­tics it­self. Nova Sco­tians seem not to be in that mood, how­ever, and a steady driz­zle of ex­pense-re­lated sto­ries, with more to come, makes it hard for ag­i­tated tax­pay­ers to calm down.

Be­sides, the fail­ure of MLAs to fix their slushy sys­tem when its de­fi­cien­cies were known sug­gests that the shrewd course is not to lift the boot from their col­lec­tive throats un­til this is well and truly fixed.

They had their chance and didn’t act, and now this is the price they pay. The pub­lic’s price is high as well, not in dol­lars but in the fur­ther ero­sion of faith in pol­i­tics as a pub­lic good and in re­spect for those who take up the trade. The judg­ment is un­just and cor­ro­sive but there it is.

MLAs need offices, and offices need equip­ment and fur­nish­ings. MLAs prob­a­bly need lap­tops and cam­eras too. The au­di­tor gen­eral la­belled big flat-screen TVs an ex­ces­sive of­fice ex­pense but many a wait­ing room has a TV and some of them are big flat-screens, so you see where they got the idea.

Fail­ing to an­tic­i­pate dam­ag­ing per­cep­tions, not just to them­selves but to the pub­lic in­ter­est their ac­tiv­i­ties are meant to serve, fail­ing to act with the as­sump­tion that ev­ery de­tail might some­day be­come pub­lic knowl­edge, th­ese are the of­fences for which politi­cians and cli­mate sci­en­tists must now atone. The climb back won’t be easy.

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