Ethics on the political stage
It’s hard to believe that the passing weekend was the Labour Day weekend which pretty much marks the beginning of fall in this region of the country. Summer is drawing to an end. Most people have finished their vacations and children are preparing to return to school.
As our minds shift back into work mode this fall, we are also faced with the prospect of a federal election and we can expect all of the political parties to begin to work to convince us that they are most deserving of our support in the election. If the same work ethic was applied to serving as a representative of the people as was applied to getting elected, we would be better served in our democracy; sadly, much of what occurs post-election appears to be more political theatre to give the appearance of doing one’s job while protecting one’s political party above all else.
The latest piece of political theatre to be played out before the Canadian public occurred last week when the Ethics Committee met in Ottawa to discuss asking Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to testify on his report into the SNC-Lavalin affair. He had written in his report that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had acted inappropriately in pressuring then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the investigation and opposition parties wanted him to testify and provide more detail in a session that would be broadcast to the public.
To no one’s surprise, the partisan play went as expected with the majority Liberal members quashing the request while accusing the opposition of keeping it going for political purposes. Meanwhile the Opposition voted in favour while piously decrying the ethical transgressions of the prime minister, stating how the public absolutely needs to know all of the details of the affair.
The only dramatic twist was Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith who voted against his party in favour of letting Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion testify but — parroting the prime minister who disagreed with the findings — wanted Dion to explain how he arrived at this wrong conclusion. While it may have seemed entertaining to watch as the parties played to their own political base, the outcome of this vote was known beforehand for all of those involved.
None of this looks good for a Liberal government seeking re-election especially one that came in four years ago promising to do things differently. The Liberals have clearly failed in this respect and the political game in Ottawa continues as it has for years.
In case Canadian voters have short memories, many of the Conservative members who are now roundly criticizing the ethical failings of Prime Minister Trudeau served under previous prime minister Stephen Harper, who faced his own issues of questionable ethics and who used the same types of tactics as the Liberals did in this affair, including manipulating committees and burying legislation in omnibus bills.
I would encourage voters to Google “ethical concerns under Stephen Harper” to jog their memories and to keep this in mind when parties asking for their support this fall claim that because they now have a new leader, things will be different this time around.
We have watched this kind of political theatre go on for too long now and, frankly, it’s becoming stale. It’s like watching a Shakespeare tragedy and hoping for a happy ending while already knowing the outcome. Our present system of first-past-the-post favours the creation of majority governments which have allowed this type of political theatre to thrive as those in power are able to control how the script is written.
The biggest mistake of the present government was the failure to follow through with democratic reform and bring in a form of proportional representation as promised. We need to demand that parties commit to a system that would require them to work together for us instead of acting to protect their own party and privilege. I don’t know about you, but I am ready to see something new in Ottawa and plan to have this conversation with anyone who asks for my vote this fall.