06.29.2013 08:43 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: when scandal is the rule and not the exception

If we have a national memory of seven minutes, do scandals matter any more, or at all?

If we have seen and heard everything before, does a new scandal register on our collective consciousness?

Not really.

It’s been quite a time, has the spring of 2013. At every level, in virtually every part of the country, sleaze and seaminess is, seemingly, the order of the day.

Federally, of course, there is the ongoing Senate expense scandal, which has spawned multiple RCMP probes of Conservative and Liberal senators. The mess has claimed the political career of the prime minister’s highly regarded chief of staff, and left the governing party plummeting in the polls.

Provincially, police are investigating the management of Ontario’s air ambulance service and the destruction of records relating to a couple of gas plants.

In Quebec, an inquiry into political corruption has been underway since late 2011 — and it has claimed an impressive number of politicians, including the last two Montreal mayors.

Municipally, Toronto’s mayor is alleged to have smoked crack cocaine in a video, and he has not sued the media outlets that have made that allegation.

In London, Ont., the mayor has been charged with fraud, and was found to have pocketed thousands from a defunct charity he chaired.

Politicians in Toronto, Mississauga, Winnipeg and elsewhere faced conflict of interest allegations.

At this point, the requisite disclaimers: Everyone’s innocent until proven guilty. No one has been convicted of a crime.

That all said, doesn’t it seem to you that the spring of 2013 has been qualitatively worse than previous years? That we are incontestably awash in political sewage? That, despite a myriad number of laws and regulations and well-funded overseers, things are getting worse, not better?

Perhaps. Maybe. But one thing is undeniably the case: Most of the time, most people don’t give a sweet damn.

There have been only two occasions when they did, and when scandal had a significant impact on the body politic: Forty years ago, when the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of a president. And a decade ago, in Canada, when the sponsorship affair commenced the process that led to the Liberal Party of Canada’s present ignominious third-party status.

Too often, however, it is forgotten that Watergate — the cancer on Richard Nixon’s administration — had been front-page news in both the Washington Post and The New York Times throughout the 1972 presidential race. Despite that, Nixon went on to win more than 60% of the popular vote. If the early days of Watergate mattered to American voters, they certainly didn’t show it.

So, too, sponsorship. After Jean Chretien learned of the mess and called in the RCMP, the Liberal Party reigned in the polls. At the time of his departure in December 2003, in fact, the governing Grits were registering around 60% support in national surveys. Despite the ongoing Mountie investigation, which was in all the papers at the time.

Watergate came to matter only because of the cover-up that followed — and because it was truly the first full-blown scandal that directly involved a sitting president, at a time when the media was still a power unto itself.

Sponsorship had a corrosive effect principally in Quebec, because voters there came to believe they had been swindled into voting for federalism during the 1995 referendum.

Apart from those two examples — apart from Watergate and sponsorship — scandals loom large in the minds of the media and politicians. But not so much the public.

Partly, it is because other things come up; they move on. Partly, it is because there is a grinding sameness to it all, year after year.

Mostly, however, it is because the public has long believed that public life does not attract the brightest or the best.

To them, it attracts only the dregs.

25 Comments


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /nfs/c05/h06/mnt/72829/domains/warrenkinsella.com/html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Arnold Murphy says:

    I would ask people to consider why Churchill had to leave office for a short period of time, and his change of mind to become a Liberal.
    http://www.biography.com/people/winston-churchill-9248164


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    Beth Higginson says:

    What about Walkerton or Dubdley George?


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      Warren says:

      Very important. But both require a bit of explanation. Watergate and sponsorship have become concepts that require none. Unfortunately.


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    davidray says:

    Warren. Put your hands over your head and slowly step away from the laptop. You won’t be warned again. STEP AWAY FROM THE LAPTOP?


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    Kev says:

    Scandals never matter.

    Until they do.


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    Doug says:

    Luckily our “virtual” country is more than just Ontario and Quebec, and Mayors such as Nenshi do the right thing.


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      Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      You betcha! He definitely IS one of the best and brightest.


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    J.A. says:

    Ever since Madame Dufarge knitted at the Paris gallows while aristocratic heads rolled, there has been an element of the population that enjoys the dethroning of those in power. Maybe it is a sickness. Sponsorship involved a relatively small number of people, including at least one unelected enabler (initials C.G.), and most of these were punished by the courts, and yet Liberals are still being called “thieves” years later. Mme LeBreton repeatedly reminds us of this history.
    Is it better to be governed by a Party with an anti-intellectual ideology and paranoid secrecy? Maybe we need to redefine “scandal” to include stupidity and incompetence?


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    Anne says:

    Sorry Warren, but what happened to Mulrooney?


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      Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Just another of those corrupt Quebec politicians. You know, one of those guys that the West cannot stand.


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        Elisabeth Lindsay says:

        “Allegedly” 🙂


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    Eric Weiss says:

    I expect scandals. They are inevitable. It doesn’t matter what party is in power. There are opportunists, thieves and scumbags in every party. It’s how the leaders react and deal with it that’s important. Do the right thing, enforce the law, don’t make excuses and don’t try to cover it up.


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      Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Bingo!!


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    JH says:

    “Mostly, however, it is because the public has long believed that public life does not attract the brightest or the best.
    To them, it attracts only the dregs.”
    Much like the media who feeds on the trash.


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      smelter rat says:

      It’s the media’s fault that we have corrupt politicians? Seriously?


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        JH says:

        No – that the scandal-a-day reporting of even the most miniscule mis-step has brought the whole system into disrepute and discouraged good people from even considering entering the field.
        The press is also more responsible for voter suppression than any political party ever could be.
        I’m old enough to remember the days of at least a few ethical journalists and good sold journalistic efforts.
        They don’t exist today.


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        Carey Miller says:

        In a very real way, it is the media’s fault we have corrupt politicians.

        Historically, the behaviour of politicians would define corruption. Awarding contracts to friends, buying votes, adultery and many other things were a part of the political world and all were unreported. But the negatives were balanced by an ability to accomplish large achievements. The “age of corruption” brought us healthcare, the CBC, electrification of the country, the railroad and so much more.

        After Watergate and the advent of 24/7 media coverage, the reporting of the “standard” political process has changed our perception of politics. It has allowed the voters to see the making of the sausage.

        Political corruption is not more prevalent than it used to be. Perhaps it is less prevalent. But we can see more of it because of the media.


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    Cameron Prymak says:

    Here’s a great perspective on scandal and outrage,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5uvpkBcvnA


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    Robin Wortman says:

    Former Senior Democratic Senator from Arkansas, Dale Bumpers, delivered the closing arguments in the trial to impeach William Jefferson Clinton. This is a brilliant, succinct, witty and educational presentation of US Constitutional history and the drafting of the clause for the impeachment of the President: “not to punish a President but to protect the American people” therefore, “high crimes against the state” would be the threshold for impeachment. The sponsorship scandal and Mulroney-Schreiber are tawdry and relatively petty kickback schemes compared to crimes against the state, such as, robo calls to suppress targeted voter participation; paying $90,000 to a Senator to curtail a forensic audit in to potential fraudulent expense claims; and, the “in-and-out scheme” to circumvent Canada’s election finance laws which involved high level officials in the Conservative Party and close to the Prime Minister. Here is the text of Senator Bumpers closing argument, it is a must read for political scientists who understand the difference between a misdemeanour and a crime against the state and the people of Canada. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/impeachment/trial/bumpers_1-21.html


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      smelter rat says:

      +1


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        Elisabeth Lindsay says:

        Shame on ANYBODY who allows anyone to keep them from voting.


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    Vic Cautionni says:

    Sad, but often true. Sponsorship can’t be put on same level as Watergate for the simple reason the executive of the United States is the head of a superpower complete with a potentially apocalyptic nuclear arsenal; the Canadian executive is the captain of a respectable, staid middle power.

    The Liberal Party’s reversal of fortunes owes as much to the center vote being split four ways along with the complete evisceration of the party by factional infighting – sponsorship was just another body blow.

    In terms of Canadian scandal, the Duplessis Orphans, the Residential School System (the middle English meaning of the word scandal meant one who disgraced their religious calling or vocation), and basically the entire Mulroney regime are certainly some of the worst scandals to blight this nation.

    That said, as we prepare to celebrate Canada Day, we should take at least a small measure of comfort in the fact that these things actually register as scandals at all – there are lands where graft, disappearings, cronyism etc. are simply normal, everyday happenings. Canada is ranked 9th on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Let’s aim for that number one spot (a three way tie between Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand).


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    Merrill Smith says:

    I always thought the sponsorship scandal resonated because Paul Martin, with the help of his buddy John Gomery, drove it into the heads of Canadians that the other Liberals were bad, but that his hands were clean. Your old boss would have let the Mounties investigate and very little would have come out of it. I’m surprised you don’t see it this way too.

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