Political Impunity and Corruption


Somewhere, lost in a desert waiting to be discovered, is a battered cuneiform tablet with an essay complaining about how corrupt the current leaders are compared with their predecessors. I think about this when reading about a politician resigning from the legislature after a series of remarkably self-serving abuses (there have been a few). Or while under investigation another blandly stating that entitlements are entitlements so there is nothing to apologize for to anyone. Or much closer to home, the continued obsession of Ontario to cover the rural landscape with wind turbines despite any evidence that their power can be utilized (last weekend was a $10 million/day loss to ratepayers) or even afforded. Or what I like to think of as the ‘X-files’ view of government as a front for a group quietly working on some other agenda that will someday be revealed to our collective detriment.

Problem is that laws and codes of conduct are what we agree they are — nothing more. If I hold a raw egg out the window over a sidewalk, say from the second or third story, and drop it… there will be a mess on the sidewalk a few seconds later pretty much every time. There are natural laws — acceleration due to gravity, material strength of the shell and so forth, that dictate the survival of the raw egg. Human behavior is subject to no such clear cut and easily testable laws. Instead, we have culture and laws. And courts to argue the difference.

There is a lot of titter in the press of late about G-20 movements to reduce and eliminate corruption globally. But I suspect that everyone involved all think that corrupt practices are what the other guys do — but what they do is ok. Canadians are sure, for example, that what the Russians or Chinese do is corrupt. That in China, for example, there are no real business contracts but things get done or not based on personal relationships and obligations. Reminds me of what it was like getting consulting work in the Toronto financial services community — without personal ties, forget it.

Over the last weeks there has been mention in the press that some execs in OPG also sit on the boards of some of their suppliers. Or that the old head of the Ontario Liberal party was also the head of a wind turbine company. Is there a relationship between these connections and the obsessiveness by the Ontario government to landscape rural areas with unwanted wind farms? One wonders. But apparently it is not illegal for government execs to favor companies where they have personal financial interests. Is this corruption? Some might think so — others think its just business as usual.

As a taxpayer with little stomach for the long term manipulations of politics (learning what to kiss and when I’m sure) nor the massive personal resources and connections to play the game I can look at this with horror. But the problem with government and politics is that this is how it is played. A line from the play and movie ‘A Man for All Seasons’ comments on Sir Thomas Moore — ‘the first politician since Plato who did not grow wealthy from the bribes and benefits of office’. It is everywhere, not just Zimbabwe.

I suspect that as long as politicians are allowed to make rules that benefit themselves this problem will be with us. The US tries by making folks put their assets in blind trusts while in office to reduce this problem. But with lobbyists and the prospects of where they go after office makes arms length, impartial decisions a fond wish but dubious reality. And I may be wrong but I don’t think Canada even bothers to play this game of pretend.

What makes it worse is that everyone knows this so there is a corresponding culture of impunity — they can do what they want and no one can nay say them. At the worse a few bad days in the Globe and Mail, then back to the trough. Oh, occasionally someone will get tossed under the bus for appearances sake but jail is not a concern it would seem. And for someone with the right connections even that is not much of a factor.

The real miracle, one suspects, is that anything works at all.

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