Canadian Politics Get Americanized

December 10th, 2011 at 7:30 am David Frum | 11 Comments |

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In my column for the National Post I discuss the investigation of Treasury Board President Tony Clement:

Last month, the RCMP announced that it had found no basis for further investigation of Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

In 2010, a former Liberal MP had asked the RCMP to examine spending in Tony Clement’s Muskoka riding. The former MP claimed that the spending on projects to ready Muskoka for the G8 summit somehow violated the law.

Over seven months, the RCMP reviewed the ex-MP’s charges. The RCMP found the charges groundless and have dropped the case.

Story over?

Maybe yes. But maybe not. The former Liberal MP herself, Marlene Jennings, previously the representative of the Quebec riding of Notre Dame de Grace-Lachine, will likely fade from public view. Yet she has bequeathed Canadian politics an ugly legacy – unless Canadians act promptly and decisively to quash and repudiate it.

One of the most impressive differences between Canadian and U.S. politics is that Canadians are much more reluctant to use criminal law as a tool of politics.

Make no mistake: Canadians despise corruption and expect legal action against those guilty of it.

But until the Jennings action, Canada maintained an effective distinction between, say, bribe-taking and, say, locating a Canoe Museum in the riding of the prime minister of the day.

Marlene Jennings’ contribution to Canadian political history was an attempt to blur that distinction: To make it a crime – not to take money for your own use – but to get a project for your constituency.

Think of it this way: The Harper government’s anti-recession fiscal stimulus contained a total of some 32,000 individual spending items. The items included a new subway line for Toronto and modernization of facilities at Canadian Forces Base Halifax. Toronto and Halifax are not exactly Conservative strongholds. Still, there is data suggesting that Conservative constituencies on average received more infrastructure spending than nonConservative. (Just as Liberal constituencies did best in the Jean Chrétien years.)

Click here to read the full column.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Red

    In sports if there is a dispute the oposition can get a video replay and loose a time out if they loose the appeal. In politcs there is no possble negative outcome for the oposition.

    • steelstringbean84

      They can make the corruption charges the central plank of an ill-fated election campaign and become the marginalized, third party in a majority government formed by the party against whom the corruption charges were aimed.

      I don’t have to agree with the outcome to recognize that it exists.

  • Rocketship7

    Okay, Tony was being a mini Robert Byrd, little extra infrastructure in Muskoka during a G8.
    He did not prop up any failed enterprises owned by donors (Solyndra).
    Anybody who knows him personally, as I do, knows he is straight as an arrow.

    • Lonewolf

      Those who knew disgraced former Senator Raymond Lavigne said pretty much the same thing.

  • Lonewolf

    In truth, the law probably WAS broken. Millions of dollars that were approved by Parliament for the SOLE PURPOSE of enhancing border security, were misappropriated and used, among other things, to enhance a private resort at taxpayer expense (no repayment required, you’re welcome, prominent Tory supporter), and to build over-the-top park facilities in the Treasury Board President’s riding, hundreds of miles from any border. Neither project had the remotest thing to do with border security, and to appropriate funds for such uses was nothing more than a massive fraud foisted on Parliament.

    As for the RCMP’s investigative abilities, the organization has long been a toothless lapdog fawning at the feet of the “lawnorder” PM. While it is appreciated in many other respects, where investigating parliamentarians are concerned, the RCMP’s legitimacy with Canadians is very low.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Thanks for the nap, reading that put me right to sleep. (yes, I am being an ass but I can’t resist, Canadian politics bores me to tears)

    • carinthia

      Canadian politics need not be boring. The Canadian media make it boring. The American media black out that occurred in the U.S. leading up to the Iraq War was nothing compared to the historical and currently ongoing black outs we see here regarding politics. No big headlines for political injustices, no journalistic investigations, no follow ups, no hard ball questions to politicians during interviews. Our journalists act star struck when they interview the powerful in Canada. Canadian political shows are a joke with wimps running the show.

      • joseelar

        Sorry… .but as someone that views both canadian and american political shows, I have to switch back to the CBC after watching MSNBC or CNN …. for some sanity and intelligent reporting.

  • ZombieTory

    Does calling in the RCMP over this cross a line? Yes.

    However, David, let’s not overlook what an utter slimeball Tony Clement is.

    First he spent an obscene amount of “national security” money on a gazebo, and then tried to cover it up.

    Then he made objectively false statements about the census, attributed them to a public servant who was legally prohibited from discussing his advice to the minister, then Tony tried to cover it up with more lies at the committee hearing.

    Whatever your opinion on the policy merits of the census changes or the G8 spending, you need to concede that Tony’s unabashed deceitfulness severely damages the government’s credibility. I mean, seriously, Harper made the man in the middle of the spending scandal the Treasury Board President?

    Harper can’t assume that the majority solves all his problems for him. You can’t talk about accountability with all this mess going on. Clement needs to go and MacKay needs to be shuffled into some minor post.

  • beowulf

    Americanized? There’s nothing more American than pork barrel politics. A congressman using taxpayer money to enrich himself is an illegal act, using it to enrich out of state campaign contributors looks unethical but isn’t illegal (though probably should be), but using it to enrich in-state interests is practically a job requirement.

    Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, every legislators is a Keynesian when it comes to govt spending in their district. Members of Congress are expected to vote in favor of the economic interests of their constituents (e.g. the oil industry in Texas or the software industry in California). No one cares if the Member receive campaign contributions from them since its assumed he would have voted the same way in any event. What’s more, its not like they try to hide their fingerprints They issue press releases for the folks back home bragging about it. If the RCMP had gone after Clement, he’d probably qualify for political asylum here in the States. :o )

  • steelstringbean84

    While I see the merit in maintaining a firewall between the political arena and the criminal justice system, but is it not possible that the submission of such matters to the RCMP is symptomatic of larger issues within Canadian political discourse? Namely, it is increasingly difficult to discern the internal mechanisms necessary to hold Members of Parliament to objective standards of good conduct.

    If the opposition parties vote to find a minority government in contempt of Parliament, it can be (and, clearly, has been) effectively argued that it is impossible to separate the merits of such a rebuke from the partisan interests of the parties that have issued it. By the same token, however, if a majority government dismisses any and all questions about its conduct as baseless, it does not necessarily follow that the matter was thoroughly investigated so much as it speaks to effective message control by the ruling party.

    It can be argued that the last and best judges of proper conduct are the voting public, but the insidious nature of the attempts (by the government and opposition parties alike) to control the message allows just about anything short of a criminal conviction to be dismissed as just another example of partisan bickering.

    For my own part, there may not have been enough evidence to support criminal charges against Minister Clement, but there was sufficient cause for concern to support some form of close inspection of his actions. By the Minister’s own admission, there were irregularities in the manner in which the process to allocate funds within his riding in connection with the G8 summit was recorded. That alone, while insufficient to support corruption charges, deserves the increased scrutiny that the matter garnered.

    If anything, the outcome of this situation suggests that we are nowhere near the state of American politics insofar as our law enforcement officers and Crown prosecutors remain (mostly) outside of the political sphere and, as such, a criminal investigations of big game targets do not necessarily result in criminal prosecutions.