Sunday, May 03, 2009

And Therein Lies the Problem

Ultra-secretive environment of Canadian politics keeps too many mysteries

Bob Woodward's journalism has transformed him into an American icon.

Not in the mold of Walter Kronkite or Walter Lippmann, but rather in the mold of an enterprising muckraker.

Woodward was the man who broke the story about Richard Nixon's misdeeds in the infamous Watergate affair -- the scandal that has become the prototypical American political scandal.

Woodward can make it all sound terribly easy. At a recent speaking engagement in Calgary, University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan was amazed at precisely how.

"Your career in Canada would be inconceivable," Flanagan mused. "No Prime Minister in Canada would give you seven minutes, let alone seven hours. And the thought that you would get all these hundreds of interviews with underlings, and meetings, it just wouldn't happen. There's like light years of difference between Canada and the United States."

"From the evidence I have, I think that's true," Woodward agreed, suggesting that Canada may have a unique national character trait as a result of its decidedly non-revolutionary nature.

While American history was forged out of the challenging of authority figures, Canadian history has emerged out of respect for, and deference to, authority as the independent Canadian state emerged slowly and steadily out of British colonialism.

Flanagan notes that an affair like the lingering Brian Mulroney/Karlheinz Schreiber affair could never have occurred in the United States.

"We have a judicial commission appointed to investigate things that Brian Mulroney did in the final years of his administration 15 years ago and we still don't know the truth, and we probably won't know the truth even after this commission is finished," Flanagan said. "I imagine in the United States, the truth would have been published at the time on the front page of the Washington Post."

In Canada, the first inklings of the Sponsorship Scandal were detected as early as 2000. Yet it took until 2005 for a judicial inquiry to begin to establish responsibility for the scandal.

In the United States, it took only two years for the Watergate Hotel break-in to lead to Richard Nixon's resignation.

This difference in response time to scandals allows for time to obscure the facts and dodge responsibility. Then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien continues to evade the scope of his responsibility for the Sponsorship Scandal despite the fact that the Spnsorship Program was run out of the Prime Minister's office, and run by his staff.

The Sponsorship Scandal isn't the only Canadian scandal to be obscured by time. The tainted blood scandal concluded with a stonewalling compensation package rammed through the House of Commons that left thousands of blood-injured Canadians uncompensated.

The federal government had collaborated with several provincial governments to force a compensation package through Parliament that had set a largely-arbitrary cut-off date for victims' eligibility for compensation.

These are only three of numerous scandals that have never been exposed to the full light of day. The low standard of transparency in Canadian politics should be alarming to many Canadians.

Woodward's words should give nearly any Canadian pause.

"Democracies die in darkness."


  1. Awesome post man. Seriously.

    I'll write something more constructive when i'm not on the bus on my phone. I just wanted to say good job!

  2. I appreciate that, man. Seriously.


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