Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's the Regime, Dalton

Regime change overdue in Ontario

If Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty were beginning to look an awful lot like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, it isn't simply because each is at the head of a seemingly well-entrenched Liberal government.

When it comes to the undeniable ability of each man's government to rack up considerable political standard, one could easily be forgiven for having trouble telling the two apart.

The emerging story of the Dalton McGuinty government appears to be rather similar to the story of the fall of the Paul Martin government. Like the latter, the former is unlikely to have an entirely happy ending.

Meanwhile, if Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is beginning to look an awful lot like former Opposition Leader Stephen Harper (who, it becomes more and more apparent month by month, was actually a very different entity than Prime Minister Stephen Harper), it isn't simply because each has been offered a delectable meal of political scandal by the governments they oppose. It isn't only because each man clearly intends to feast.

Hudak, as some may recall, has been described by some as a potential conservative saviour. Harper came to the leadership of the Conservative party amidst similar sentiments.

Each man, however, seems to be encountering a government entrenched within a political regime that has become prone to scandal. Accordingly, the challenge each man faces -- one that Harper has begun to meet, and that Hudak must yet face -- is nothing less than changing the institutional political culture of their respective (in Harper's case) and prospective (in Hudak's case) state.

In It's the Regime, Stupid! Barry Cooper theorizes that the political regime of any country -- which he defines as the common notions of who is entitled to govern, to what ends, and by what means -- tends to centre around the economic centre of any particular state.

Cooper's argument, as it pertains to the federal government, is that the economic power of the west has drawn Canada's political regime into the influence of western values.

In the book, he surmises that the ultimate significance of Stephen Harper's tenure of Prime Minister is his slow diversion of Canadian governance from the politics of public virtue and toward more pragmatic ends and means.

In Cooper's account, this was as much out of necessity as out of any yearning by Canadians for a different style of governance. He notes that the sponsorship scandal represented the nadir of the politics of public virtue -- as he argues was actually ironically introduced to Canadian government by John Diefenbaker.

Cooper muses that the sponsorship scandal represented in utmost clarity the extent to which the politics of self service had dribbled into the politics of public virtue. Among the other sponsorship scandal-related episodes he focuses on is a particularly telling episode in which a high-ranking public servant -- an employee of the state -- attempted to withhold the minutes of a cabinet meeting from the Gomery Commission in which those present had suggested that strengthening the Liberal party in Quebec should be a primary goal of the federal government in its fight against Quebec separatism.

The infection of the politics of public virtue by the politics of self service had allowed the government of the day to dress up their petty partisan interests as the interests of the state itself.

Cooper further surmises that this infection -- which he suggests is nearly inevitable -- allows partisan-minded civil servants to come to view themselves as entitled to raid the state for their own benefit. They begin to view themselves as entitled to their entitlements.

This "culture of entitlement", Cooper argues, is very much the political culture of the politics of self service.

Those who paid attention to the events of 2004-2006 in Canadian politics are well aware of what transpired during that period of time. Rumblings about the corrupt nature of the sponsorship program first began in 2000, when it was first discovered that Alfonso Gagliano had been awarding sponsorship contracts to companies that subcontracted printing to his son's company. It was a tiny -- and seemingly trivial -- taste of things to come.

In 2002, the ugly truth slowly began to emerge. By 2004, Canadians had a disturbing picture of what was transpiring within that program. An election fought in that year returned Paul Martin's Liberal government not with the overwhelming majority Martin had expected to win, but a minority government.

By 2005, Justice John Gomery finally decided that Canadians were entitled to the full picture, and lifted the media blackout on his Commission's proceedings. Canadians finally got the full picture, and it was decidedly not a pretty one.

The sponsorship scandal should have been destructive enough to Martin's Liberal government. But it took an RCMP investigation into leaks regarding Income Trust taxation policy to turn the tide.

Many particularly partisan Liberals continue to complain that the RCMP was blatantly interfering in the election taking place at that time. But they forget that Martin's Finance Minister, Ralph Goodale, declined to investigate the leaks in question, and thus made the RCMP's involvement necessary.

If one thing can be said about Dalton McGuinty, he is doing a much better job of addressing the political sins of his government.

McGuinty's Finance Minister Dwight Duncan recently fired Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation CEO Kelly McDougald amidst the resignations of its entire board of directors. At issue were findings that OLGC board members had used OLG expense accounts for their own personal benefit, including for golf club fees and bar tabs.

This is only the most recent scandal involving the OLGC. In past concerns have been voiced about how the OLGC investigates fraudulent winnings, and the reported use of subliminal messaging in slot machines in Provincially-operated Casinos.

The Ontario government had previously fired Duncan Brown for the clearly inept discharge of his duties.

However, it now seems that the problems at the OLGC have certainly gone deeper than its CEO, and possibly even deeper than its Board of Directors.

Like Martin, McGuinty's latest troubles come hot on the heels of the eHealth scandal, one that involved some of McGuinty's aides. At the centre of the scandal was hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts issued untendered and without sufficient documentation.

Although McGuinty promptly issued new directives for the management of public contracts, his government shut down an independent investigation of the matter.

When one looks into the past troubles with the OLGC, however, one finds the same individual as at the heart of the eHealth Scandal: then-Minister responsible for the OLGC and current Health Minister David Caplan.

The political regime in Ontario has become so bereft of accountability that a Minister who has proven to be utterly inept at overseeing the OLGC not only did not face any consequences for that failure, but actually received a considerable promotion.

This is the challenge that Tim Hudak must face. If scandals continue to emerge, and continue to be addressed as the eHealth scandal has, defeating Dalton McGunity in the next provincial election will not be Hudak's greatest challenge.

Hudak's greatest challenge will be in turning Ontario away from the evidently polluted politics of public virtue that has led to these scandals, and back toward Cooper's described politics of pragmatic ends and means.

Tim Hudak's challenge will be to change the Ontarian regime. With no newly emerging centre of the Ontarian economy, Hudak's work will be cut out for him. Then again, Dalton McGuinty may have enough bullets left in his gun to shoot himself in the foot until his government bleeds to death.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




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