It seems ages before the RCMP raided the Conservative HQ, and even before the Dion Liberals slipped a disk doing Harper’s heavy lifting on Afghanistan, climate change and the $50.5 billion in corporate tax cuts that now seem destined to push us into the abyss of deficit spending, but it wasn’t that long ago that someone put their finger on precisely what is ailing politics in Canada.
It was only two months ago that Norman Spector, columnist and erstwhile top-Tory in Brian Mulroney’s PMO, speaking before the House ethics committee on the Schreiber scandal-de-jour, said:
“Around the end of Mr. Mulroney's second term, Canada was rated the fifth least corrupt country by Transparency International. When Mr. Chrétien left office we were twelfth. At the end of the Paul Martin interregnum we were fourteenth, which means that this town has a bipartisan problem.”
Spector’s diagnosis is simple: over the past 20 years, politics has become a grinding cycle of Conservative scandal and Liberal scandal and repeat. Why? Because Canadian politics has become a grinding cycle of Conservative and Liberal governments.
Despite their alleged differences on policy (a diminished roster considering the Liberal flip-flop on Afghanistan, cheerleading for corporate tax cuts, and mutual inaction on Kyoto), the Liberals and Conservatives are establishment parties who see in each other their biggest threats as well as their moral measuring sticks.
Why should Liberals not use Sponsorship money to boost their party coffers in the 1990s if the Conservatives rewarded themselves in the 1980s? And why should Conservatives not skirt the election spending rules with their own money today if the Liberals won the 1997 and 2000 elections with taxpayers' money?
Bi-partisanship in Ottawa has become a free-fall punctuated only by one side stopping to shout epithets towards the other and vow to “restore ethics and confidence in government” before resuming downward again.
If Spector’s diagnosis is uncomplicated, his prescription is equally so: give the NDP a chance. Give the one other party that can form a government that is “not centrally implicated in this problem” a turn at the wheel.
From Douglas, Lewis, Broadbent and Layton, Canadians have continually ranked the NDP high on ethical leadership. And there is good reason for that. Even before it was law, the NDP was the only party to maintain a singular ban on corporate donations. And on the Senate, party leaders and premiers could have taken the security and easy money of a seat in the unelected, unaccountable body, but on principle, none ever has.
Ottawa has a “bi-partisan problem” because of two parties who have recklessly and routinely put their interests and the goal of obtaining and retaining power ahead of anyone or anything else.
As Spector, the former Tory admits, New Democrats are not part of this problem. Perhaps its time they were considered the solution.