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       It's Always Darkest Before The Dawn: 

                     A Chance For Renewal

   

 By Susanna Kelley

Every so often a major political corruption story erupts at one level of politics or another in Canada.

Unfortunately, at this moment in our political history, evidence of political corruption has exploded at all three levels of government in Canada simultaneously.

At Queen's Park the opposition parties spent more than two years delving into every detail of the $1 billion cancellation of two gas plants in order to save several Liberal seats in the 2011 election.  

In Ottawa, the RCMP believes Nigel Wright, former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Senator Mike Duffy, have been involved in bribery and fraud. (Nothing has been proven in court.)

The PMO itself stands accused of interfering in one of Canada's two major political bodies, the Senate, and subverting the very purpose it was constitutionally mandated to fulfill.

The fathers of Confederation intended the Senate to be a body where Senators could be independent in order to give "sober second thought" to government legislation. It was also set up to reflect the wishes of the regions, not the wishes of any political party, as a way to counterbalance the House of Commons.

Notwithstanding the fact that subsequent Prime Ministers have used it as a patronage dumping ground for fundraisers and others who helped them, the current PMO has taken the Senate to a new level of dependent subservience.

Conservative Senators, under what appears to have been severe pressure from the PMO, are said to have acted and voted along party lines rather than independently.

Party discipline subverts both the independence of the Senate and its regional focus.

In Toronto, another crisis.

Mayor Rob Ford has admitted buying illegal drugs, smoking crack cocaine, and driving drunk. He's been arrested for domestic violence, hung out with drug dealers and possibly consorted with a prostitute.  

Such behaviour is relevant because it makes a mayor controlling a more than $9 billion budget vulnerable to bribery - for contracts, for favours, for money.

The mayor of London, Ontario is up on fraud charges; multiple mayors in Montreal and Laval have resigned due to corruption and sex scandals.

Have I forgotten anything?

If so, please don't remind me.

For it's at times like these those who have always believed in the power of democratic politics to make life better for most people are tempted to hang their heads in despair.

But they really shouldn't.

History shows us that out of great crises come great reforms.

Out of the Great Depression of the 1930's came a determination that such poverty never happen again, spurring reforms like unemployment insurance and universal health care.

Out of WWI came the League of Nations; after WWII came the United Nations. The UN's efficacy at stopping wars may be debatable, but it does much good work on the prevention of illnesses and many other global problems.

When the histories of the current corruption stories are written, it will be evident that we're still, in dramatic terms, only experiencing the "rising action." 

Some of them haven't even reached the climax yet (God help us.)

And we have yet to see the denouement, or resolution, which is the most important part of any political story.

Unless human nature changes, political crises will continue to happen. But the important thing is whether we, as a society, deal with them successfully, putting in place conventions or checks to safeguard against them happening again.

For example, several weeks ago in this space I called for Premier Wynne to get involved in the Ford fiasco, saying Toronto is too important to the entire nation to let it descend into the chaos that has unfurled right before our very eyes on real-time television.

While that may still be necessary, Toronto city council has acted with dignity and purpose to come up with its own innovative solution: transferring the mayor's powers to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly until the municipal elections next fall. 

The weak mayor system, which so often frustrates those wanting to push their agenda through quickly, has just worked brilliantly in a crisis. Councilors worked together inspiringly to transfer those powers.  

And yes, there are certainly a number of different political agendas at work here: a number of the councilors want Mr. Ford out so they can run their own mayoralty candidacy campaigns.

But there have also been a lot of people at both the provincial and municipal level pondering how to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

People are thinking of other ways municipal politics should be reformed in Ontario and reflected in new legislation passed by the province.

For example, a proposal for ranked ballot voting for Toronto sits on the Premier's desk.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Senate scandal has forced Canadians to think about whether that institution needs to be reformed or even abolished. Veteran political observer and former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page predicts the Senate will be an election issue in 2015.

As well, Mr. Harper has become immersed in the Senate scandal and as such has done little about a problem that can destabilize the most stable of nations.

Inequality of wealth of the magnitude we are seeing is in Canada and the US is very healthy and perhaps not even sustainable.

Eventually it is what causes social upheaval.

That was the cause of the French Revolution.

And so, wealth inequality and the middle class has become the issue in the federal by-election in Toronto Centre. (Three other ridings are voting in by-elections today as well - the Montreal riding of Bourassa and two Manitoba ridings, Brandon-Souris and Provencher.)

Wealth inequality and the Senate scandal have given some CPC candidates a bad case of nerves as they await the results. 

Should the Liberals and New Democrats take all of these seats it would be a strong wake-up call for the Harper Conservatives.

So there are two ways to look at the crises at Queen's Park, on Parliament Hill and in various city halls across the nation.

They are evidence, of course, of the failings of our human nature and thus, such political crises will always be with us.

But they also offer opportunities to improve our political systems to protect us all from those failings.

Democracy is a fragile and precious thing. 

Because of it, out of crisis often comes rebirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 25, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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