Monday, August 17, 2015

Canada Embraces Its Watergate Moment And The People Will Decide, Maybe.

We could call the latest scandal in Canadian politics Duffygate, our version of the Watergate scandal that rocked America during the 1970s.  There are of course differences (tape recorded conversations vs. emails) but there are a lot of similarities in the unfolding of the two scandals.  In both instances, an unpopular leader of the country had to deal with the bungling of his underlings: in the US it was a bungled burglary attempt, in Canada it was a bungled Senate nomination.  In both instances there was a cover-up and the public was lied to.  In both instances, it was perceived that a breach of trust had occurred by the person occupying the highest and most important position in the country: in the case of Richard Nixon, he decided to resign rather than face an impeachment process; in the case of Stephen Harper, his fate will be decided by a grumpy Canadian electorate in the present general election.

Perhaps the most unsettling feature of both scandals is the contemptuous attitude that non-elected officials displayed towards the population at large, calling into question whether the two leaders shared this inclination and that the actions of the underlings were simply a manifestation of the culture created and maintained by the two men chosen to lead their respective countries.

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It could be argued that the unethical behavior is nothing more than the consequence of maintaining a political system in which political power is an all or nothing proposition.  To wield power the consent of the electorate must be won, and in the tradition of the political blood sport of electoral politics in North America, "winning isn't everything; it is the only thing."  Hence, the deception and manipulation are simply the means to a greater end.

However cynical this approach to politics might appear and whether the realpolitik in both Canada and the US actually functions in this manner, it fails to take into consideration the cornerstone of representative democracy: the trust that the electorate must have in transferring its sovereign power to an elected government.  Importantly, it is not required that everyone is in agreement with the government's programs and activities -- the electorate determines who possesses the legitimacy to act on behalf of the citizens, and if the people are not in agreement, those who are entrusted with that legitimacy can be voted out of office -- but while holding office those elected to act on behalf of the people must be trusted to act in the best interests of the citizens and to be truthful in their communication.  Failure to do so on either count constitutes a breach of trust and undermines the capacity of the political system to function.  After all, regardless of the power of mass communication in the information age, it still comes down to each individual citizen to evaluate the performance of an elected government and this cannot be done properly if the electorate has been deceived.

As a result, the result of the Canadian 2015 General Election will not be determined by the ideas and proposals from each of the political parties concerning the economy, social programs, the environment, and national security.  It will unfold as a morality play in painfully slow motion. 

Essentially, to re-elect the Stephen Harper led Conservatives, Canadians must decide if Mr. Harper is a man that can be trusted.  If they decide yes he can be trusted, a return to a minority Conservative government is by no means out of the question.  If they decide no, then the result of the general election is really a crap shoot, coming down to whether dissatisfied supporters of the Conservative Party decide to opt for the Liberals as the lesser of two evils, decide that the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, is like the Tory ads say, not ready for the job and vote for the New Democrats, or stay at home and not vote at all.

If you like a horse race, as the first-past-the-post voting system implies, this one is too close to call.  It will go down to the wire, and without question the vagaries of the voting method will influence the final result. 


  1. "In both instances, an unpopular leader of the country had to deal with the bungling of his underlings"

    Actually, going into 1973 Richard Nixon had a 70% approval rate. His approval rating fell throughout the year as the scandal became more closely associated with him. There was, in fact, a time when Nixon was well-liked.

  2. In both cases the underlings were following direct orders from the boss. In an odd way, I'm reminded of Henry II and Thomas Becket "will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

  3. It is difficult to imagine how someone who oversees the administration of a 290 billion dollar budget could be ousted for mishandling a 90 thousand dollar expenditure. It strikes me as being a performance of political farce.


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