Calling Stephen Harper and his party ethically challenged would be an understatement. Critics have been pointing out examples of unethical behaviour for years. Conservative supporters have been sweeping them under a rug for just as long. Now, there’s so much blood in the water not even the most partisan Tories can ignore the reality of the situation.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Harper. There’s Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, a pair of scandals all by themselves. And Pamela Wallin, another of Harper’s appointments to the Senate, a list that also includes Patrick Brazeau. On the robocall front, a court decision points the finger at some questionable activities, while not going all the way due to the limited scope of the case.
Then there’s Arthur Porter, Harper’s appointee as the chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, who was arrested in Panama and is wanted in this country as part of a fraud and corruption investigation. And there’s this week’s revelation at least a third of the members appointed to a new Social Security Tribunal are those who contributed to the Conservative party, including failed candidates and riding association members. Many of the full-time jobs pay $91,800 to $107,900, while some pay between $105,900 and $124,500. Vice-chairs earn up to $164,600, while the chair makes up to $231,500.
Speaking of patronage, there’s the pending ambassadorship for the head of Harper’s security detail, Bruno Saccomani.
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Those are only some of the most recent scandals. There’s a long list going back pretty much to day-one of Harper’s tenure as prime minister. The in-and-out scandal – guilty as charged and fined for it – dates back to the beginning. A variation of the scheme, designed to circumvent Elections Canada rules and claim undeserved deductions, continued in subsequent elections.
There’s Bev Oda and the first-ever contempt of Parliament charge. And let’s not forget the long list of dubious characters and associates such as Bruce Carson, Sebastien Togneri and senators Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein.
Through all of this, Harper has attempted to neuter watchdog and oversight groups en route to forming the most secretive government in the country’s history, all the while espousing openness and accountability. One has only to look at the treatment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer and others to see the government’s true colours.
Increasingly, we see that the culture created by Harper poses ethical challenges. It’s a win-at-any-cost mentality that’s more about gamesmanship than it is good governance. Too many machinations and too much strategy, and not enough doing what’s right for the country.
The increasing power of staff and advisors in the PMO, for instance, sees overeager partisans act as though the ends justify the means.
Look no further than the G20 summit debacle, where $1.3 billion was wasted and the civil rights of Canadians were violated for a Harper photo op.
If we’re going to reverse the ethical slide, we’ll need change, starting with voters making ethics an issue. We have to push for real controls – politicians write the rules, going very easy on themselves so far – that will hold them accountable.