Robyn Benson, PSAC

Political dry rot

storm clouds peace tower.JPG

As the clouds continue to gather over the Prime Minister’s Office and the Senate, it comes as no great surprise to learn that 20% of supposedly impartial chairpersons on the Employment Insurance Boards of Referees have been improperly making political donations—all but one to the Conservative Party of Canada.

Recently we have also learned that the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency rigged competitions to favour former aides of Defence Minister Peter MacKay. It’s an appalling story: qualifications were blatantly tailored to fit pre-chosen individuals, including a failed Conservative political candidate.

Then there was the unlamented departure of Daniel Caron from Library and Archives Canada—a Harper appointee who had no training in either library or archival matters, and who was found to have been living rather high on the hog.

Numerous other names of senior federal public sector officials implicated in ethical breaches also spring rapidly to mind.

Why do they think they can get away with it?

One need look only to the political culture that Stephen Harper has built around himself. He rewards blind loyalty. He punishes dissent—even by ordinary citizens—ruthlessly. Franke James, a Canadian artist who happens to oppose development of the Alberta tar sands, had a show cancelled in Croatia after the direct intervention of the Canadian Ambassador there. Cindy Blackstock, an activist for First Nations children, was stalked by government operatives for more than two years.

This sort of thing sends messages throughout the system. Would-be dissenters keep their heads down, encouraged to do so in the federal public sector by draconian Codes of Conduct, not to mention a still far-from-functional Office of Public Service Integrity. Loyalists, on the other hand, are implicitly encouraged to feel that they can do anything they wish so long as they don’t embarrass the government by getting caught at it.

Political behaviour, in other words, is a model for behaviour elsewhere. Former Minister Bev Oda’s $15 glass of orange juice, or Peter MacKay’s appropriation of a Canadian Forces helicopter to carry him back from a fishing trip, are symptomatic. If these and other abuses hadn’t been uncovered by the media, they would have gone on unchecked.

This poisons the workings of governance as a whole. In the case of MacKay’s expensive flight, DND officials, whether under orders to do so or not, spent time checking into opposition MPs’ use of military aircraft, but found nothing. Here’s a government department doing partisan political dirty work—on our nickel.

The federal public sector has, in other words, been tainted by advancing political dry rot. Its impartiality has been compromised. Malfeasance in the highest offices of the land, now very much in the news, doesn’t stop there. It extends far beyond the walls of the Senate and the PMO—and the long-term consequences are, I fear, just beginning to be felt.

[Photo: Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 23, 2013 8:26 AM.

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