Febuary 20, 1998 Halifax Herald

Political patronage alive and well in Canada

The recent flurry of patronage appointments, made by federal and provincial Liberals, indicates that political corruption - politely called patronage - is still alive and well. This payoff game appears to be a way of life for politicians. I doubt they will ever, on their own, accept that using public money to pay off political debts is corrupt and thus discontinue the practice. Accordingly, this being an age where enlightenment is supposed to rule, let us, the citizens, take up the fight to end it.

We must demand that politicians accept that in a true democracy, appointments to any public-service position must be open to the public and must be based on merit. Fairness must be seen to prevail. For politicians to pay lip service to this ideal, while practising the contrary, is hypocrisy.

For instance, having a lopsided legislature committee in place to oversee provincial appointments, under the pretext that it guarantees fairness, is pure political bull. The only thing that a committee of this sort accomplishes is to increase public cynicism about politicians.

One of the most condemning thing about political patronage, especially with unemployment so high, is that these plum government jobs are mostly given to people who, because of excellent incomes, don't need them. The Senate, for instance, is populated with people receiving, or eligible to receive, cosy pensions.

When examining the employment discrimination caused by political patronage, one wonders where the federal and provincial Human Rights Commissions are. Here we have senior levels of government blatantly discriminating against the vast majority of Canadians, excluding them from competing for public-service jobs, and these expensive human rights watchdogs are seen sitting on their fannies, watching the fun. If they can't stop blatant discrimination, what good are they?

Here is my cure for eliminating patronage: First and foremost, bar all political party hacks from public appointments for at least ten years after party affiliation ends. Appointments, except for personal assistants to ministers, would be made by open competition. Only in extraordinary situations, and with all-party consensus, could an appointment to a non-assistant position take place without competition. Put these safeguards in place, and the problem would be solved.

Of course, eliminating patronage is not in the best interests of political parties. Without it, how would the governing party's power brokers bribe the troops to stay in line and blindly support the government?

Because of many politicians hopes of feeding at the trough and the way they support the party's view over that of their constituents, many citizens refer to them as clones. Perhaps this assessment is right. Dolly the sheep may not have been the first warm-blooded animal copied.

All one has to do to arouse his/her suspicions in this direction is to go into a federal or provincial parliament and observe what appears to be dozens of human clones in action. The party leadership tells them to jump, they jump; to clap, they clap; to groan, they groan; it says support something you don't believe in, they support it. If, by not supporting something their conscience says they shouldn't, they prove not to be clones, they get kicked out of the party - i.e., John Nunziata.

To be fair, the patronage situation has improved somewhat since I was a young lad growing up on a Nova Scotia Indian Reserve. At that time, the party in power appointed the doctors, dentists, grocers, etc., who provided essential services for us. The main qualification these people had to have for the job was membership in the party in power. We were often forced to accept the services of what could, in many cases, be classified as "dillies." To have a tooth pulled out without proper freezing or a cancer diagnosed as heartburn were not rare occurrences.

This began to change in the early sixties. The government finally granted us the right to vote in federal elections. With the advent of the right to vote, we began to crawl out from under the iron fist of Indian Agent dictators and demand rights previously denied us. Slowly, the demeaning reserve patronage system, which controlled almost all aspects of our lives, was dismantled.

I vividly recall the first election in which we were permitted to vote. What a demonstration of democracy in action it was! It even included law breaking by aspiring pols. Although the law at that time made it illegal for an Indian to have alcoholic beverages in his/her possession, internally or externally, the politicians landed on our reserve loaded down with the stuff. Because of the before-mentioned I still have a lot cynicism about politics.

There is no place for political corruption in a democracy. To end it in Canada, we, the citizens, must be unrelenting in demanding reform. While Nova Scotia idles in neutral, several other provinces have initiated reform measures. For instance, British Columbia now has a recall law, which has had its first trial and has worked well. Although the two recall measures initiated under it fell short of success, it demonstrated that the BC voter, if they deem it necessary, can demand accountability from their politicians. In Nova Scotia, our politicians can, and often do so with impunity, thumb their noses at us!

Daniel N. Paul


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