The Canadian political scene is offering remarkable levels of drama these days. Four senators charged with fraudulent claims for living and travel expenses; a personal cheque for $90,000 given by Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, to help out Senator Mike Duffy; Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused of covering up his own awareness and tacit approval of the Wright-Duffy cheque exchange; the resignation of Senator Mac Harb amidst investigations; colleagues said to have had personal vendettas against Senator Pamela Wallin; Senator Patrick Brazeau claiming back-room deals . . . Hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars are alleged to have been misspent. And somehow, this is distracting attention away from the fact that former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s gas plant fiasco is costing taxpayers a billion dollars instead of the forty million he originally claimed it would cost. A billion is a thousand million in Canada, so it’s costing twenty-five times more than Premier McGuinty said it would. Hmmmm . . .
I think I’m supposed to be feeling outrage. “How can they justify using our tax dollars so arrogantly?” is the expected response when politicians abuse the public purse. “He lied to us! He should be held accountable!” “Their story keeps changing. You can’t trust any of them!” These types of comments make sense given the unfolding narrative – in all its variations. But the feeling that strikes me most when I listen to the news these days is a distinct lack of indignation about it all. I don’t find any of it shocking.
Our journey out of debt has necessitated an honest look in the mirror. As I’ve acknowledged my own faults in dealing with money, I’ve learned to forgive myself and move on. Having done so, I’m not inclined to thirst for revenge when it comes to the faults of others – even politicians. Some senators have apparently overstepped the bounds of justified expenditures. I’ve done that countless times. Many powerful people are denying that they’ve done anything wrong. I know what it is to be in denial. Accusations are flying as different interpretations of complicated spending regulations are put forward. Didn’t I just write about financial bickering last week? Senators are claiming they’ve followed the spending regulations as well as advice from their superiors. Their superiors are backpedalling, and the spending regulations are being exposed as a quagmire of confusion. I’ve contributed to the financial chaos that results when communication is lacking and understanding is uncertain. That’s why I’m in debt.
I know that there are limits to a comparison between my personal financial foibles with those of public figures who are using public funds and who must be held to a higher standard of accountability. And of course I want justice to be served. Of course I believe that those who have breached public trust should receive appropriate consequences. But I also hope that there will be no politically expedient scapegoating. And I hope that we won’t indulge ourselves in eager, bloodthirsty assassinations of character.
Here is my advice to our political leaders:
- Let the investigations continue.
- Let due process take its course.
- Clarify regulations regarding expenses and make sure they are effectively communicated.
- Acknowledge bad practice and formulate the remedy for it.
- Recognize systemic problems inherent in the current scandal. It’s not just about a few lone senators.
- Mete out appropriate consequences to individuals, but avoid a witch hunt.
The mess surrounding this Senate Scandal is familiar to me personally. And given the fact that Canadians’ average debt-to-income ratio is 165%, I think it should be familiar to most of us. Outrage misapplied does nothing but lash out its blame and accusations as it defends itself in stubborn denial. What’s needed here is a disengagement from the chaotic rage-fest. What’s needed is honest discernment and openness to change. What’s needed is sober second thought.