So, the latest chapter in the sponsorship scandal in Canada has gotten to a public milestone: the preliminary Gomery report. Since most of this testimony was conducted live on television (sort of like the OJ Simpson trial), there aren't a whole lot of surprises here. The surprises came six to twenty months ago as lurid tales of suitcases full of money, implications of mob connections, outrageous commissions for little or no work followed by kickbacks to civil servants who allocated the work, and significant portions of the commissions ending up in the coffers of the ruling Liberal Party, all wrapped up in end-justifies-the-means excuses: the Separatists nearly broke up our country -- we just had to do something to save Canada.
(None of this is news to my Canadian readers)
So all we have now that we didn't before, are Judge Gomery's notes, laid out in an orderly fashion showing how money flowed from here to there and back -- ultimately the facts and allegations go like this:
- Money flowed from the federal government of Canada into ad agencies (and other "structural companies" like Canada Post and VIA)
- The purpose of the money was ostensibly to "raise the profile of Canada" in Québec after the nearly-won sovereignty referendum of 1995.
- Firms receiving the money/advertising contracts were hand-picked, not chosen through any kind of bidding process.
- More money was paid than value received by the federal government and some of the money was paid in kickbacks to certain civil servants, especially Chuck Guité
- The most visible result of the money at the time was big "Canada" signs showing up at all kinds of festivals, conferences, conventions and shows in Québec between 1995 and 2001.
- The firms receiving the contracts were typically run by Liberals, who as well as having paid kick-backs to civil servants, also contributed significant percentages of their fees to the Liberal Party of Canada.
- Sheila Fraser, our Auditor-General (sort of like the GAO in the US gave some hints of the problem in 2002 and a full-blown report of her findings.
The end result seems to be a big fizzle. The Liberal Party of Canada
* is exposed as the most venal in the country
* is perceived in Québec as having tried to buy Québec's loyalty in the late 90s (outrage, votes for the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois follow -- no version in English)
* is viewed as being shrewd operators who were only trying to save the country in Ontario and by half the folks east of there, and
* is viewed as reprehensible and bereft of the moral authority to govern: scoundrels who ought to be drummed out of office by most of those living west of Ontario -- except for urbanites who are scared to vote for anyone else.
Quite likely we will have another federal election (what I called a "National Shout" last time) in the next six weeks to three months and I don't see the result being significantly different than it was 16 months ago. As I stated earlier here, I still don't have a real, viable place to park my vote and anyway, I live in a riding where a toothpick could run for a particular party and win, so my vote doesn't mean very much.
Do I sound cynical and disillusioned? I'm afraid so. But hey -- my kids aren't going hungry, we have no shortage of food, fuel or potable water out here in BC and I have the freedom to complain about this kind of thing out loud when it happens. Life's not all that bad, on balance, really. But I wonder how long this kind of meretricious behaviour in our political leaders can go on before all those other things are threatened.