The big picture overlooked in scandals

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If greasing a wheel that would save the country tens of billions of dollars in the long run cost a mere few million dollars now, no one in their right mind would be opposed.

Yet the Liberal Martin/Chretien government of the late ’90s to the mid-2000s was toppled over an affair that amounted to peanuts when compared with the overall big picture.

Although the party indeed initially engaged in deficit financing, in its later years, it had not only held the line on overall national debt but had even begun to slowly but surely pay it off and humbly left behind a $13 billion-plus surplus.

But then of course, the sponsorship scandal hit.

It really never takes much, and it’s impossible to tell what otherwise seemingly innocuous turn of events might result in public outrage.

The opulently wealthy — as in the few who own as much as the millions on the lowest end of the economic scale — siphon literally billions of dollars from the economy every year, pooling it up in a multitude of off-shore tax havens. The problem globally racks into the trillions of dollars, and hundreds of Canadian names were certainly among those in the recently revealed Panama Papers.

That’s OK though, because good news!

It’s all just the perfectly legal results of trickle-down economics and free trade. Let’s obligingly enable those among the wealthiest 0.1 and 0.01 per cent who are so inclined to process personal income offshore as a fictional front company that employs nobody and produces nothing while getting a nearly non-existent business tax rate.

Despite all this, no discernible public outrage.

Meanwhile, the former Liberal party was ruthlessly brought to its knees by unapologetic voters over a couple of million dollars. That would be huge news for a small town or perhaps a city, but the whole country?

To recap, billions of dollars are legally lost to our economy every year to offshore tax havens and this apparently warrants complete indifference and incites little to no effective outcry or resistance from the general public.

But a couple of million improperly awarded dollars on an economy worth into the tens upon tens of billions creates such vehement fury from the electorate.

As a result, not only was the former Liberal party beaten, it was crushed — utterly devastated and relegated to the realm of political obscurity for almost 10 years, suffering defeat after humiliating defeat and going through several leaders before finally finding one that seemed at least remotely relatable and charismatic.

When we divide — for simplicity’s sake — $10 million with say $200 billion, that amounts to a whopping 0.00005 per cent. This is frankly literally infinitesimal. The former Opposition of the day nevertheless seized triumphantly its opportunity to wave that $2 million in the public’s face while ignoring the insignificant fraction of one per cent it really represented on the overall national budget.

If anything, the real “scandal” was the exorbitant cost of the ensuing legal commission, which ran up some $14 million to investigate the $2 million awarded to companies on contracts awarded without proper bidding systems, which for the record duly required disciplinary action — but an inquiry that cost seven times as much as what it was looking into?

Yet even that didn’t seem to elicit much outrage. Perhaps it was just a willing sacrificial cost of “justice.”

It seems as though regardless of what today’s incarnation of the Liberal party does — for the perceived better or for the perceived worse — it will most likely be doomed by some trivial scandal. If not in this term, then almost prophetically speaking in the next — two terms or roughly 10 years is about all a Canadian government ever seems to get before people get fed up.

When that happens, it will be interesting to see whether the defining scandal of the day is just another over-exaggerated molehill or truly a mountain.

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About Author

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.