Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ah for the exciting days of politicians and envelopes full of cash

Perhaps it is the fact that I am writing this column on Christmas Day, but I am feeling rather nostalgic when I read about politicians and envelopes stuffed full of money. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recently admitted that “in the biggest mistake of his life” he had accepted three cash payments of $75,000 from German lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber in 1999.

For those old enough to remember, about ten years earlier there was the infamous incident of former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm taking a cash payment from a Vancouver real estate agent named Fay Leung that played a significant role in his departure from office.

Both politicians had started off their governing terms winning landslide elections. Both finished their careers by resigning in disgrace and having their governments resoundingly defeated and even the political parties they once led falling by the wayside.

But in the media’s coverage of the Mulroney – Schreiber scandal there is also something of a political nostalgia trip that the Ottawa Press gallery is also going on. It’s as if the political media in Canada are trying to relive the glory days when political scandals graced the front pages of our daily newspapers and editorials thundered and editorial cartoonists skewered those caught up in their political crosshairs.

Now as a society it seems we simply don’t care. We recognize that for the most part politicians have delegated much of their power either to faceless bureaucratsor nameless political staffers leaving not just backbenchers but in many instances cabinet ministers to be regarded and treated as political nobodies.

But even when it comes to scandals involving those at the top, there seems to be little appetite for any form of serious or sustained investigative journalism. The simple fact is that if the Watergate Scandal had happened today instead of three decades ago, Richard Nixon would never have had to resign. Such a scandal nowadays would likely have been considered too complicated and too boring to be followed up on by other than few tenacious bloggers.

If you don’t believe me then consider the fact that a bribery and corruption scandal involving the sale of BC Rail that is still making its way through the courts has now become all but ignored by the mainstream media and nowadays is only being consistently reported on by one or two bloggers.

Even the obnoxious and condescending Christmas letter sent by ICBC to almost half a million drivers received relatively media attention. For those of you that received ICBC’s sanctimonious diatribe, you may take some comfort in the fact that Paul Taylor, whose name appeared at the bottom of the letter, seems to have conducted himself in a highly questionable manner with regards to a couple of lobbyists who, in return for immunity from prosecution, have admitted to bribing various government officials.

But the fact that most of the people caught up in the BC Rail scandal are either people who were lobbyists, political staffers or bureaucrats show how much real decision making power has moved out of the hands of the people we elect and into the hands of people they appoint.

So as our governments and their various ancillary agencies get ever more technocratic and bureaucratic expect far less in the way of stories involving some lobbyist handing some politician an envelope full of cash and expect far more where some faceless bureaucrat is demanding more of your money in the way of fees levies and fines as you go about your daily struggle to simply provide for yourself and your family.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relation’s consultant (lobbyist) who can be reached via his website at