It was a bit of an eye opener in the past week or so, to be reminded by all three levels of government how self-serving some politicians can be once they hold office.
In Huntsville, Mayor Scott Aitchison has proposed that the Town ban municipal election signs in the future. It is a very “green” idea and bound to be popular in some quarters. It is also self-serving and hypocritical. During the last election campaign, the Mayor was offered the chance by another candidate (yes, that would be me) to forgo election signs as all three candidates were relatively well known and there was no incumbent who would have an advantage. He thumbed his nose at that idea.
There is no doubt that signs during an election period, especially when it is prolonged, is a form of environmental pollution. Councillor Dan Armour hit the nail on the head however, when he pointed out that there is another side to this story and that is incumbents on Council would have a distinct advantage if election signs were totally banned.
Elected officials enjoy a high profile in the community and that is how it should be. However, elections are intended not only to hold incumbents accountable, but also to allow new people an opportunity to serve. Often, these folks, especially those seeking election for the first time, do not have the same community profile as those already in elected office.
Election signs can and do play an important role in raising these profiles. It also helps to ensure an even playing field. I expect blowback on this one but at the end of the day I think Councillor Armour is right. To ban municipal election signs would be self-serving and unfair to new candidates.
At the Provincial and Federal levels, it was almost amusing to watch the various political parties dance around the serious issue of fundraising and influence peddling. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has suddenly become the shining white knight, determined to clean this decades-old mess up with one sweep of her legislative hand. Again, laudable on the face of it but self-serving in fact. After all, one did not hear a peep out of the Premier about reforming election and party fundraising laws until she had made sure her own coffers were overflowing.
Only a few days before her ‘conversion,’ Premier Wynne hosted her annual dinner for high rollers where tables sold for as much as $18,000 each. That single event netted the Premier’s party $2.5 million. And then of course there were the private dinners hosted by the Premier for really big bucks from the corporate community, to say nothing about using a recent by-election to raise funds totalling many times more than the actual amount of money the Party was allowed to spend in the campaign. In by-elections alone, the Liberals have raised over $6,700,000, more than double the Conservatives and NDP combined. With polls showing the Wynne Government’s popularity at 26 per cent this can’t be because they are loved. It has to be all about influence and self-interest.
To be clear, all of this is currently legal, but it still encourages influence peddling and it is still self-serving and again, somewhat hypocritical, to come out swinging the reform banner only after you have ensured your back is well covered financially for the foreseeable future.
Ontario Tory leader Patrick Brown has recently called for a comprehensive public inquiry into the awarding of government contracts, grants and contributions to corporations and their entities who made donations to the governing Liberals. Of course it won’t happen and for that Brown should be happy. After all, it is a little like the teapot calling the kettle black. The Tories have used similar tactics when in government and both the Conservatives and the NDP have made full use of the current laws for fundraising.
The Feds are no better. Just look at a comment made by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about her attendance as the main attraction at a private fundraiser for the Liberals, sponsored by a law firm. She said she was there as an M.P. and not as Justice Minister. Really? She is there with a bunch of lawyers who paid $500 bucks a pop to see her and she thinks they don’t know she is the Minister of Justice? Does she really think they would all turn up in Toronto with their cheques just because she is a Member of Parliament from Vancouver? And you can bet your boots that the Minister was there with an assistant who took notes about comments and requests from folks who put out good money to have face time with her. It all kind of stretches the old credibility scale, doesn’t it?
Of course, it is well past time to have comprehensive political financing reform at all three levels of government including at the municipal level. How refreshing it would be, however, in this instance as well as in other issues, if more politicians thought less about looking after their own self-interest and more about looking out for the interests of the people they are elected to serve.