Sense of entitlement at the root of scandals

Monday, September 20, 2004


Written by Scott Piatkowski

by Scott Piatkowski

. In too many cases, however, the inquiry concentrates mainly on the exact ingredients of the cookie recipe and the shape of the cookie jar, rather than on the actions or the motives of the person attached to the hand.

To find out something about those motives, it’s instructive to look at two inquiries that are currently ongoing: The Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program (the Gomery Commission) and The Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry. Testimony before both inquiries identifies that one possible source of much inappropriate activity is a misplaced sense of entitlement (i.e. “I’m elected, so the public treasury belongs to me and/or to my political party”).

The Gomery Commission, which began hearings this week, is not to be confused with the rancorous, highly partisan hearings held by the Commons Public Accounts Committee last spring. These commission hearings may actually accomplish something more than stalling for time until an election can be called. In their first week, they managed to shed light on the total lack of contrition by one of the key figures in the scandal, former Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano.

In questioning Auditor General Sheila Fraser, Gagliano lawyer Pierre Fournier used the most condescending tone possible to suggest that she was simply too stupid to understand the vital importance of the federal sponsorship program. “If the department is unable to present to you a document that sets out the government policy, do you then assume that there is no such policy?... You are aware that the government under the leadership of Mr. Chrétien had stated that it favoured the unity of Canada?”

The point is, Mr. Fournier (and others who continue to argue that squandering 100 million dollars was a necessary step to saving the country), that Canadians – including Sheila Fraser – are well aware that Jean Chretien favoured a united Canada. Indeed, one would have needed to have been in a coma for the last three decades to not know how much Chretien loved Canada. But, the idea that putting the Canadian flag on a banner or a TV screen was going to convince a single Quebecois to vote No in a referendum is not only based on a fantasy, it’s downright insulting to their intelligence. In other words, even if the program had been administered properly, it was a poorly conceived idea that was destined to fail (and, no, the fact that Quebec is still a part of Canada today is not “the result” of the sponsorship program).

The unstated purpose of the sponsorship program was to channel federal government money into the coffers of ad agencies, many of which were run by Liberal operatives or, at the very least, major Liberal donors. That’s why it was possible for the government to pay out thousands of dollars for a list of events pulled off the internet, and then pay thousands of more dollars for the same list a year later. It didn’t matter, because no one really cared about getting value for money, as long as the money was ending up in the right pockets.

Ironically, the fallout from the program may have done more to damage national unity than to help it. A year ago, when Paul Martin was on his way to victory in the Liberal “leadership race”, there was plenty of talk about how he would reduce the Bloc Quebecois to a handful of seats. Instead, outrage over the program and the way that it reflected on the province contributed to a massive Bloc victory in June and rekindled separatist hopes.

In the City of Toronto, a similar pattern of political shenanigans and squandered tax dollars was present in the leasing of computers. The details of exactly how the public was ripped off would take far more space than I have available, but you can read all about it at the Inquiry’s website (www.torontoinquiry.com). One person’s testimony deserves special attention for its arrogance and its evasiveness. That person is former City Councillor Tom Jakobek.

If you’ve been following his testimony, you’ll know that Mr. Jakobek did not unduly influence the outcome of the bidding process, did not accept free flights and tickets to hockey games (well, actually, he admitted that this statement was a lie), and he did not receive $25,000 in one hundred dollar bills from a company salesperson at a secret meeting in the City Hall parking garage. But, you’ll also know that Jakobek has a pretty curious understanding of how elected officials are to act in the public interest. He told the Inquiry, for example, that he shouldn’t be expected to buy his own theatre tickets, because it was acceptable for him to simply phone a corporate lobbyist when he wanted to get into a show. “Generally speaking, that's how I and the other councillors did it… (because,) directly or indirectly, you either owned it or you ran it.”

No, Mr. Jakobek, it is the public that owns it – and that doesn’t entitle you to free tickets or to a free ride for your lobbyist friends.

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