Don’t ask a politician to help you. Ask them not to harm you.
“I am deeply disturbed that such practices were allowed to happen” – Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser, referring to what eventually became known as the Sponsorship Scandal, 2004
“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” – Captain Louis Renault (Claude Raines), Casablanca, 1942
Political corruption has been great for this province, and ought to be encouraged. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t normally feel qualified to be this jaded, but I would be more surprised, all things being equal, if politicians were NOT corrupt. I mean, sure, there are those diamonds in the rough, respected and respectable political players who fight the good fight, who inspire, instilling the electorate with fist-thumping righteous indignation. And they retire as heroes. But the ones who really get things done are the ones with the greasy palms and the cash-stuffed socks. And you can tell, because those are the guys who are scurrying for cover amid the light of the Charbonneau Commission. And all of the sudden everything has stopped.
The last four decades in this province have been marked by corruption, and collusion between the government and the construction industry (or should that be written “Construction Industry,” I wonder, at the risk of being politically incorrect, to emphasize its euphemistic meaning?). We have had commission after commission after commission. Names would be named, political and business leaders dragged through the mud. The scandals would simmer down for a while, only to bubble up to the surface, again, when things needed to get done. It had led, at one time, to a construction boom, when things were being built by politicians, premiers, and construction magnates whose pockets had been sufficiently lined. But have you noticed that there isn’t very much going on, right now? It’s because we’ve suddenly decided, after over 40 years, nay, more, that we no longer tolerate, or no longer want to be seen to tolerate, graft in this province. So while the guys who would otherwise be building up infrastructure in this place are busy defending themselves to Justice Charbonneau, construction seems to have come to a stand-still.
There are wind-blown orange traffic cones and empty front-end loaders everywhere. Lanes are blocked off, onramps and off-ramps are closed, and construction sites have gone quiet. The super-hospital projects seem to be gathering dust, these days, because political graft is on trial right now and cannot be disturbed.
Witness after witness at the Charbonneau Commission, including construction magnate Tony Accurso, keep setting them up, so to speak, and knockin’ ‘em down, while Arthur Porter, who went from bag-man to fall-guy, is watching it all from his prison cell in Panama.
And it’s all making the city look bad. That is not to say that we’re being cast in a negative light. But there’s just a great big mess, and no one is around to clean it up.
Montreal is a dirty, dusty, broken-down city right now. But just give it a bit of time. Because at some point the Charbonneau Commission will wrap up, having spent about $15million a year. Madame Justice Charbonneau will table her no-doubt voluminous report that will read like a lengthier version of the Maclean’s article that caused such consternation, some years ago, even among some of those who would eventually be caught up by the UPAC dragnet. Careers will end. Sentences will be handed down. The deck chairs will be re-arranged. The dust will settle, the money will start flowing again, and then we can get back to the business of building things.
In the meantime, take a good, hard look at the guys we hired, er, uh, elected to run this place. It’s them you need to worry about, rather than the conventional bad guys.
Because, as Tony Accurso himself said, in perhaps my favourite part, so far, of the Charbonneau Commission, “Don’t ask a politician to help you. Ask them not to harm you.”