Monday, 19 October 2009

Who Do You Want to Lead You: Crooks, Reality TV Wannabes or People with Principles?

The Montreal municipal election campaign has been marked by revelations of contributions from construction companies to highly placed councilors over the last few years. Among them were inflated contracts for water meters, but some of the same practices surfaced over the weekend when the Number Two opposition figure had to step down because it appears he also had dealings with some of the same individuals.

Apparently police investigations are underway, and at the moment it is premature to lay blame right and left—in this society one is innocent until proven guilty after all—but this sort of hanky panky sullies what ought to be a high calling, that of being a leader in a democracy.

One thing puzzles me in all this: what do the politicians implicated in these affairs gain for themselves? In the sponsorship scandal which shook the Liberal Party of Canada a few years ago, and here again, the money given clandestinely was purportedly to finance political campaigns with the understanding that contracts would be thrown in the direction of the donors.

Individual politicians supposedly did not pocket the cash, and in some of the cases the money shows up in party accounts. But surely politicians don’t stick their necks out unless there’s something in it for them. Either the money went to finance a nice life style (like the thousands that Brian Mulroney received from Karlheinz Schreiber which went not to party coffers but to Mulroo’s personal safe), or the politicians in question want to be re-elected so badly they betrayed the public trust.

The first possibility is bad enough, but the second one is also troubling. Is the lust for celebrity and power that much of a reward? We don’t need leaders whose motivations resemble those of Reality TV personalities any more than we need crooks.

PS. If you'd like to read more about politicians torn between the high that comes from political life and doing the right thing, check out my novel The Violets of Usambara.

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