18 October 2009

“Feeling queasy”: Is quieter better?

People in Newfoundland and Labrador must surely be looking with some puzzlement on the flap over federal Conservatives handing out government money as if it was their own.

In this province, their provincial Conservative cousins have the thing down to a science. The use of public money for partisan benefit is an old one in Newfoundland and Labrador but this current crowd have raised it to a fine  art. 

The House of Assembly spending scandal was – for the most part – a scam worked up to push free and untraceable cash that politicians could hand out to all and sundry in their district for any purpose the politician could think of approving.

So pervasive was the practice that a review by the auditor general found scarcely a single politician from any political party who sat in the House after the scam started in 1998 who did not use it to some extent. 

The review also revealed that the politicians elected after 2003 used it with an enthusiasm their federal cousins could only envy.  Of the top ten spenders as a percentage of their constituency operations allowance, six were elected after 2003 and all but one was a Tory.

As it turned out, one of the biggest supporters of the public cash for partisan benefit scheme was a former auditor general.  Ironically, she was the one the House management commission blocked from looking at some aspects of the scam while it was first organizing.  Beth Marshall also felt no qualms about handing out cash in small and larger amounts, nor did she feel any difficulty that there was a skimpy audit trail for the cash or that money was going to duplicate  existing government programs in some cases.

The use of public money for partisan purposes was not confined to individual members of the legislature and that’s where the parallel with the federal Conservatives really becomes apparent.  Since 2003, the Provincial Conservatives have worked to make sure that local partisan benefit came from any available pot of public cash:

-  As we found out when Tom Rideout packed it in, road paving and construction is over-seen by a political staffer in the Premier’s office.

Since 2003, it has been consistently managed in a way to maximise the benefit to Conservative districts and to punish those that voted for another party.

Fire trucks are a recent favourite for the spending announcement with the local MHA. With the recent by-elections and political upheaval, the fire truck announcements are coming about one a week.

The one they’ve consistently used is the small time cash being handed out by one department or another.  The money is from a legitimate departmental program but when the cash is handed out someone from the government caucus gets the credit.  It is inevitably called a “donation” or a “contribution” to make the free cash sound like anything but what it is.

There’s nothing new about it.  Back in 2007, Bond Papers linked to an old CBC news story that dates from the early 1970s that mentions the same practice dating back three or four decades and more.

But just because something is old is not a reason to think it is okay.  Not all traditions are fine or honorable.

Nor is it any better that it is done quietly in these parts as opposed to brazenly at the federal level.  The quiet nature of the local practice makes it all the more insidious.

Done loudly or quietly, though the practice is enough to make anyone concerned for the state of our democracy feel very queasy indeed.



penlan said...

Good post!

OT: Like the change of photo on your blog!

Ward Pike said...

Isn't that the general way of Politics in NL? Sure for generations, people believed that Joey personally gave them every dollar that came in a government cheque, from his own pocket.

It might be curious to see (and a great read at that) exactly how this culture of political spending has occured over the past 60 years and how political careers have been made and broken bribing people with their own money etc.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Ward, one of the points I was trying to make is that over the past 10 years we have seena return to these very old and very corrupt practices.

Like many thingsm, the current crowd have done nothing if not raised these old ways to a high art form, but it isn't something to be proud of.

And why would you need to read about it when the examples of it are all around you?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post... ask your Dad!!!
Like business being buddy buddy with politicians and due to your friendship expecting something in return. So you start at Christmas you send him a turkey whether he needs it or not. The bottle of rum was a favorite too. Building relationships and creating wealth. Take him on trip in your private plane or helicopter fishing at your lodge or better yet let him fly back with you when all others are booked Getting him out of a jam. Bringing them home to spouse and family.
Then expecting your loan grant or tender etc being approved or given top priorty. Gov could clean up a lot more than just constitute spending. a good start I guess It was the first paper trail left behind. Even though some of it went missing

But to quote Al Pacino from Godfather II “"Senator, we're both part of the same hypocrisy... but never think it applies to my family."
Politics and Business when combined is a Dirty Game

Edward G. Hollett said...

My father?

you are evidently confused about something, anonymouse.

Ward Pike said...

Ed, I was suggesting this subject of yours would make an excellent book for someone (like yourself) to write. Just because the evidence is all around us, and may be pointed out from time to time does not mean there isn't an opportunity here to right a heck of a fascinating book. Something in depth.

Just food for thought.


Edward G. Hollett said...

Ah. Now I follow.

I am working on something else at the moment but maybe that's one for future consideration.

Anonymous said...

A book on the expense claims of Paul Dicks would be a good one.
Did he ever pay back the money? The telegram hounded him. A title “The Teflon Dick”
I think Ward knows him, ask Ward!

Edward G. Hollett said...

It wasn't the telegram, it was that bastion of dubious reporting a.k.a The Spindy.

They got it wrong on Dicks; it was paid in full. They only kept it alive for their own reasons and they ignored other juicier stories.

There are plenty of other stories in the scandal that are better than the Dicks one. Heck, it would be worth a book digging into Beth's hypocrisy on inappropriate public spending of constituency allowances. Then there's the one on how much John Noseworthy shagged up.

Anonymous said...

speaking of spindy as you say it... Any new updates on the re-birth of the new online site Dobbin spoke about .! Like will they be handing out little pwg flags to stick on the top of monitors etc. I'm kinda itchin for that type of bitchin. A few laughs ya know. Oh! & what about Mr Cleary, is he held up circling in a election holding pattern?

when people who want to serve the public go missing from even the radar scanns. what should we do? Report a missing person?