Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Contempt of Parliament

Maybe they figured nobody would know that Huntsville, Ontario does not share a border with the United States. Maybe they thought the citizens of Ontario wouldn’t care. When the Conservative government informed Parliament that fifty million dollars had been spent on border crossing improvements in Huntsville, which only coincidentally is in one of the most conservative ridings in Ontario, maybe they figured no one would question the allocation of such a small sum of money.

First, the basic geography.

Huntsville, it turns out, is hundreds of kilometres from the nearest border crossing, and pretty much on the periphery of the heavily populated portion of Ontario. It would be difficult indeed to find a reasonably populated location in Ontario farther from a border crossing than Huntsville, Ontario.

“Wait a minute,” the mayor of Huntsville says. “That fifty million dollars was used to fund infrastructure improvements for the G8 Conference. The money was accidentally taken from the wrong pot. Who cares? The money would have been spent on the G8 Conference anyway. World leaders had to relieve their bladders somewhere, so we built rest rooms. There was no conspiracy to mislead Parliament.”

Fair enough. So, then, the upgrades at a senior citizens’ centre, paid from money earmarked for border crossing improvements, were put in place for the use of President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron? I guess we can concede that possibility—even though Barack Obama was 48 years old in 2010, and David Cameron was 44—nowhere near retirement age, even in Ontario. But the larger difficulty here is that the senior centre isn’t even close to the place where the world leaders met—it is several kilometres away. We still might envision a plausible scenario in which fleets of ambulances—fitted with bulletproof glass, of course—were deployed to whisk away those coffee-drinking world leaders to the senior centre across town so they might relieve themselves in privacy. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that anything like this occurred. There were plenty of rest room facilities on-site. Money legitimately allocated to the G8 Conference was spent on the few infrastructure improvements that even the most pampered world leaders found necessary or acceptable.

Several Huntsville projects, in fact, were funded out of money designated for border crossing improvements, and justified as infrastructure improvements required for the comfort and safety of G8 Conference participants. Only a few of the improvements were made anywhere near the conference location; the largest projects were for facilities far away from the site.

Even an open-minded outside observer would be forced to conclude the money was wilfully misallocated. The only question remaining is whether the Conservative government intended to mislead Parliament, or were they merely demonstrating unfortunate but forgivable incompetence? Mr. Harper and his gang have never been considered among the sharper knives in the drawer. Maybe the Cow Town Posse just doesn’t get out all that much. Is it reasonable to expect that a bunch of cowboys from Alberta should have a grasp of Ontario geography?

Pork barrel spending is as old as politics. Party leaders have to be able to count on at least a few ridings that will reliably vote for the candidate of their party, no matter who they put up for election. Muskoka is a solidly conservative riding, but Conservative leaders cannot count on fickle Ontario, which has turned this way and that, sometimes with the political winds, sometimes against. They needed to establish a few key ridings, and Muskoka, away from the unpredictable, competing political difficulties of metropolises like Toronto, was a good place to spend a little insurance money—collected from the citizens of British Columbia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland. Why not? A good number of them voted Conservative in the last election. Will they care that Harper’s gang may have lied to Parliament?

The Auditor-General says she cannot release her report of findings on possible G8 mismanagement. She cannot comment on the possibility that the Harper Government misled Parliament. All of that will have to wait until the next government is formed, which will not occur until after the May 2 elections. While this may create a temporary convenience for the Conservatives, one has to wonder what the effect will be on MPs once the full truth comes out in the Auditor-General’s report. Pressured by irate constituents, demanding that Conservatives face natural consequences for their contempt, will MPs long be able to resist the will of the people? It could be a short but interesting summer. Labour Day elections, anyone?

April 12, 2011

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