An indictment of election financing and a leader reluctant to let go.
By: Sheila Copps
Exclusively for www.nextface.blogspot.com
As we sift through the aftermath of Gomery’s second report, the public could be forgiven for thinking the ethical issues surrounding political parties financing have been resolved. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Justice Gomery has provided some useful advice for the new government accountability package, when it comes to political parties, the report is silent. By design, Gomery's mandate was limited to zero in on the murky world of advertising but, more than $80 million later, there are still so many loopholes that another breach could occur in a nanosecond.
For example, one area Gomery was specifically excluded from reviewing was the polling research done for government. A well-placed contract by an unscrupulous politician can easily be directed to someone who then returns the benefit in kind. In the dying days of the campaign, the Conservatives promised to review these practices with the same attention Gomery paid to the issue of advertising.
The bigger danger in the funding system is political parties. While thousands of government documents were reviewed for Gomery, resulting in only a few examples of malfeasance, (most of which had already been referred to the RCMP), very little attention was paid to the party process.
The public literally gasped aloud when they heard stories of thousands of dollars in cash being carried around in paper bags to pay political operatives for political work. But, until the recent election financing changes, cash was the truck and trade of many campaigns. During a nomination battle, it was nothing to see dozens of candidate’s agents showing up at party headquarters with thousands of dollars in cash received from cash membership purchases. Once the money landed at party headquarters, it became impossible to follow.
Same holds true for leaderships. If anyone wants to know why the list of successors to Prime Minister Martin is shrinking by the day, simply follow the money. The cost of the campaign is usually about $2million officially. Unofficially it is about four or five million. Delegates going to conventions are prohibited from having their fees paid by candidates but nothing stops sponsors, representing candidates, from paying for hotels, plane fares costing millions.
The party’s own processes are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny that government departments endure. The Auditor General has no authority to look at the books of political parties. The kind of transparency demanded in corporate Canada does not exist for political parties.
Prime Minister- elect Stephen Harper has an opportunity to establish a new stamp on government by extending his accountability legislation to political parties. It is a tough call because no party likes to have its internal working reviewed by outsiders. While in opposition, parties typically demand change but other priorities impinge when they form government. But the kind of transparency and accountability that people expect in government should logically extend to the instruments of election to government.
When Paul Martin decided to stay on as Liberal leader while the respected Bill Graham would do the work in the House of Commons, it was a decision designed to retain his grip on the same party process that ensured his coronation. That process, largely untouched, has turned the Liberal Party constitution into a parody of democracy. Memberships are proffered or denied based on official support for a candidate. Party office doors are slammed on potential nominees in the name of star candidates. Party officials delete membership information to ensure a particular nomination outcome.
Until that process is publicly exposed and abandoned, the $80 million plus cost of Gomery will be money ill spent.