It has been said that we get the government we deserve but there is only a grain of truth in that old saying. By assigning the responsibility equally to everyone, those most responsible for the dysfunctional aspects of our government escape scrutiny.
We believe that we live in a democracy but it has all the characteristics of an oligarchy with crony capitalism mixed in. An oligarchy is rule by a small elite group.
Certainly, this starts with the complexity of modern government where the decisions are often vested in bureaucrats and the difference between political parties is minor indeed. How often do we see a government elected with a promise to change directions, only to see them continue with more of the same?
Steven Harper, with his populist roots of the democratic Alliance party, has become the “undemocrat” holding all power very tightly in his hands, as Garth Turner and Bill Casey have realized. As Trudeau used to say, “an MP is a nobody 50 feet from Parliament Hill”.
Many of us swallow the spin that we are fed, and we vote for a mirage. New governments are elected when a former government self-destructs. This is related to the “best before date” of roughly 8 years unless the leader is an exceptionally gifted showman in responding to the moods of the general populace.
When devising an election platform, it may be necessary to include programs with the knowledge that some will be totally ineffective, or will have to be put on hold once the “real state of government finances” is discovered.
Once elected, the party in power responds to the demands placed on them from corporations, also known as “political entrepreneurs”. In New Brunswick, the political entrepreneur class is well developed and regularly influences governments to subsidize industry, or to enact beneficial legislation or regulations. (LNG tax break, Bill 55 on Rockwood Park, shortline railway Act, Gas distribution act, etc.)
Political parties have fund raising dinners. After all, it takes money to run a political party and prepare for the next election. Who has more money than a road builder who wants the road construction boom to continue? When party fund raising dinners are sold out at $5000 a table, the admission ticket buys more than a meal that is worth perhaps $75 a plate. It buys access to political decisions.
Some of our political leaders have found that the salary allowed is not high enough and ask the party for a top up fund to make ends meet. Shawn Graham indicates that $135,000 a year is enough but David Hay of NB Power makes roughly $360,000. Would it be fair to say that David Hay is doing the work of 2.6 Premiers or could we say that Shawn Graham has 37% of the value of David Hay?
Both are management jobs of considerable responsibility where the key component is the ability to lead strategically. When either individual actually starts doing that, there should be no objection to a very attractive salary.
There is a good argument that can be made for paying excellent wages to attract the very best leaders. In addition, public financing of that salary reduces the needs of political parties to seek financing with strings attached.
What concerns me is not pocket lining that exists, has existed in the past and will likely exist in the future. This is part of human nature that could be reduced but never totally eliminated. The influence that the business as usual crowd has on government policy and expenditures is a lost opportunity to set a change in course to meet the word oil decline expected to begin in the next decade.
Let’s imagine our lives as a bus trip with the Premier being the driver and we are the passengers, along with a group of self-absorbed businessmen huddled around the Premier doing the navigation. A few passengers are talking about CO2 emissions, peak oil, and sustainability of our society, but most of the people are just enjoying the scenery. When questioned about the cliff and the sharp corner just ahead, the businessmen are dismissive and talk about jobs, profits, shouting “Pedal to the metal, Shawn.” When the bus runs off the cliff and crashes, many will be hurt seriously. The Premier will have a surprised look on his face, “How could we have known?” Unfortunately, this story is about the lack of a strategic vision to lead us to a safer sustainable energy environment.
Let’s take a look at several recent examples: The first is an investment of $1 million in government funds for the development of standard bred horse exports and increasing purses at races. One could understand if the investment was in the development of workhorses for the farming or the forestry industry that will be useful as fuel becomes very expensive and agriculture has to change.
Have you noticed how money spent on new highway construction is always linked to self-sufficiency and improvement to economic performance? This reminds me of the way that George Bush linked al-Qaeda with Iraq even though there was no proof. Repeat a lie often enough and people will buy it.
With transportation fuel poised to become extremely expensive, money spent on new highway construction is like buying an obsolete product. We will never get full value for this money. These hundreds of millions each year could be better invested in getting off oil, in supporting high-tech industries, in conservation or anything but new highways.
But don’t worry, you have only four more years of oligarchy before your 12 hours of democracy at the ballot box.