Tuesday, April 22, 2008

History of Corruption: Where the rot starts

Michael Ignatieff has a fundraising dinner to pay off $300,000 of debts he ran up in his unsuccessful bid for the Liberal leadership.

This is really where the democratic deficit starts: a system where some people acquire access to millions of dollars and to political power, and the rest of you are just citizens and spectators.

The ideal of the parliamentary system is to make all that impossible. In parliamentary theory, representatives are chosen locally, close to their constituents, accountable to them. And those representatives choose the leaders, who in turn are accountable to them.

The Canadian political parties have managed to interpose themselves in the midst of this system and to turn it all into a centralized process, governed mostly by money. Much of the money actually comes from the taxpayers (as Elections Canada's investigation into the Conservative Party is reminding us), but it's the money flow and control of the money flow that is now central in our politics. And leadership politics is where the money/power vote-buying nexus has most firmly wrapped its claws around the Canadian political system.

Sure the problem exists elsewhere too (which is why we take it for granted). Can we take seriously Barack Obama's claim of a new politics when campaign has spent $8 million on television ads alone, just for the Pennsylvania primary?

But lots of parliamentary regimes actually do short-circuit that money-power flow. In most parliamentary democracies, new leaders are chosen and old ones dismissed by the parliamentary caucus, by MPs chosen democratically (and cheaply) to represent their local constituents. Leadership selection (and removal) takes a day or two, it costs nothing, it guarantees accountability at the top. It's an accountability process, not a money process.

We seem to imagine doing it all over $1000 a plate dinners is part of the democratic process. Pity.
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