Politics, large and small

Lana Payne
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Tony Clement: a poster child for what's wrong with politics today.

The Treasury Board president, who will oversee the largest mass firing in Canadian history when he's done eliminating nearly 70,000 federal jobs and the services that go with them, appears to have a difficult time with the truth.

If politics was practised on a playground, I imagine children would be chanting: "liar, liar pants on fire" right about now.

Armed with new evidence, the NDP opposition continued to contend last week that Mr. Clement hasn't been exactly, well, upfront about his interfering involvement regarding the selection of municipal projects (like gazebos) in his riding. These projects were paid for with G8 meeting funds.

Emails obtained through Access to Information and reported by the media indicate top bureaucrats have a different view of Mr. Clement's involvement.

Up to this point, Mr. Clement has argued that he merely played a "co-ordinating" role between the federal government and municipal leaders in his riding.

The emails from the bureaucrats suggest it was much more than that. An official with the northern Ontario economic development agency noted (according to a story in The Globe and Mail) that Mr. Clement's office (he was Industry minister at the time) advised Infrastructure Canada which projects should be supported under the G8 Fund.

This completely contradicts what Mr. Clement told a House of Commons public accounts committee where he hotly denied that he or his officials helped select the winning projects.

For Mr. Clement's part, he says the latest charges from the NDP are a result of not knowing the difference between "recommending and choosing." Several months ago he was not admitting to even recommending, but rather co-ordinating.

There you have it. Clear. He just happened to recommend the 32 projects that were eventually approved by his cabinet colleague, John Baird.

Mr. Clement must think Canadians are exceptionally stupid.

He, no doubt, thinks he is being cute and smart. Perhaps he assumes Canadians are not as good at semantics as he is. Perhaps he thinks we don't care. And perhaps that would be true of some of us.

Mr. Clement epitomizes the smugness and arrogance exhibited by so many in the Harper government. It's as if it's all a game to him: gutting public services, firing thousands of workers and abusing the public's trust while funnelling millions into his own riding.

But politics and governing are not a game - at least they shouldn't be. And when politicians engage in this kind of doublespeak and abuse of power, it feeds into the political discontent Canadians have about politics. Sadly, it results in more and more Canadians being disengaged from the political process.

Perhaps that's the point or the real goal. Disengagement works for the Harper Conservatives. It safeguards the status quo.

Yet despite all of the political hijinks, the untruths, the contempt for democracy, the attack on public services, civil society organizations continue to fight for change and a better, fairer and more equal Canada.

Their actions are in stark contrast to those of Mr. Clement and his ilk.

They continue to push their way through the political noise and, while these days their efforts are an uphill battle, they persist. And we need them to do so. Believing in a different kind of world means fighting for it.

On Feb. 1, student activists will do just that. Undeterred by the Harper government, they will hold a National Day of Action demanding that education be defined as a right in our country and not by the size of a parent's paycheque.

At a time when the federal government wants to get out of the business of just about everything, students will demand that Ottawa, in co-operation with the provinces, implement a federal Post-Secondary Education Act and a dedicated cash transfer for post-secondary education.

It's a tough sell, especially when you consider we have a federal government that is more concerned with power than governing; more concerned with downloading on provinces than working with provinces.

And yet, change happens often because of persistence.

The student movement, especially in our province, has proven itself to be politically smart, tenacious, well-organized and disciplined, and persistent.

And students have proven something else.

They can get the job done.

Just consider the impact they have had on post-secondary policy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Student debtloads have declined substantially as a result of measures such as needs-based grants, reduced tuition fees and interest-free loans.

Many of the improvements advocated for by past student leaders did not actually benefit them. The same is true of today's student activists. They do it because they believe in a principle; that education should be a right, not a privilege.

Activism and mobilizing can make a difference, which is why even with the horrible decisions coming out of Ottawa - and there will be loads of them - those who desire a different kind of Canada must persevere and continue to push for a different kind of country - a country where education is, indeed, a right.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns Feb. 11.

Organizations: NDP, Treasury Board, Globe and Mail Infrastructure Canada G8 Fund House of Commons Harper Conservatives Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Northern Ontario, Canada, Ottawa Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Lane
    February 02, 2012 - 14:02

    Every time a union activist like Ms. Payne talks about the federal government's effort to balance the budget (a necessary initiative which I strongly support), they inflate their estimate of the coming layoffs a little more. The fact is that Ms. Payne has no clue how many federal public service positions will be eliminated, and even less of a clue how many positions will be eliminated through attrition and how many will require layoffs. And as for her wish for a dedicated transfer of federal funds to the provinces for post-secondary education, the provinces will never go along with it. They have constitutional jurisdiction over education, and they don't want any strings attached to federal transfers.

  • Townie
    January 29, 2012 - 07:57

    Welcome to Harper Days!!!!

  • paddyjoe
    January 28, 2012 - 09:18

    I still am dismayed that Canadians could elect a government lead by Stephen Harper and peopled by many who appear to be to the the right of Attila the Hun. From their tough on crime agenda to their assault on social programs they represent the polar opposite to what is good and decent about this country. But i guess, in the final analysis, we get the governments we deserve.

    • Carl
      February 02, 2012 - 14:06

      @PaddyJoe: I am glad to hear that you, and all other opponents of tough on crime legislation and government spending restraint, are dismayed. I suspect you will continue to be dismayed for several more electoral cycles.