Voting for the promise of goodies

Russell Wangersky
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Last Wednesday, I woke up to a disappointing message about the federal byelection in Labrador. Not that Yvonne Jones won - she's an able campaigner and had the lead pretty much throughout the campaign.

No, I was discouraged by the fact that anyone voted for the former minister after Penashue was forced to quit for quite broad-based electoral financing violations; after federal cabinet member Peter MacKay told voters Penashue would go back into cabinet if elected; and after the clear takeaway message from the campaign became "vote for our guy or you'll get nothing," that anyone voted for the former minister.

And 3,922 people actually did cast votes for Penashue, despite the bad behaviour of his past campaign and the implicit and explicit strong-arming by his current campaign.

It made me wonder just what a candidate - or a government - would have to do in this country in order to get roundly, completely slapped down by the electorate.

Because this isn't just threats and financial blackmail. The idea of voting for the gimmies despite their behaviour clearly extends throughout our system of government so much that it's talked about publicly by other elected officials.

"I'm certainly not going to blame anybody for exercising their franchise and making decisions that they feel are in their best interests," Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters - but she also said "It always makes it more difficult when you don't have somebody inside the tent."

But Dunderdale had already said - when Penashue claimed quite proudly to have held up projects on the island until he got joint federal-provincial funding for road work in his own riding - that she wouldn't accept that kind of behaviour in her own cabinet.

"You cannot have that view and be at the cabinet table. You cannot," she said on CBC's "On Point" during the campaign.

So, even if his behaviour is not acceptable, we should hold our nose for that important spot inside the cabinet?

I don't think so.

Should we acquiesce to the blackmail involved with being told that we have to vote a certain way in order to be treated fairly?

Should we bend over backwards to stuff ourselves "into the tent" or should we tell our federal government that, if threats and unfairness are going to be the order of the day, we're going to have a different government?

Think about it this way: if every single seat in this province had voted Conservative-blue in the last election, would we suddenly believe it was an acceptable practice to put ridings in this province first and punish ridings in other parts of Canada for picking an opposition member to represent them? Of course we wouldn't.

The government of Canada governs Canada. It doesn't benefit those who supported it and punish those who didn't.

Holding your nose because of a dangling cabinet seat essentially means that, as voters, we now accept that the end justifies the means.

Cheat to get into the House of Commons? That's OK if we get a cabinet seat. Fraudulent robocalls, funding violations, missing money - what tactics wouldn't be allowable under those circumstances?

The longer we continue to subscribe to the idea that we should vote for personal gain, the more entrenched the idea will become that government is all about personal gain.

If our highest ideal is greed, what kind of standard are we showing to those we elected?

How can we condemn the venality of the Mike Duffys of the world if our voting is more swayed by local benefits than by honesty, accountability and clear ideals.

You reap what you sow. If you sow handfuls of greed, don't be surprised when big, leafy stalks of it sprout up all the way to Parliament Hill.

And Penashue? If his vote-count had completely vapourized, we might have actually sent a message on ethics to a government that seems to view them as optional.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: CBC, On Point, House of Commons The Telegram

Geographic location: Labrador, Canada, Parliament Hill

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Recent comments

  • Ed Power
    May 22, 2013 - 18:54

    My comments, Mr. Smith, stand. The people who voted to reward Mr. Penashue's incompetence - or criminality - had four other options they could have chosen. They could have voted for the Liberal candidate, the New Democratic Party candidate, the Libertarian candidate or opted to spoil their ballot. By voting for Mr. Penashue they gave their approval to his past actions and deemed them to be acceptable. I find that appalling. It demonstrates that the people who voted for him were either unaware of what he had done in the last election - a gross dereliction of their responsibility to be informed and educated - or chose to ignore it for partisan reasons. The CPC could have wiped the slate clean by firing Mr. Penashue when his 2011 election misdeeds came to light, or declined to sign his nomination papers for the recent byelection and proferred a new candidate. They chose not to. They decided that they/he had done nothing wrong - or that it, in fact, didn't matter - and gave the people of Labrador a stark for "our man" or else. That democratic "choice" sir, is not what our fathers and grandfathers fought and died for. We deserve better. The people of Labrador deserve better. Ms. Jones' involvement in the Constituency Allowance Scandal is well known. She admitted to overbilling and repaid the amount due, without the benefit of a bailout from the PM's COS, I will point out. She was not charged with a criminal offence, but those that were charged, were convicted and sentenced to terms of detention. Was I happy that a wholesale housecleaning wasn't done in the subsequent election? Certainly not, but I can assure you that no one who was involved in that debacle got my vote. As to Mr. Mulroney, I consider him the best Prime Minister that NL ever had. He also had the potential to be the best PM Canada ever had, but he also had some questionable ethical lapses and, like the other Premiers amd PMs I mentioned earlier, was well past his "Best Before" date when he left. That being said, he was a far better PM than the current one, and the previous one for that matter. He also staffed his cabinet with men and women of substance and intellect, and gave them the authority and freedom to to do their jobs, not like the current crop of seat-warmers, sycophants and parrots.

  • Doug Smith
    May 22, 2013 - 11:45

    Mr. Power, inept, incompetent, oblivious are terms we could apply to most politicians. As far as Peter Penashue being - possibly criminal, well one could possibly say that about Yvonne Jones. Therefore, the only difference between Mr. Penashue and Ms. Jones was the fact that he was a cabinet minister with a lot to offer and Ms. Jones had nothing to offer. Regarding your being “appalled” that 3,922 people voted for Mr. Penashue and the implication that they didn’t have the intellectual ability to know they were being conned, shows a contempt for people making a different choice than you would have made. Not an attractive characteristic Mr. Power and not a very democratic attitude either. In the interest of full disclosure I also have voted for all 3 parties. However, I must take exception to your lumping Mr. Mulroney in with the others on your list of “bums”. Mr. Mulroney is the reason this province is now a “have province”. I will forever be grateful to him and therefore will overlook his faults since they are small potatoes compared to what he did for Newfoundland. Mr. Power I am surprised you are so ungrateful. Doug Smith, GFW

  • Ed Power
    May 22, 2013 - 07:01

    Had the CPC offered a candidate in the Labrador byelection who wasn't inept, incompetent, oblivious - and possibly criminal - Mr. Smith, you might have a point. That the CPC would give their blessing to a candidate of such stunning ineptitude reeks of arrogance, and demonstrates the contempt that they have for the people of Labrador. Like Mr. Stamp, the first thing I thought of when Peter Mackay came campaigning was Smallwood and his hand-picked "man". Like Russell, I was appalled that 3,922 people in Labrador would choose to vote for someone so undeserving of their support. Call me naive, but I like to think that (most) people have the intellectual ability to know when they are being conned - which is why the Nigerian letter scam has such a poor success rate. In a perfect world Mr. Penashue would have gotten the number of votes he deserved - one. In the interest of full disclosure I will state that I have no party affiliation. I have voted for candidates from across the political spectrum in four provinces and happily voted "the bums" (Gerald Reagan, John Buchanan, Roger Grimes, Bob Rae, Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin, et al) out of office when they needed it. Next on the list - Stephen "I See Nothing, I Know Nothing" Harper and Kathy "Muskrat Love" Dunderdale.....

  • Jay
    May 22, 2013 - 06:59

    Mr. Smith, Well said. I also found the article condescending towards Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Maybe Russell should have been given the authority to appoint a new MP for Labrador. However, that's nothing new for Mr. Wangersky. He often comes across as thinking that he's the only person in this province who can think. He also breaks out his moral trumpet only against the Tories. He seemed to be in a virtual coma during the Tobin, Wells era, when the Auditor General was booted out of the House of Assembly and almost all MHAs, (mostly LIberal) went hog wild. Some might argue that only the stupid were charged. Russell, maybe if you spoke to some Labradorians you might hear that Penashue is seen to be every bit as ethical as Ms. Jones, though probably more naiive.

  • Pierre Neary
    May 21, 2013 - 20:14

    In the end the voters did the right thing. Penashue represents everything that is wrong with Canadian politics. The voters of Labrador know that Trudeau is the future. They have put themselves is a good position federally.

  • Doug Smith
    May 21, 2013 - 19:57

    Mr. Wangersky , I am surprised that you and the commentators of your column, have formed an unthinking “herd mentality” with respect to Peter Penashue and the recent Labrador election. This is totally unfair to Mr. Penashue and injurious to democracy. An unbiased approach to the topic, which could lead to some form of enlightenment is what you and your like minded friends should have followed instead of the one sided, close minded harangue which leads to nothing but negativity and a weakening of the democratic value of fair play. I’ll just mention a few points in particular where you, Mr. Wangersky, failed to be even handed. 1) You stated, “I was discouraged by the fact that anyone voted for the former minister…” I may be wrong, but to me that shows a contempt for the voters of Labrador. What is wrong with people voting for what they perceive to be in their best interests? Are you suggesting the voters need to check with you before they vote? 2) You mentioned that Peter Penashue had some bad financial behaviour in his first campaign and in the recent campaign that there was some, “implicit and explicit strong arming” and “financial blackmail”. Mr. Penashue’s campaign did state that with Peter Penashue you get a cabinet seat and with Yvonne Jones you get nothing . What’s wrong with that? Its true. All candidates trumpet their positives. 3) You implied a vote for Yvonne Jones was an ethical vote. Now need I remind you, since you didn’t mention it in your column, that Yvonne Jones took part in the constituency spending scandal to the tune of more than $12,000.00. This only came to light by the good work of the former auditor general. So how is Ms. Jones more ethical than Mr. Penashue? She isn’t. The argument in your column just doesn’t do it because it is one sided and most unfair. Doug Smith, GFW

    • Corporate Psycho
      May 21, 2013 - 20:26

      You accuse Wangersky of being one sided and unfair. Kind of sounds like your own argument Dougie. Right on.

    • david
      May 21, 2013 - 20:33

      We ARE a simple as that. We are a herd in ways cows can only aspire to be. Look up "herd".....there's a picture of us.

    • McLovin
      May 22, 2013 - 10:51

      You have missed the point of Mr. Wangersky's article entirely. The point of his article is that if WE, the electorate continue to support the behaviour of our elected officials, then the more they will believe that their behaviour is acceptable. If you are going to sit here and try to convince everyone that: cheating, whether on purpose or not, is ok to win an election, not owning up to this "mistake" and apologizing for it, blaming everyone and everything else for the "mistake", being allowed to run again with the full endorsement of the party, allowing the CPC to repay the debt of the election fraud, pitting one region of the Province vs Another to try and garner votes and dangling the promise of a cabinet seat to to win votes....if you are going to sit here and attempt to convince us that all this is ok because Yvonne Jones (and all but 2 of the then MHAs) was part of a constituency spending scandal then you my friend should really re-think your Moral Values and your logic, which is seriously flawed. You may be a die hard Penashue supporter, you may just not like Ms. Jones, you may not know how to vote anything but Conservative, but sometimes you just have to do what is right instead of what you think is best for YOU!!! Also, there's nothing stopping Mr. Harper from putting Penashue in cabinet.....Do you think he will?

  • PJ Stamp
    May 21, 2013 - 11:55

    Peter MacKay's threat to the people of Labrador to 'vote for our guy or you'll get nothing' was only implied - unmistakeable nonetheless. The threat harkens back to this province's very first election in 1949 when Joe Smallwood spoke publicly at a rally on the Southern Shore. He openly threatened the people of Ferryland district with retaliation if they failed to elect his hand-picked candidate. “I don’t need you,” said Smallwood. “I’ve been elected, but you need me. I’m sitting on top of the public chest and not one red cent will come out of it unless Greg Power is elected. Unless you vote for my man, you’ll be out in the cold for the next five years. Those settlements which vote against Greg Power will get nothing, absolutely nothing.” The fiercely independent Irish rejected Smallwood's man in favour of W.J. Browne. Smallwood held to his word. He not only withheld government support from Ferryland district for that first term but for most of his 23 years in power. Roads throughout Newfoundland and Labrador not even thought of in 1949 were built and paved long before the existing Southern Shore road was made passable, let alone paved. Smallwood's threat was recorded by a visiting CBC radio crew and prompted a call for a public inquiry by then federal opposition leader John Diefenbaker. The government of Louis St. Laurent refused and Smallwood - unchastened and unapologetic - continued his dictatorial ways. Power was subsequently elected as the MHA for Placentia in 1951 and went on to become Smallwood's right hand man. In a final twist of irony, he stepped down several years later in a bitter dispute with his close friend and benefactor.

  • S Redgrave
    S Redgrave
    May 21, 2013 - 11:36

    I don't think anyone can punch holes in Russell's logic. Political and corporate interests must play by the rules and is not 'negotiable'. Newfoundland has seen plenty of great examples lately where public opinion of sound moral judgement has seen some bad decisions reversed, at least for now. The number of good people lost in our last budget speaks for itself. Many of the one's who lost their jobs did so because they refused to back down and compromise their dignity. These are the men and women I admire most---some have become friends because we share the same values of non corruption. The softest pillow is a clear conscience.

  • crista
    May 21, 2013 - 10:59

    Reading your article and comments a realistic ???? article that has truths and the logic has common sense and you ask one self what are the problems that go on with in the government and not just the government???? and now getting to the title-voting for the promise of goodies,is it possible the title should read-goodies for the promises for voting and you read this comment and say to your self,and say do this go on well if it do not go on what are you reading this article for???? then you got to ask your self do it go on and where there is greed there is jealously and childish things is it when you are talking about faith in our times????that any way for society to function????

    • ????
      May 21, 2013 - 11:48

      My thoughts exactly.

  • Don't hate the Player
    May 21, 2013 - 10:50

    Things are the way they are because it works with the voters. Negative campaigning works even if we pretend to be disgusted by it. We eagerly sell our votes and blame government for trying to buy votes. One of the most common expressions you hear from the public is "What's government going to do for me". Greed and selfishness is found everywhere. Why pretend to be surprised when politicians act like us. We get the government we deserve. If you want someone to blame then look in the mirror because we reward that type of behavior.

    • Yessiree
      May 23, 2013 - 07:48

      Exactly! People for the most part vote for the candidate that promises the most goodies (free daycare, free or subsidized housing, money for public sector unions, pavement, make work programs etc.). We have never voted en masse for 'good government'. If a political party was established in this province that would run on a platform of----reducing the size of government (MHA's & public sector workers), spending our tax dollars prudently, promoting a healthy climate for business to start up, keeping taxation low, privatizing government where possible and so on. Generally speaking, if we don't have cradle to grave government intervention, we are not satisfied.

  • Maggy Carter
    May 21, 2013 - 10:24

    It isn't the having of 'crooks in their ranks' that is the issue. It is what we do about it when they are caught. In our own legislature, some have gone to jail - though clearly not enough when you consider our history of political corruption. But perhaps Mr. Wangersky is a bit unrealistic. I am heartened that a majority of voters in Labrador decided to punish Mr. Penashue for breaking the law. That they did so, while knowing perhaps that it might not have been in their own best interests in the short term, speaks very well of their core values. Nor are they naive enough to believe that voting for someone other than Penashue affords them any guarantee of honest representation in the future. But it does put his successor, and hopefully anyone else who runs for public office, on notice that the electorate will not tolerate unethical or illegal behaviour even if our governments do. In that regard, the voters of Labrador have done a great service to this province and to all of Canada.

  • Wild Rose
    May 21, 2013 - 10:16

    At least Albertains know better. Where would Alberta be with the Liberals or the socialist NDP party??? Albertains support the Harper goverment because they work hard and are sucessful and are justly rewarded for there loyality.

    • Eli
      May 21, 2013 - 12:18

      You just shot yourself in the foot with that last sentence.

    • Tony Rockel
      May 21, 2013 - 12:51

      We can always rely on Wild Rose to come up with a suitable profundity and a display of independence from spellcheck ( I guess the latter goes along with being a rugged libertarian).

  • Petertwo
    May 21, 2013 - 10:12

    Leaders are supposed to set an example, they are in responsible positions and highly visible. I do'nt believe that the greed comes from the people, but from what the people see the leaders doing themselves, corporations or governments. If there is no self discipline, it can hardly be expected with the general public. Though generally the public on the whole are not that driven by greed as this seems to imply. Duffy and others are not good examples, but if people figure they can get away with it then why not them? This is tribal, universally and historically, ever since people ever formed themselves into groups.

  • McLovin
    May 21, 2013 - 10:04

    This is the best I've read from this paper in quite a while. We have to do something to stop the the epidemic of ignorance and greed that is overtaking our society. It seems that our leaders and elected officials don't have any moral fiber whatsoever. If Penashue had any, at the very least he would have apologized for the mistake he apparently didn't know he was making. He wouldn't run again, and he certainly wouldn't brag about holding up projects in Newfoundland to secure funding for projects in Labrador in order to try to win votes in a by-election. The 3,922 people who voted for and supported this mess are no better. I'm not saying they should have voted for any of the other candidates but supporting Penashue and the CPC given the facts of this situation and their track record toward this Province alone is astounding. Keep it up Wanger, people will get the message sooner or later.

  • James
    May 21, 2013 - 09:39

    You've got to love the "logic" of a Tory apologist. Claiming (without citing evidence) that eveyone does it makes it okay for the Cons to do it makes it okay. I guess the Cons are so knee-deep in scandal that their toadys are just clawing at anything to look legitimate. Don't forget to mention the 2004 Liberal sponsorship scandal.

  • Educated Voter
    May 21, 2013 - 09:17

    This editorial is nothing but partisan dribble. The Liberals ad NDP are also guilty o having crooks in their ranks and promises of goodies. So all parties are equal in that sense. I give voters more credit and like to think that they vote for policies and ideologies, the true difference factors. However, Wangersky seems to think the people of Labrador are to backwards to make educated decisions based on their core vales.