“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
— George Bernard Shaw
There are days when I feel like we’re living in some Third-World backwater, where avarice and ambition rule and those of us among the public are all just worthless pawns; like the joke’s on us only we’re not laughing.
That may sound harsh, but when part of your job involves having to pay attention to the political machinations of this province and this country, you can’t help but feel beaten down some days.
Case in point: Ashley Fitzpatrick’s story about the failed immigration investor fund, which ran on the front page of The Telegram on Tuesday.
The story details companies defaulting on loans, millions of dollars of venture capital wasted, a lack of government record keeping and immigrants being left in the lurch.
Here’s the punch line, from a deputy minister at the time: “I do not foresee many circumstances where this particular program is likely to result in anybody losing their money.”
Cue the laugh track.
And the most telling paragraphs of all?
Information on the fund was also sought through the Department of Finance, but again documentation was apparently never produced in the first place, or was not kept on file.
As one staff member said in explanation, there was no requirement to produce reports for official record until the Transparency and Accountability Act came into effect. That legislation was introduced in 2006, with two years allowed for full compliance.
So, in other words, in the absence of accountability rules, the government can do — or not do — whatever the hell it likes.
The investment fund was started under a Liberal government and flailed and floundered under a Conservative one, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.
And it’s not just mishandled money.
Some days it seems like every natural resource we have is for sale or available to be exploited or used as a garbage dump.
Need somewhere to put your toxic mine tailings? No problem! We’ve got this pristine pond right here you can use. Never mind the trout — there’s no money in that. And, thankfully, tailing ponds are unbreachable.
What? You say your business is no longer profitable but you couldn’t be bothered to dismantle the building? No worries, just let it fall apart. It’s only an outport. If the locals kick up a stink we’ll clean it up — eventually. And can we send you the bill? No? OK, no problem.
Recently, interim Premier Tom Marshall was publicly lamenting the fact that university students at Grenfell in Corner Brook were actually questioning fracking and the use of tire-derived oil as fuel, rather than blithely embracing both practices — environment be damned.
“I wanted to see the university inculcate in those students the entrepreneurial factor — to take a chance, to build something, to invest,” Marshall told The Western Star.
What, he didn’t expect the university to teach them critical thinking skills, too?
Anyone with those skills can see exactly what the government was trying to achieve with Bill 29.
What’s that? You’d like to access a piece of public information? Sorry, that’s privileged. You disagree? Sorry, you’ll have to take us to court. Can’t afford it? Too bad.
Then there’s our shiny new whistleblower legislation, which exempts private companies, anything that might have happened in the past and — wait for it — cabinet ministers.
Why cabinet ministers? Because apparently they can do no wrong.
Here’s Steve Kent, who, upon introducing the legislation in May, told The Telegram he had a hard time believing anything untoward could happen around the cabinet table.
“We, as cabinet ministers, we’re held to a pretty high standard and we make an oath to abide by the law and to operate in a very ethical, responsible way,” he said. “The scenario that you’re describing is just pretty far-fetched.”
Mr. Kent, may I introduce you to Ed Byrne and Jim Walsh?
This is the same Mr. Kent, of course, who is promising to revisit his government’s decision to axe Family Violence Intervention Court should he be chosen as premier, despite the fact he did nothing to quell his colleagues’ laughter and derision when NDP MHA Gerry Rogers stood in the House to ask the government to do just that.
So you see, it’s pretty hard not to be cynical some days; to think that some people get into politics solely to benefit personally from the inside track they’re on while in office, or to proffer positions and favours for family and friends.
And that’s a shame when you think of the many good and ethical politicians out there slaving away on behalf of their constituents, rather than polishing their political profiles and nursing their own raw ambitions.
Too bad those folks rarely become premier.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.