Lies: the new truths

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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“I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.”

— Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers

Sometimes, the more barefaced the lie, the harder it is to address. Why? Because when someone makes the effort to stand up and lie right to your face, knowing they have been caught, their audacity leaves you nonplussed — especially when they go on plainly lying and refusing to admit it.

Welcome to the new normal of politics.

There are plenty of reasons people talk about Canada’s growing democratic deficit: people don’t vote because politicians are all the same. Because one vote doesn’t matter anyway. Because it was snowing.

I think it’s because politicians now know they can lie with virtual impunity.

There was a time when, if you caught a politician lying, they would apologize. Or resign.

Now, the rule is just keep on going and bull it out — because the electorate has a short memory, and there aren’t going be any consequences anyway.

You could call it overweening partisanship, but what it really is, is contempt.

We’ve gone past the point where politicians can’t be trusted to make good on the promises they make during the heat of election campaigns. No one expects promises to be kept now.

But the latest deceit is the ability to simply stand up and lie about your actions, either by commission or by deliberate, calculated omission.

And noses grow …

Federal cabinet minister Bev Oda told a parliamentary committee she didn’t know who had changed a critical CIDA document, and later admitted she had ordered the change.

She’s been censured by the Speaker of the House, and is now facing a committee investigation for being in contempt of Parliament. She still maintains she’s done nothing wrong.

A few weeks ago, another Tory cabinet minister was in town. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was suggesting he had no idea this province needed a new facility to replace Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, because the province’s Liberal MPs hadn’t ever raised the issue.

The Liberals brought forward copies of letters to the minister’s office — let alone regular correspondence from the provincial justice minister about problems with the facility — but Toews did not back down on his wilful blindness.

And it’s not just a problem in federal politics.

Closer to home

Take the province’s defence of its suggestion that Elizabeth Matthews should be the new vice-president of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

Asked why someone who didn’t seem to meet the qualifications the job required would be picked by the province, Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner basically trumpeted the fact that Matthews was a fast learner, and that she had communications skills the provincial government felt the board needed.

That may be true in some limited way, but what mattered more is that Matthews is a former communications director for then-premier Danny Williams.

If she wasn’t, would she have gotten even a look-in at the job?

Did any other fast-learning communications specialists get considered?

No. Good Tory. End of story.

Remember Joan Burke and the original hunt for a new president for MUN? She didn’t interfere in the process — except for the fact that she plainly did.

Tobacco litigation? The provincial government picked what it said was the best law firm for the juicy contract. Of course it was: they picked the only company they actually considered.

But having brazen politicians play fast and loose with the truth has real and practical dangers.

Mortgaging the future

Here’s a simple questions: is the Lower Churchill project as it stands now a good investment for the people of this province?

How would we know? Because someone told us it was?

The Conservatives say it is — but is their support contingent on politically connected firms getting a healthy dose of untendered contracts, now that the Tories have exempted Nalcor from public tendering requirements? That sounds far-fetched, but if you can’t trust them to tell the truth, how can you ignore that possibility?

The Liberals say the project will deliver huge costs and wildly expensive electricity, and that the costs will be borne by anyone who pays an electic bill. Once again, how do you know they’re not lying for their own benefit, knowing that instilling a goodly fear of high electricity prices might push a few more votes their way?

If the project goes ahead as planned, the province will assume billions of dollars of new debt, debt that will have the ability to drastically alter the futures of our children and grandchildren. Before we decide to invest that money, we have to know if the investment makes any sense at all — and if we can’t trust politicians to make even a basic, honest effort to clearly represent the issues involved, we can’t make an informed decision.

The politicians of the day will be long gone, enjoying huge pensions that most taxpayers will never see. Their anointed patronage and porkbarrelling confreres will have the comfort of their political gains. And the lies involved will disappear into the mists of “what was wrong with people back then? Couldn’t they see what was going on? They must have been some stupid.”

Why does it happen? Because like the Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara almost decapitating Max Pachioretty of the Montreal Canadiens last week, we let it happen.

Until there are consequences for the deceit that’s reached the level of bold-faced, unapologetic lies, we can hardly expect a change.

Heck, under parliamentary rules, you’re not even allowed to say that someone lied, even when they clearly have done exactly that.

If you’re a politician, what more permission do you need?

“We weren’t lying — we were just whispering into your ear.”

At least Chico was a professional comedian.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.Asked, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens

Geographic location: Canada

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • GRISHA
    March 23, 2011 - 17:41

    They not only lie, they cheat and steel too. They are the best and most resourseful criminals in that they reform the laws so there is no technical violation. What a racket!! But, like an old sage locally says, "Lyin', cheatin' an steelin's still lyin' cheatin' an stealin'."

  • dicki shay
    March 16, 2011 - 10:53

    Awesome piece, keep it up!

  • JT
    March 15, 2011 - 11:56

    "The Conservatives say it is — but is their support contingent on politically connected firms getting a healthy dose of untendered contracts, now that the Tories have exempted Nalcor from public tendering requirements? That sounds far-fetched, but if you can’t trust them to tell the truth, how can you ignore that possibility?" regarding the above in quotations, Is Russell referring to the federal conservatives? They are the only conservatives I am aware of in Canada. We have Progressive conservatives here. Oh and one more thing, does anybody remember the phrase "Clyde lied"?

  • Jacob
    March 13, 2011 - 20:21

    Bang on Russell! Unfortunately the bar was set provincially when the scoundrel polititians of the day Byrne, Walsh, Collins et al were SENTENCED to the covalescent home in Bishop's Falls. Does'nt help when judges are either incompetent or worse corrupt.

  • David
    March 13, 2011 - 18:23

    A dictatorship that holds legal but dysfunctional elections is called a democracy. It's just a word. Enjoy yours.

  • Ise Dabye
    Ise Dabye
    March 13, 2011 - 03:29

    lies...without a doubt...unabashed, unapologetic boldness and fearlessness knowing nothing will ever come of 99.99% of whats going on...the reason(s)...you my friends...the voter...and more importantly the non voters...the right that thousands gave their precious lives for ...you allow persons to remain in power that clearly should not be...ive had the unfortunate circumstances of having been involved in government related events that 90% from the lowest to the highest involved were nothing but LIARS...looking to bolster their own means and pockets through whatever it takes...take no prisoners...full steam ahead...russell writes almost daily of some of this governments deceitful ways and yet days come and months go and no amount of voices come forward DEMANDING answers...if NL'ers dont have the backbone to try and better their own lives at least they should be intelligent enough to try and better things for their children and grandchildren...speak up people!!!!!!!!!!!...tomorrow may be too late!!!!...the highest priority should be IMMEDIATELY ousting any and all lawyers from holding political office...they are by a long shot the biggest "brotherhood" on the planet ...pay attention my friends to who really pulls the strings(more so as each election comes and goes) and you'll clearly see what im writing about.

  • Nessie
    March 12, 2011 - 16:24

    Great article Mr. Wangersky! The truth is best to be told and you are doing just that in this article. Please keep your articles percolating in this manner and eventually the light will be able to filter through the opaqueness unobstructed. In the end we will prevail because we are not going to stop this process of searching for the truth from our government on matters that concern us for the sake of our present well-being and for our future well-being, as well. We are not going to allow our politicians and their crony friends to be the only ones, who will have a bright future from the avails of our resource base. The crony system has been in place since the beginning of governments, it has to stop and it must. And hopefully you and your newspaper will be party to the change.

  • Nessie
    March 12, 2011 - 16:23

    Great article Mr. Wangersky! The truth is best to be told and you are doing just that in this article. Please keep your articles percolating in this manner and eventually the light will be able to filter through the opaqueness unobstructed. In the end we will prevail because we are not going to stop this process of searching for the truth from our government on matters that concern us for the sake of our present well-being and for our future well-being, as well. We are not going to allow our politicians and their crony friends to be the only ones, who will have a bright future from the avails of our resource base. The crony system has been in place since the beginning of governments, it has to stop and it must. And hopefully you and your newspaper will be party to the change.

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 12, 2011 - 12:13

    Ah Russell, I don't blame those" poor politicians" , as much as you and I , John Q. Public . Until we learn to TRUST our own instincts, there is little hope of change . But for now I suppose we could always fallback on that old adage ,"BELIEVE NONE OF WHAT YOU HEAR , AND ONLY HALF OF WHAT YOU SEE (READ). A+

  • scott
    March 12, 2011 - 08:42

    what do people of the province do , if the government decides its in our best interest to keep us in the dark on this muskrat falls deal? i feel betrayal at the highest level its almost like we need a revolution, an uprising of the people to let government know we the people are the interests they serve not finacial backers of parties or friends of friends. its not the end of the world but its pretty important. what can we do?

  • Sandy
    March 12, 2011 - 08:12

    Russell, again a great article. I agree with every word. I don't know why taxpayers put up with politicians who lie and lie. Did you hear the "crap" from the mouth of Minister Skinner on Ms Williams appointment. He did not announce her appointment to the board because he wanted to wait until he promoted her to vice-chair and then he would announce both appointments. Give us a break with your stupid comments Minister Skinner. And I think the Liberals should quickly elect a new leader. Yvonne Jones is not going to do anything for the liberals in the next election. John Efford is dead right on this issue.

  • W Bagg
    March 12, 2011 - 07:41

    The Lower Churchill will be like the Upper Churchill, big boondoogle, and Danny will be in the same company as Joey, leading the province into near bankruptancy, the only problem is the oil won't be around to save us that time. Those 2 were very alike, the only two we refer to by first name.