Why should we care about the ever-growing construction and politics scandal in Quebec? After all, it’s a different province and a different set of rules, miles and miles away from here. Clearly, the Quebec municipal and provincial system has been beset by contract-fixing and payoffs, but that doesn’t mean there’s ever been a problem here, right?
But there is a reason we should be paying attention.
An examination by The Canadian Press has found that donors who have been involved in provincial abuses in Quebec were also prolific donors to the federal government of the day — primarily the federal Liberals, but also federal Conservatives.
The CP examination makes a straightforward point about those donations: “While the size of the overall pie shrank the last few years, there was a clear shift in the ratio claimed by each party in accordance with a timeless trend: money followed power.”
And that’s perhaps the exact reason why voters in this province should be interested in the overall Quebec scandal.
Because it leads to a very interesting question: if money really does follow power — and it certainly has in this province, if you look back through the changing fortunes of the province’s political parties and the way that the party that forms the provincial government regularly and easily tops the donation totals — what exactly do corporations believe they are getting for their investment?
Plenty of businesspeople will say glibly that they believe there’s a value in supporting the political process; that buying tables at fundraisers and making cash donations is an investment in strong political parties and therefore good government.
The problem is that businesspeople don’t get where they are by being in the business of throwing money away.
Clearly, there has to be some value for the spending — a direct or indirect return on their investment.
If not, the only other explanation is that parties canvassing for cash are exceptionally persuasive when their political representatives are also holding the province’s multi-billion-dollar purse strings. There have been quiet murmurings for years in this province that provincial parties have approached companies that have won government contracts, suggesting that big contracts should mean big donations. At least one businessman told The Telegram several years ago that the size of the contract he received was cited as relating directly to the number of fundraising dinner tickets he was expected to purchase at a fundraising dinner.
What the Quebec inquiry says more than anything is that we can’t be comfortable that our system of political financing is clean, clear and above board.
A few years ago, we might have been able to say that it can’t happen here.
The situation in Quebec is demonstrating not only that it can happen, but that it does happen — and that it happens with large companies that also have done business in this province.
If nothing else, Quebec’s woes should shake our own complacency.