There’s something shabby about the idea that if you want to talk to an elected official, the best way to do it might be to slip a little cash to a politician’s particular political party.
It smacks, frankly, of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours politics; a world where money talks.
In Tuesday’s Telegram, representatives of an association of school bus companies said they’d done everything they could to get their case heard in government. They said they’d followed the advice of government MHA and cabinet minister Jerome Kennedy to hire a consultant to plead their case to government, and they’d even bought tickets to Conservative fundraisers to get a chance to speak to the ministers of Education and Service NL.
And you have to ask — is that really the way our government is supposed to work?
After all, a cabinet minister is a public servant — a senior public servant, to be sure, but a public servant nonetheless.
Presumably, if you have an issue you want to raise with a senior public servant, you contact the person whose department handles the issue that you’re involved with, and you ask for an appointment to meet with them. There is, after all, a benefit for everyone to keep the lines of communication open.
Nowhere in that equation is there the suggestion that the best way to meet a senior public servant is to pay a toll to a political party. Or that the way to get your case heard is to hire a lobbyist — particularly, a consultant with strong ties to the Progressive Conservatives.
Answering questions on the situation in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Education Minister Clyde Jackman didn’t seem to have a problem with someone paying money to arrange a meeting.
“Mr. Speaker, I have been to political events, I have been to other events when people have come up and raised concerns of their various associations, and they ask, ‘Can we get a meeting with you?’ They will preliminarily discuss their item; then we set up a meeting afterwards,” Jackman told the House of Assembly when he was asked about the school bus operators buying tickets for a $100-a-plate Tory fundraising dinner.
When the issue was raised again, Jackman told the House: “Mr. Speaker, it is up to individuals what tickets they buy and what events they go to. Mr. Speaker, I have been to numerous events where people have approached and discussed certain issues and we have set up meetings afterwards. I will do this with this group as I have done with many other groups.”
The Tories might want to stop a minute and consider the way they are framing the argument — there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion in Jackman’s answers that there’s anything wrong with using meetings about legitimate issues as a political fundraising opportunity.
Missing from Jackman’s comments was a clear statement from this government that you don’t have to pay to attend a political event in order to speak to a government representative — that a cabinet minister already works for you and will listen to your concerns.
Perhaps that kind of statement will come later, and clear the air. Unless, that is, you really do have to pay to play.
And that’s a much bigger problem.