Political patronage has apparently lost its ick factor.
Some might argue blatant patronage still has the potential to stir disgust and anger amongst the masses, but such a suggestion goes silent when you realize the phrase “blatant patronage” is redundant.
There was predictable cheering from the Liberal bleachers this week with the announcement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had appointed former Liberal apparatchik/MHA/MP Judy Foote as the province’s next lieutenant-governor.
Foote will, of course, be Newfoundland’s first female lieutenant-governor, which surely accounts for nary a comment about aforesaid patronage. But Foote’s appointment goes beyond blatant patronage. It is blatantly blatant patronage.
As reported in the pages of this august journal (“Judy Foote to be province’s first female lieutenant-governor,” March 21), Foote spent eight years as communications director for former Liberal premier Clyde Wells, 11 years as a Liberal MHA and eight years as a Liberal MP.
Viewed through a Liberal lens, Foote’s appointment is justified due to her dedicated and long service to the public.
But viewed objectively and rationally, Foote’s appointment is nothing less than yet another instance of the political class taking care of itself and rewarding its loyalists.
“Another instance?” For others, harken back to previous, recent holders of the job at Government House, such as longtime Tory John Crosbie (appointed by PC PM Stephen Harper) and longtime Liberal Ed Roberts (appointed by Grit PM Jean Chrétien). Undoubtedly, there have been more, as Newfoundland’s list of lieutenant-governors and governors includes 81 men, whose services stretch back to 1729, according to the Government House website.
It is, indeed, momentous to have, after almost three centuries, the first lieutenant-governess.
But Foote’s gender cannot and should not dispel the appalling patronage of her appointment. To cheer her appointment is to ignore the crass self-interest that taints so much of politics. It is why it is common to hear derogatory comments about so-called “elites.”
Far from rewarding themselves and their fellow foot soldiers, politicians need to borrow a concept from the judicial branch: patronage must not only not be done, it must be seen to not have been done.
Trudeau and Premier Dwight Ball both expressed accolades for Foote, her service, her commitment, her passion, etc. — all of it irrelevant.
This has nothing to do with Foote’s quality or ability. She could have been the best politician to ever walk the halls of the House of Assembly and the House of Commons, a veritable Mother Teresa among MPs, and it wouldn’t make a whit of difference — naming her as lieutenant-governor is patronage, full stop.
It cannot be justified by saying she is female. It cannot be justified by saying previous appointments have been patronage. It cannot be justified by predicting what a terrific job she will do.
Acceptance of patronage is among the worst rot in the political system. It is a betrayal of democratic ideals when politicians can practice patronage with such brazen surety and confidence, knowing the electorate will barely care or object.
This column isn’t even finished, and I’ve already received an angry email.
“Mr. Jones: Thank you for that 600 words of mansplaining. Your male ego obviously can’t handle seeing women rise to positions of prominence. You are merely another mainstream media misogynist. In case you haven’t heard, the days of male dominance are done. Gender equality must replace it, and soon will.”
Some valid points there. Although it should be kept in mind that true gender equity involves more than just platitudinous genuflecting. It means acknowledging that, yes, a woman can indeed be the beneficiary of an ignoble act of patronage.
It means the painful possibility that a woman might ascend the heights of ambition, to the pinnacle of power, only to bring disappointment and failure. See: Kathy Dunderdale.
Equity demands that Foote’s appointment be called what it is: patronage.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.