Cash-for-access is here to stay

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI (The Hill Times)

Interim Conservative opposition leader Rona Ambrose is blasting the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau for not ending the unethical practice of cash-for-access. She is right and he is wrong, but this doesn’t tell the entire story.

The Conservative leader is referring to a $1,500-a-ticket Liberal Party event, where one of the people present was Chinese-Canadian insurance magnate Shenglin Xian, founder of the Wealth One Bank of Canada and president of Shenglin Financial Group Inc. He was seeking government approval to operate a domestic bank in Canada.

The Conservative leader is right when she says that “rubbing elbows with millionaires at these cash-for-access events does not pass the smell test, and the prime minister knows it. So why does he keep doing it?”

Yes, why does he? He says that this is only a way to demonstrate that Canada “is a good place to invest.” Hum, Ambrose is right, this explanation, connecting the cash-for-access events to the need to promote Canada, doesn’t pass the smell test.

 The scrap about this issue, however, is typical of all debates that take place in Ottawa.

What kills politics is not the incompetence or the dishonesty of some politicians. Incompetence and dishonesty are not a copyright of the Hill or the public sector; there is plenty of both in the private business as well. What kills politics is hypocrisy and involves every political organization in a position of power.

Liberals don’t sell influence for cash any more or any less than any other political organization. What makes the difference is not the ideology, but the place where politicians sit in the House. If you sit on the right of the Speaker, you are in government and you have a lot of influence to sell; if you are on the left, you will not find a lot of buyers for your merchandise. And, if you are the third party, you look squeaky clean, whether you are honest or not, simply because your honesty is not tested.

The debate taking place presently in Ottawa on this issue (but it could be extended to any other political debate) will lead to nowhere because the goal of the Conservatives is to demonstrate that the Liberals are corrupt, while the Liberals will never accept that. The other way around would be the same. The debate is not about what is right and what is wrong, but about who is corrupt and who is not.

Any solution?

Of course there is one. But it is so simple it is not applicable.

Instead of lecturing the government, the Conservatives should start the questions in the House along the lines of: “Mr. Speaker, we were not perfect either and we apologize for that. However, we are willing to cooperate with the government to put an end to this unethical practice.”

At the same time, the Liberal government should apologize to the Conservatives, and to the Canadians, for what they just did, recognize that it was wrong and, yes, also apologize to the Conservatives for all the partisan accusations levelled against them when they were in the opposition.

At that point they should accept the offer to work together to put an end to the problem making the issue of selling access-for-cash not only immoral, but plain and simply illegal.

But this is not going to happen for two reasons. First, elections are very expensive and to win you need a lot of money. Second, there are many leeches to feed around every political machine and there is never enough money. This means we will always have an almost honest opposition and, most of the time, a dishonest government, at least by appearance, whatever political affiliation they might be.

Some says such practices are the price of the democracy, and that’s probably true. However, if this is the case, media, opposition, and citizens shouldn’t pretend to be disgusted when such fundraisers take place, knowing that nothing is going to change. It is hard to believe in a message of honesty when the issue is the dishonesty of the messenger.

We all know that the influence of the voters on the political process is like Feb. 29 during leap years; one day every four years. The other 1,460 days are left in the hands of those that can buy access for cash. Those people have no affiliation, they don’t deal with Liberals or Conservatives, but with the governments. The gig is always the same. The only change the name on the cheque.

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