Canadian political scandals come with the territory of democracy

Piracy, full broadsides and cutthroat bloodstains often wash the decks of the ship of state

To the Expositor:

What a year it has been in Canadian politics. “Scandals of Canadian proportions,” were the words used by Peter Mansbridge on our very own CBC one night this past autumn.

Canada made the world news—and the late night comedy shows—but not for reasons we would be proud of. It seems that when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not too busy shaming the face off his fellow Canadians on the international scene, he occupies his time by committing some satanic form of political hari-kari every time he opens his mouth.

Up in Ottawa, the Senate scandal continues to plague the Conservative government. His political opponents point out how this only confirms what they have been telling us all along, namely that Stephen Harper (“What did he know, and when did he know it?”) is really nothing more than the bad sheriff of Nottingham, presiding over an administration made up of liars, rogues, and thieves. Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are just the tip of the iceberg, according to this school of thought.

And just when the Liberals thought they could end the year on a high note, the sponsorship scandal of 10 years ago (“Where is the missing 40 million dollars?”) comes back to haunt them. A key Liberal Party organizer for the province of Quebec during the Chretien years, Jacque Corriveau, has been charged with fraud, forgery, and laundering the proceeds of crime, just last week. Kind of like the ghost of Christmas past—all that’s missing is the rattling of chains.

Tut tut, will it never end? Well fear not: I bring you good tidings of great joy—and just in time for Christmas. It turns out that Canadians need not feel so embarrassed, because political scandals have plagued other countries all across the western world, as long as the democratic form of government has blessed the face of this earth.

Baby boomers remember how the Watergate scandal in the 1970s brought down a president, Richard Nixon. Not even Italy, with its aging testosterone-charged former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, can match Britain for its rich heritage of salacious sex scandals.

In the Profumo affair (pun intended) back in 1963, the tabloid press unearthed news that a balding 50-something British cabinet minister had taken on as a mistress, an attractive woman by the name of Christine Keeler, 30 years younger than he was. Ms. Keeler was in turn clandestinely two-timing on the cabinet minister with a member of the Soviet embassy in London. You get the picture.

In the 20th century, British school boys were taught that David Lloyd George (“Lloyd George”) was “the man who won the war,” when he took over as prime minister from the bumbling and ineffectual H.H. Asquith, part way through the First World War. It turns out, however, that Lloyd George was no stranger to scandal himself, being the rascal that he was.

It was widely known, even in his own time, that this British prime minister was a life-long womanizer—a serial philanderer—who would make John F. Kennedy look like a choir boy. When not putting his life at risk through being shot by the jealous husband of some errant wife, Lloyd George was often at risk of having a brilliant political career chopped off at its knees by other questionable moves in his personal life, that raised—shall we say—serious ethical issues. While a cabinet minister in what was then still the government of H.H. Asquith back in 1911, he was the main culprit in what became known as the Marconi scandal, that boiled down to what the investment business today would call ‘insider trading.’

By 1938 Lloyd George was an old man, long since out of real power, although still a Member of Parliament for his local riding. That year he found himself acting as a mentor to the son of a parliamentary colleague. It seems the lad was in the dog house with his father.

Having finished his university studies several years before, the son had still not found a “proper job.” Lloyd George—ever the rascal—was secretly using the opportunity to try and recruit his clever pupil into a life of politics.

One day as the elder statesman was emerging from the British parliament buildings, the young man came running up to him, and proudly announced that he had decided to pursue a career in the Royal Navy. Lloyd George looked thoughtful for a moment, before frowning and shaking his head. “There are much greater storms in politics…” he reminded his pupil, than any excitement generated by the foul weather he might encounter on the seven seas. Pointing back over his shoulder at the parliament buildings, the former prime minister declared, “If it’s piracy you want, with full broadsides, boarding parties, walking the plank, and blood stains on the deck…then this is the place.”

Brad Middleton