Guergis, Irony and Tragedy

Frank Graves does his usual excellent job of analyzing shifting Canadian attitudes on “The Guergis-Jaffer Affair”. Not surprisingly the Conservatives took an initial hit in the polls but according to Ekos data (Frank’s firm), their slide has halted and the Liberals have now taken a bit of a hit.  Frank says, among other things, that this may be a case of shooting the messenger and no doubt there’s merit in this view.  We are surely tired of these kinds of stories and of how increasingly distant from our lives and irrelevant Ottawa seems to be.  And we are no doubt tarring all of “them” with the same brush.

And here is where the irony comes in. We are not just shooting the messenger here.  Every time our attention is focused on scandal, those who dislike government win and those who believe that government has a positive role to play lose.

Opposition politics is increasingly dominated by accusations of wrongdoing and corruption and promises of a new era of transparency, accountability and integrity if only the opposition are allowed to replace the  government.  The upshot of this sustained attack on government is a “cult of accountability” and the accelerated erosion of trust in all things government (see previous post).  The media welcome the scandals because they are easy and popular material.  And notwithstanding that the vast majority of politicians and public servants are honourable, ethical and hard-working, these incidents shape our views of all of “them”.  The anti-government forces thrive in this environment – why should we pay taxes to a government like this?  why should we care about government at all?

Of course people have to be held to account but that does not require scandal mongering.  In the current case, Guergis is out of caucus and Cabinet (and Jaffer is out of government).  Investigations are proceeding.  Enough already.

Which takes me to the tragedy part.  I do not know what exactly each of the main actors in our drama has or has not done.  No doubt there have been errors of judgment and possibly more.  We have indications of the former and rumours of the latter.  But the media and our own predilection to see the world in terms of heroes, villains and clowns leaves little room for dignity and so our protagonists  are cut loose and demonized.  There’s got to be a better way.

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