Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Fighting fires here and in Ottawa



For a couple of weeks I planned to write about forest fires in this column in a don't-throw-that-lit-ciggie-butt! kind of way.

Yeah, it's preachy, but I was worried the moisture-free rainforest might explode into flames.

Now I'm measuring the burning forest by how much it stings my eyes and how much it compares in scale with the size of Vancouver (the Pemberton fires alone have burned over one Vancouver in size, more than 114 sq. km.).

They've been going a while now and we are past the ciggie butt stage. At the time of writing, the Elaho Valley fire was zero per cent contained and had been burning since June 14.I can't even bring myself to ask about the wonderful 1,200-year-old Elaho Giant douglas fir, which is located in the fire zone. Two weeks ago the Coastal Fire Centre was hoping it would survive the flames.

This week, I'm afraid to hear what the fire officers have to say about it.

So, I went looking for other kinds of fires to talk about and found a doozy.

We're 100 days away from the federal election. I've decided to rename it "Canada Day 2" as I was working on July 1 and this election is a big one.

Watching the three main parties, reading the polls, I'm trying to get a sense of this particular riding and the rest of the country. The last election felt like a bit of an echo chamber on social media — and the polls got it completely wrong — but I'm not feeling it yet, are you?

But maybe this is an indication of how things feel inside the busy Prime Minister's Office...

In the olden days, when the Liberal Party behaved as if it were the only party entitled to run the country, they would make a lot of patronage appointments. A LOT.

Conservative leader and eventual prime minister Brian Mulroney had a palpable hit against then-Liberal PM John Turner in the English-language leaders' debate during the 1984 federal election. Turner had made a huge number of tasty appointments of long-time Trudeau-Chrétien loyalists.

Turner was called on it and said he had no option (he was only prime minister four days before calling the election).

Mulroney's reply?He said: "You had an option, sir. You could have said, 'I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.' You had an option, sir — to say 'no' — and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party. That sir, if I may say respectfully, that is not good enough for Canadians."

Those words helped Mulroney's party win the election. Canadians didn't like graft or perceived graft. The Liberals were desperately stacking the boards and other organizations with bagmen in case they were kicked out, right?

Fast forward to mid-June, 2015.

Over two days, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed 98 people to boards and other bodies, including the Immigration and Refugee Board, the CBC, the National Capital Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

There were also 40 judicial appointments made.

The appointees include Denise Ghanam, who lost for the federal Tories in 2008. She joins the Windsor, Ont., port authority.

Another is investment banker Michael Mackasey, a former colleague of Finance Minister Joe Oliver. He is incoming chairman of the Canadian Development Corporation.

There were eight appointments to the relatively unknown but important Payments in Lieu of Taxes Dispute Advisory Panel. This group decides how much money transfers from the federal government to municipalities in property taxes for government buildings.

Relatively unknown conservatives, for the most part, now have plum jobs that will impact the Canadian economic and political landscape well into the future, whoever wins the federal election in October.

For the full list, check out the Ottawa Citizen story by Glen McGregor, published on July 7.

It's not surprising that Harper made these decisions, since the system allows him to do so.

And, of course, they aren't the first such appointments he has made. Google patronage appointments and names like Arthur Porter, Mike Duffy, Don Meredith and Patrick Brazeau come up. All grotesque failures at best and involve in alleged criminal activities at the worst.

Many people say the Canadian Senate should be abolished because of its scandals — it is something the NDP support. But to do so would require majority support from the provincial governments. It is considered almost impossible to change and no real steps have yet been taken.

Given the bicameral nature of parliament, why can't senators be elected? Why can't they be held accountable by an electorate that chooses to employ them or remove them? The rules of engagement by senators would need to change, too.

And as for the rest... Cannot a place on Nunavut Wildlife Management Board be an advertised position seeking experienced candidates?

And what of the Registrar of Trademarks, the board of the National Capital Commission, the Social Security Tribunal, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the board of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, the board of the Canada Development Investment Corporation and all the rest?

I'd be interested in hearing thoughts on this by all the parties running. It would give me a sense of their moral compasses — and could help me decide who deserves my vote.

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