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Who not to vote for



The West Vancouver-Sea to Sky Country riding lost a powerful advocate in Parliament recently with the announcement that Blair Wilson had resigned from the Liberal caucus, pending an investigation into his campaign spending. He continues to sit in the House as an independent, and will probably continue to vote along party lines, but who are we kidding? Independents don’t have a real voice in the clamour of Canadian politics, or much real power to legislate from the backbench.

The Province newspaper took the opportunity presented by Wilson’s campaign controversy to do one of the most brutal hatchet jobs on a Canadian politician that I’ve ever witnessed, digging into his failed business ventures and personal life so deeply that Wilson appears to be, at best, incompetent; at worst, crooked.

The thing is, none of those allegations are relevant to the investigation over Wilson’s campaign financing, and Wilson’s campaign financing isn’t entirely relevant to the job he’s doing in Parliament. By all accounts he’s been a pretty good Member of Parliament so far; responsive to his constituents, and always willing to champion the communities he represents.

Maybe he’s the proof I’ve been waiting for to show that you don’t really need business experience, or to be a success in business, to be a good civic leader.

Candidates are always flaunting past business experience when running for office, to the point where there are probably more former businesspeople in government than former lawyers. Somehow we’ve taken to equating business experience and the art of making money, with the needs of good government, which is the art of spending it.

There are a few reasons we should be concerned about this trend.

For one, businesses aren’t always ethical. White collar crime eclipses street crime when it comes to robbing and killing, and corporations can always be trusted to look out for themselves first.

Enron and Worldcom are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to blatantly stealing money from employees and investors. Corporations that beg tax breaks or threaten to move offshore are also stealing from the public coffers, albeit with government approval. CEO compensation these days is borderline criminal, as shareholders and company coffers are plundered to buy a little temporary star power.

So what happens when business leaders become government? We get softer regulations and consumer protections; higher salaries and benefits for office holders based on private sector compensation; legislation favourable to businesses and globalization; reduced corporate taxes and oversight; lower taxes on higher income earners; doors thrown open to lobbyists; changes to the way parties and candidates are financed; and economic strategies that push privatization and dismantle our social safety net.

If you’ve never seen the documentary The Corporation, I highly recommend it.

I don’t have a problem with small, independent business men and women running for office, but any candidate running on their business experience should be ready to disclose and defend their past dealings. If that happened, I doubt that Mr. Wilson would have been selected by the riding association, much less voted into office.

Another reason to rethink electing business people is that they will usually return to business once their tenure in government is over. Why then would we expect them to place the needs of ordinary people above the needs of business when they’re holding public office?

But one of the best reasons to avoid electing business people is that it’s becoming a cliché, and it’s offensive to suggest that one group of people is better at governing than another. Wouldn’t we be better served by representatives from different backgrounds and perspectives?

Before he became a politician former conservative Prime Minister Brian   Mulroney was a corporate lawyer, then entered the corporate world as the executive vice president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada — which he then primed to sell off to foreign investors.

George W. Bush, now the most unpopular president in U.S. history, was a failed oil tycoon before he took over the Texas Rangers baseball franchise. As the team’s owner, he threatened to move the franchise unless the city built him a new stadium with tax dollars.

There are a lot of qualities people should look for in elected representatives. Business experience should be at the bottom of the list.

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