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
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
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
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.