Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Politics of Privilege

Source: CTV News: PMO Denies Jaffer has Influence with Tories
Source: CBC News: Jaffer's Alleged Boast About Access 'Absurd': PMO

To no one's surprise, or perhaps maybe a few people, Rahim Jaffer is back in the news. For that matter, his wife, Cabinet Minister Helena Guergis has also continued to pop up periodically. As such, I'd like to share my thoughts on this entire affair, ranging back to Jaffer's arrest to Guergis' airport freak out.

I'd like to first just spend some time exploring the problems that Mr. Jaffer and Mrs. Guergis have found themselves in. In September, Rahim Jaffer was pulled over in Palgrave, Ontario after he was caught going 93 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. Mr. Jaffer, initially, was charged with drunk driving and cocaine possession; these higher charges were dropped through a plea agreement which saw him pay a $500 fine for careless driving.

Despite failing a breathalyzer test, as initially reported by the media, and being in possession of cocaine; the judge involved in Mr. Jaffer's case effectively said that there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Jaffer on these charges anyways. I don't know about you, but if I failed a breathalyzer and was caught with drugs on my person, I think I'd be looking at no possibility of getting the court to settle on just careless driving charges...But, I'll come back to that.

Now, reports are coming out suggesting that Jaffer's arrest came after a business meeting with potential clients; a meeting which resulted in one of those client's to send an e-mail suggesting that Mr. Jaffer had 'opened up the Prime Minister's office to us.'

On the other side of the road, no pun intended, is Helena Guergis. Mrs. Guergis made national headlines after it was reported that the Cabinet Minister suffered a bit of breakdown in Charlottetown's airport. Needless to say, Mrs. Guergis made quite a few disparaging remarks towards the city, the airport staff, etc...And is rumoured to have gotten slightly physical, such as throwing a boot, while there.

While the public outcry over this incident was still on the minds of Canadians, many letters began to flood newspapers about Mrs. Guergis great performance in cabinet, and praising her as a parliamentarian. However, it was later discovered, that many of these letters were written by staff in Guergis' office; and that there letters were published under 'false names' or the writers omitted the fact that they worked for the Minister.

Add to that, the recent claim that Guergis' $880,000 mortgage was provided to her in full without a down payment; which if true, could indicate preferential treatment and a breach of ethics on her part.

Needless to say, the couple has found themselves in much more of the spotlight than they could have possibly wanted.

So, how did it come to this?

I think we can look towards the sense of arrogance and entitlement that is present within not only the Conservative Party, but in some cases, our political system.

In the last election, who remembers Rahim Jaffer's 'acceptance' speech? Conservatives in Alberta, and in the West in general, have a sense of entitlement and arrogance. They know, or think, that they can do anything they want because Westerners aren't going to throw them out of office. Early on election day, Jaffer was confident that he was going to be returned to the House of Commons, so much to the point that he was already thanking supporters and claiming victory before the results were in.

So, imagine the ego crash associated with being a Conservative loosing your seat in Alberta, to a member of the NDP. Now, this is not sufficient reason for Mr. Jaffer's problems; as not everyone who loses their seat in the House of Commons develops the problems Mr. Jaffer has in his post-Parliament career.

However, as I said, this is not reason enough for Mr. Jaffer's problems. When you look at his problems, in addition to Mrs. Guergis', it is obvious that the problem rests in the culture of arrogance and privilege, that unfortunately, we as citizens have helped to create.

I say that we citizens have helped create it, because in a way, we have. Arrogance comes from a place where a person is convinced that they can do no wrong; that no matter what happens, they will stay in their place in life and nothing will ever change that. When it come to politics, that's where we have failed as citizens.

In the West, Conservatives have been developing a stranglehold on elections for quite sometime. We know it, and they know it. The problem with this, is that it creates a sense of entitlement. The Conservatives know that they are going to win in certain areas, like Alberta, regardless of what they say or do, because they're 100 time better than those 'Eastern Liberal Types'. With this mindset, the Conservatives expect to win here and know they are going to win. As such, where's the need to do anything for your constituents? Where's the incentive to actually do a good job? Where's the incentive to make connections in your community and get to know the people who elected you?

The answer, is that it isn't there. As such, politicians in these 'safe' ridings are able to develop this sense of privilege and arrogance. Brad Trost, here in Saskatoon-Humboldt, is a good example. I've heard numerous examples of Mr. Trost being quoted as saying that 'No one can beat me'. Garry Breitkreuz, from Yorkton-Melville, has also said similar things in that 'if they didn't agree with me, they wouldn't have voted for me.' (When asked if he would change a position if a poll indicated the majority of his electors disagreed with a position he held)

This arrogance is staggering. But we, as voting citizens, help these politicians to develop it. It's because we won't vote these people out; that we draw our political allegiance by province so clearly, that politicians are starting to realize that they can do the bare minimum, or even nothing are all, and still get re-elected just because they have the 'Conservative C' or 'Liberal L' next to their name in a ballot booth.

We, as Canadians, must demand better.

But, Mr. Jaffer's problems are not to be blamed on us. Granted, we average citizens do play a role in creating this arrogance, but we alone do not sustain it.

We've all heard the phrase of 'buying into the hype', and in a way, that's what Mr. Jaffer and Mrs. Guergis have done. They already felt bulletproof, although Jaffer learned he was not, and as such they felt that they could act in ways that others could not. Guergis' flaunting of airport regulations, and her subsequent meltdown, are a good example of this.

I've flown twice in my life; and I know I don't care for the airport experience. The waiting, the lines, the boredom. It gets to everyone, I know. But not many of us lose our calm, and those who do, definitely should not be a Government Official. Not only does it reflect poorly on them, but it reflects poorly on our Government. Which in turn, reflects poorly on us as Canadians, for choosing them as a representative.

The fact of the matter is, that Guergis and Jaffer started to buy into their own hype and the arrogance that our political culture instills in them. And that is where they're problems began to start.

The problem is, in Jaffer and Guergis' case, the arrogance is not being rebuked. As mentioned, Jaffer's arrest was swept under the rug with a $500 fine. The charges of drunk driving and drug possession were dropped, with the judge explicitly telling Jaffer that he was getting a 'break'. Again, any other Canadian in this situation, would be looking at jail time for possession and drunk driving, but not Jaffer.

As for Guergis, she's still in cabinet. Despite the problems that have surrounded her, the Prime Minister has not asked for her resignation, nor has she offered it to him. Much like the maligned Gerry 'Death by a thousand cold cuts' Ritz, and Lisa 'Cancer's Sexy' Raitt, the Prime Minister has done nothing to rebuke these Ministers for their mistakes...

And by doing nothing, the Prime Minister has continued this circle of political arrogance. By letting these Ministers keep their positions, even going so far as to refuse Raitt's resignation, Harper is reinforcing the idea that these Members of Parliament are entitled to their positions, their prestige, and the arrogance they have in their minds.

Even if Guergis is quietly shuffled to a different position in the next Cabinet Shuffle, or dropped completely, it is not a rebuke for her actions; as the Prime Minister will not call it that if that is the method he uses to get rid of her in Cabinet.

And as such, the arrogance continues.

As Canadians, it's our job to take action where our political leadership will not. And the only way to do that, is to make sure that we do not continually elect the same politicians over and over. We can vote for the same people, but let's make sure that they're people who deserve our vote. Who deserve to hold a seat in Parliament, and who will do everything in their power to work with and for their constituents, and not for their own sense of self-entitlement.

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