*This article originally appeared on Rabble.ca.
In Ottawa, Chairman Harper is taking a sledge hammer to what was already our feeble excuse for democracy. With the ‘son of omnibus’ he has displayed a disregard for democracy so severe the CBC’s At Issue panel, no bastion of liberalism, unanimously condemned it as an “affront to democracy.” Meanwhile, below the radar and in secret negotiations, he seems set to sign FIPA – a free trade deal with China that represents perhaps the most serious threat to our sovereignty and ability to protect our well being and environment in history.
His party bounces from one scandal to another, as it turns out many of his MPs overspent, accepted illegal contributions and may have placed fraudulent robocalls to suppress the progressive vote.
But, despite these and so many other scandals, Harper is looking downright clean compared to the mess being unravelled in Quebec.
Just yesterday, former Montreal city engineer Gilles Surprenant arrived at the Charbonneau Comission into corruption with an unexpected present for the comissioners: a ziplock bag full of hundred dollar bills totalling $123,000. It was, he said, all that was left of over $600,000 he took in bribes since 1990 to inflate the cost of city contracts. He also testified that he blew over $200,000 of this bribe money at the Montreal Casino, because he wanted to return the money to the government. I swear, you could not make this stuff up.
His testimony corroborated that of former construction magnate Lino Zambito earlier in the week that politicians and parties, most notably Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s Union Montreal and former Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal Party, were in a partnership with the Mafia to rig bids, raise money illegally and steal millions from the public purse. These kickbacks were used to finance the election campaigns of the politicians who have ruled us for the last decade.
If this story was not so profoundly depressing, it would be laughable.
Meanwhile, rather than apologize, rather than act even a little chastened, our politicians are plumbing new depths of shamelessness. Today, Montreal executive committee chairperson Michael Applebaum of Union Montreal expressed his “disgust” with Surprenant, but compared the situation to a few bad apples which are present in any organization. He also played coy about his intentions to replace Tremblay at the helm of Union.
Are you kidding me Michael?
This is no bad apple, the system is rotten to its core. Continuing to insist otherwise at this point is frankly insulting to our intelligence. Furthermore, his party was a major player in this endemic corruption and financed its election campaigns, including his, with kickbacks they received for screwing over the taxpayers they were supposed to be serving.
I don’t care how involved or not any Union politician was with this scheme (although it beggars belief that someone as senior in the party as Applebaum would have been unaware of it), their campaigns were financed by corruption, and their party robbed us blind.
If they had a shred of integrity Union Montreal councillors would be resigning in droves. No one deserves to go more than Mayor Tremblay, but the rest of his sorry lot should follow him off the plank.
At this point, if you aren’t outraged, you simply aren’t paying attention. I wonder where the resolute defenders of the integrity of both Union and the PLQ have gone. They were all over critics in the summer, and yet have gone deathly silent in recent weeks. Perhaps, unlike their political leaders, they are possesed of a modicum of shame.
Although we have had an inkling of how bad things were for years, to see the sordid details of this massive scandal aired publicly at long last is still shocking. Our political system is rotten to the core, and has been for years.
It’s time to turn the page. There can be no re-boot for these crooks. This time it’s over. I’m sorry Mr. Applebaum, but a fresh coat of paint and a new leader won’t save your party. If there is any justice it won’t save the provincial Liberals either, but the last election results seem to suggest otherwise.
If we don’t stand up together and reject corruption, then we are as complicit in this mess as our ‘leaders’.
Vision are part of the same system, they won’t change what works for them. The PQ are no doubt a preferrable alternative to the Liberals, but they too are implicated in this pervasive corruption. We need to look outside our comfortable political dualities and seek out real alternatives. It’s time for real change, and that will not come from the crooks who got us into this mess in the first place.
Our democracy is in an existential crisis at every level. We are at a turning point. If we do not take real and concrete action, right now, we will lose whatever vestiges of democracy remain in our broken system.
If it makes you angry, good! Channel that anger, use it to build neighborhood assemblies that can practice direct democracy and provide a counter point to this mess. Work to elect a city government next year that will take real and concrete steps to clean up, but also to build strong and sustainable democratic structures. But whatever you do, don’t shrug and sigh and believe there’s nothing to be done. There has been far too much nothing done already.