Print Edition: November 21, 2012
This may come as a surprise to some (especially if the reader is an elected official), but taxes should not be treated as a private campaign piggy bank for the party in power.
Last week the National Post reported that the Ministry of Immigration spent some $750,000 monitoring “ethnic media” and public perceptions of minister Jason Kenney between March 2009 and May 2012. While it is a common practice of the civil service to monitor the media and public perceptions in regards to their specific mandate, trouble arises when politics enter the fray – especially during elections.
The expenses may be understandable—it was over the course of three years—and “ethnic media” (whatever that is) may be directly related to the ministry of immigration. And I may even be able to forgive the fact that department funds were used to monitor the public perceptions of minister Kenney; of course the minister needs to know what the public thinks of him – what if someone doesn’t like him!? Of course that would effect the day-to-day operation of the civil service. Quick, someone whip up a pie-chart – this is serious business.
What is most concerning, however, is that by all appearances, this money was spent on contractors that were used to analyze information that was pertinent to minister Kenney’s reelection in the Spring of 2011. Daily media reports during the campaign included assessments, as the National Post reported, “graded from ‘very positive’ to ‘very negative’ – on campaign events by Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their political opponents.”
In fact, in March of 2011 these reports, paid for by the Canadian public for use by the civil service, were emailed by the department to an anonymous email account: “firstname.lastname@example.org.” It is not known who this account belonged to, but Jason Kenney’s ministerial office, along with the department headquarters, are located at 365 Laurier Street in Ottawa. Coincidence? Maybe, but that is highly doubtful.
What would normally be considered a campaign expense was possibly being paid for by the federal government under the auspices of “research” for the Ministry of Immigration. This is the kind of information that determines how limited campaign funds (unlike our neighbours to the south) are spent, and is therefore extremely valuable during an election.
The fact is that if minister Kenney and the Conservative Party of Canada did indeed use federal government funds for political purposes during an election, there ought to be some serious concern among Canadians. This misuse of resources is an abuse of power and represents cracks in the foundation of our democracy. If our elected officials feel free to use their position of power as a means of maintaining said power, no matter the party, democracy becomes a sham.
When those who’ve been given a mandate by the citizens to lead the country use that power for their own individual gain, the very voice that gave them that mandate is silenced in favour of personal aggrandizement. This represents more than calling in a favour or two from your buddies in the civil service. If this goes unchecked, we may find ourselves in the midst of exchanging a robust system of government based on democracy for totalitarianism with a cheap plastic mask that looks like democracy but ultimately leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The question is this: to what end shall the voters be duped out of their right to a responsible government? To what end shall elected officials cheat to maintain power? If they are really on the side of the people, should that even be necessary?