Do you prefer your politicians corrupt or evil?

03.17.16

This morning, UPAC arrested 7 high-ranking politicians, including former Quebec Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau on charges of fraud, corruption and abuse of public trust:

The group of seven, which includes people associated with the provincial Liberals and the Parti Québécois, were arrested shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday in Quebec City, Charlevoix and the Gaspésie, UPAC chief Robert Lafrenière said.

[ . . . ]

Others arrested are:  former Liberal cabinet minister Marc-Yvan Côté, Normandeau’s former chief of staff, Bruno Lortie, Roche engineering employees Mario Martel and France Michaud, as well as Ernest Murray, a former political attaché to former Premier Pauline Marois and François Roussy, former mayor of the town of Gaspé.

The discussions being sparked in social media as a result of this are interesting. Corruption has long been assumed to be a part of most political processes, especially here in Quebec. The long, drawn-out Charbonneau Commission was met by the population with a shrug, probably because many of its so-called “shocking” revelations were things that everyone pretty much knew but nobody openly acknowledged. Our politicians abuse party fundraising, cozy up to organized crime, and fix bidding contracts in exchange for kickbacks? That discussion is as old and tired as the endless debate about the Cavendish extension.

Of course, anger over corruption does tend to flare up on occasion. The student-initated “Maple Spring” gave voice to a general anger against the Charest-led Liberals, which ultimately brought down the government and ushered in 18 turbulent months of Marois-led PQ rule. That time period was so fraught, so divisive, such an ugly chapter in Quebec’s recent history that it still gives me the chills. I’m no fan of the Liberals — they’ve always been a hold-your-nose-and-vote party — but I also have absolutely no desire to return to debates about kippas and headscarves, identity politics, or whether Muslims in Quebec deserve the same rights as the rest of us.

And so when I see people — particularly PQ supporters — gleefully greeting the news of more Liberal corruption, I have to wonder: Would you prefer your political leaders to be corrupt or evil?

For a number of reasons, I’m going to come down on the side of corrupt over evil. Here are just a few.

1. It’s a false dichotomy.

The truth is that even the evil politicians are probably just as corrupt as the non-evil ones. UPAC may have arrested mostly folks associated with the Liberals this morning, but nobody — except maybe ardent PQ supporters — could argue that the PQ isn’t equally corrupt. Politics, sadly, is an environment in which power-hungry people obtain quite a bit of power and often have very little oversight. That’s just a rampant breeding ground for corruption. It’s an arena that either spits our or corrupts even the most honest players as they rise through its ranks. Leave a party in power for long enough and it will develop a stench of rot around it. Remember how the Harper Conservatives were first elected in a backlash against the Federal Liberal Sponsorship Scandal? Ten years later, we had one of our most opaque, corrupt governments in history, complete with Senate and expense scandals of its own. Every government promises to restore transparency and integrity to the office, and inevitably they all become just what they were fighting against.

2. The politics of division and fear hurt us more than the politics of self-interest.

Here’s another example for you: The Progressive Conservatives under Mulroney vs. the Conservatives under Harper.

That Mulroney was corrupt is pretty well established by now. The Airbus affair was just the tip of a very large iceberg. But, by and large, though I disagreed ideologically with the Progressive Conservatives, their particular brand of politics was far less evil than the Shit Harper Did. Mulroney may have accepted cash payments and signed some questionable trade agreements, but his PC party would never have run the type of election campaign we saw from Harper last October, with RCMP tiplines for “barbaric cultural practices”, second-class citizens, and endless pounding on the drum of fear of the other. Not to mention his systematic takedown of anyone he didn’t like, from environmental charities to women’s groups to anyone trying to commit acts of science, anywhere.

Scapegoating, drumming up racial and ethnic hatred and divisiveness, and inciting suspicion and fear hurt us immeasurably.

3. Donald Trump

In case you’re still not convinced, consider this: Donald Trump is gaining a scary amount of support in the United States on the grounds that he’s an “independent” not beholden to the corruption of the Republican establishment or the Washington political elite. His message to his supporters is that, because he’s rich and self-financed, he isn’t beholden to special interest groups and is therefore uncorruptable.

Now, that may or may not be true. (Hint: It’s not.) But even if it were, Trump is campaigning on hatred of Muslims, Mexicans, minorities, women, poor people, immigrants, and everyone whose name isn’t Donald Trump. He’s encouraging his supporters to assault and beat up peaceful dissenters at rallies. He’s stirring up anger, hatred and the worst sides of Americans like no previous candidate ever has. If — G-d forbid — he were to get elected, does anyone really doubt that his particular brand of evil would have disastrous and far-reaching consequences?

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