Monday, June 15, 2015

No saints found despite newspaper's praise

An opinion piece in The London Free Press this Saturday told me, "When we lack the political pluck needed to reform the Senate, we're not keeping faith with our forebears." And yes, the word in the paper is 'forebear' and the newspaper is correct. Google 'forebearer' to read why.

According to the paper we have become quite the "weak-kneed" group since the nation-builders of 1867 successfully tackled the difficult job of creating Canada. Apparently, these leaders from the past were chaps who "seldom flinched" when facing tough problems. Be it building a nation or building a railroad, these chaps were up to the task, or so claimed The Free Press.

I believe the editorial writer would call me a cynic because such glowing praise immediately made me question the truth in all of this. Were our early politicians actually more akin to saints than sinners? If so, what happened? The quick answer is "Nothing happened." Our early political leaders were quite human. Sainthood eluded them.

I quote from A History of the Vote in Canada from Elections Canada and a discussion of corruption in the early years of our nation:

The figures on members who lost their seats because of fraud or corrupt electoral practices indicate the extent of the problem. Between 1867 and 1873, when petitions protesting the outcome of an election were presented to a committee of the House of Commons, just one of 45 contested elections was invalidated. 

When the courts began to look impartially at claims . . . the number of voided elections soared. Between 1874 and 1878, 49 of the 65 contested elections submitted to the courts were voided, forcing nearly one third of the members of the House of Commons to resign. 

The rigorous approach of the courts appeared to lower the incidence of fraud, at least temporarily. Between 1878 and 1887, some 25 members were unseated following contested elections. Corruption flared up again, however, between 1887 and 1896, with some 60 members losing their seats after court challenges. 

By the end of the century, the number of members convicted of election fraud or corrupt practices began to decline again – not because of any improvement in election practices, but because of the political parties' increasing use of "saw-offs" – friendly agreements to withdraw equal numbers of contested election petitions before appealing to the courts. 

Yes sir, these fellows would surely have solved the problems facing the Senate in Canada today. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

As for the building the railroad, the stain of corruption is found here as well. The following is from Library and Archives Canada: The Pacific Scandal.

Sir John A. Macdonald
In April 1873, the government of Sir John A. Macdonald was charged with accepting illicit funds from Sir Hugh Allan. In return for these payments, Allan was assured that he would be awarded the lucrative contract to construct the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. When evidence of the agreement was made public by Opposition members of Parliament and published in newspapers across Canada, the episode became known as the "Pacific Scandal."

Allan's correspondence revealed that he and his American partners had attempted to influence a range of public figures, including journalists and politicians. During the election campaign of 1872, large sums were contributed to individuals such as George-√Čtienne Cartier and Hector-Louis Langevin. A telegram from Macdonald to Allan's legal adviser, John J. C. Abbott, provided the scandal's most sensational evidence, as it read: "I must have another ten thousand; will be the last time of calling; do not fail me; answer today."

Macdonald employed a number of delay tactics in an attempt to avoid the political consequences of the scandal. However, there was no avoiding the public backlash and unrelenting attacks of the Opposition. The political cartoonist J. W. Bengough became popular for his illustrated commentaries on the Pacific Scandal.

A Royal Commission was appointed in August 1873 to examine the matter, and in November Macdonald's government finally resigned. A general election followed, and Macdonald managed to keep his seat in Parliament. For many individuals involved in the scandal, the long-term consequences were negligible. Macdonald's party returned to power in 1878 and Macdonald served as prime minister until his death in 1891, when he was succeeded by none other than John Abbott.

Ah yes, those were the days. I believe some of our disgraced Senators today would feel quite comfortable sitting among the distinguished members from days long gone.

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