Expectations of deceit

Since moving to New Brunswick (NB) about three years ago, the proposed NB Power/Hydro-Quebec deal is the first time I’ve seen some genuine public interest in what this province is about and where it is going. In that sense, regardless of the deal’s merits or whether it goes through or not, it has been a good thing. For good or ill, we’re actually hearing a lot of voices.

Another good though troubling aspect of the debate is that as it goes on we are seeing other issues being discussed. These are related issues as many of them have an impact on what will or won’t happen, and some are arguably more important than the ostensible debate itself.

First on my list of these, and the one I think may be of even greater importance, is political integrity and how we perceive politics and politicians. Put bluntly, it ain’t good.

Often we put the issue in partisan terms but the reality is that it is non-partisan. Regardless of what party is in power and regardless of whether it is provincial or federal, there is a sense of deception to everything coming from our governments. Further, there is a sense of deception to anything coming from the parties.

We can (and many have) questioned the integrity of the current New Brunswick government of Shawn Graham and the provincial Liberals, but recently we were also questioning that of the federal government of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. And the federal opposition, the Liberals. And the NB Conservatives.

Before the wider public had even heard of a NB/Quebec deal on NB Power, we were seeing federal money being handed out with great big cheques dressed up to look as if they were from the federal Conservatives even though the money was from the Government of Canada (which is us).

If you are like me, you receive with some frequency black and white flyers telling us (depending on who they are coming from) how awful Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals are or how awful Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are. Given how they are written and presented, it is hard to view them realistically as anything but political electioneering that we pay for because they are again paid for by Government of Canada money.

With the New Brunswick Liberals, they had as part of their election platform that NB Power would remain a public company. This could be said to be still true with the proposed deal, except the “public” in public company is Quebec.

In many of these issues, there is a sense of deception. Prior to the proposed NB Power deal, when I was asking various people about those black and white flyers to see how they viewed them, I was struck by how cynical attitudes were. In a sense, people were blasé. They expected politicians to be deceitful. They expected dishonesty.

When we speak of low voter turnouts at elections and of public indifference, I believe this expectation of deceit is the primary reason. But even more worrisome to me was a suspicion that many had moved beyond indifference to contempt – for politics and for government. If this perception is accurate, how can a country remain coherent as a nation?

The current environment is unacceptable to me. Parties change positions with the wind, meaning as polls and surveys come in with ever more data so what is said can be fashioned to tell us what we want to hear. There are few statements coming from governments or from parties that don’t feel as if they’ve been laundered through the many spin filters. Seldom do we hear anyone say, bluntly and truthfully, “We were wrong.” In a case where a party or government is wrong, we see exercises in triage and soft shoe routines to avoid stating what is often obvious. When we hear something true, it comes to us in the most obfuscated form as linguistic games are played to make one thing sound like another.

We may have a voice in elections but from what I see, that isn’t enough. We have to have a voice in the parties themselves and how they are run. It seems clear their primary focus is the party and not the province or country. This is a problem in every province and at the federal level. And we are part of the problem too since we seem to be complacent as long as we hear what we want to hear, regardless of whether it’s true or what we need.

It is time to restore integrity in politics. And it’s time for all of us to demand it. And it’s time for all of us to wake up to realities such as sometimes the other guy is right and we’re wrong and hearing what we want to hear isn’t always true or good or right.

We have to demand better of our politicians and their parties and we have to demand more of ourselves.

(I actually wrote this about two weeks ago but kept it in draft form. I read it again today and decided – yes, publish it despite the pompous, pontificating tone. )