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Where Have All The Political Leaders Gone?

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For a great many Canadians, this is a week of cycles and change. While young people finish another year of school, parents prepare to send their children for summer adventures at camps and experiential learning programs; consistently warm nights and hotter days, not to mention today's solstice, signal summer's long-anticipated arrival.

At the same time, another wave -- this one more insidious, the harbinger of maladies rather than summer fun -- is revealing its sweep of the country: political corruption.

Monday morning, Canadians awoke to news that Montreal's mayor, Michael Applebaum, was arrested following an investigation by the province's anti-corruption unit. Applebaum faces 14 criminal charges, including fraud against the government, breach of trust, conspiracy, and municipal corruption.

Municipal politics is rarely seen as glamorously as its provincial or federal cousins. Yet controversy is no stranger to its realm. Examining more critically Tip O'Neill's truism that "all politics is local" captures the reality that a politician's unchecked pursuit of 'pork' or abuse of patronage will likely and eventually attract the prying eyes of the media, if not the law, too.

For a new mayor, sworn in merely seven months ago while riding a wave of (admittedly tepid) support for his pledge to combat corruption at City Hall, this rap sheet brings with it disenchantment and the taint of deep scandal. That Applebaum succeeded GĂ©rald Tremblay, who resigned amidst allegations of corruption, is salt in the wounds for Montrealers who continue to endure the intrigues and failures of their forlorn leaders.

And now, for the second time in under a year, Montreal has lost a mayor to scandal and resignation.

Despite the Gawker-worthy headlines of ethics breaches, Canadians might be excused for paying little attention; after all, daily updates of the scandals washing over politicians from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto have some officials looking more like Clay Davis of The Wire's Baltimore than much else. (And The Wire, at least, offered real discourse.)

This is becoming too habitual. Even The Atlantic, that venerable American mainstay, is confused: "So a Canadian mayor was arrested Monday and, no, it was not the one you expect."

Enough ink has been spilled elsewhere on the Rob Ford circus, the details of which become more bizarre seemingly by the hour. Over in Ottawa, the flagrant double-dipping on expense spending by Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb, and Patrick Brazeau (don't even get me started on "The Brazman's" other extracurriculars) have given Canadians much reason to believe the Senate is where government-appointed cronies are sent to thieve, interrupted only occasionally by a vote to rubber-stamp or quash some House bill. (Disclosure: I was formerly employed by a Liberal senator, a man whose integrity leaves me with hope that the Senate is not yet beyond salvation.)

These tales leave the impression that there are no good women and men in public service, but we know that's not true. Brent Rathgeber is one, singled out for his courageous decision to confront a Prime Minister's Office that force-feeds talking points to MPs who are compelled to vote like "trained seals". But examples like Rathgeber increasingly are exceptions in an industry appearing daily to become more removed from the will of the people.

Where have all the leaders gone?

Part of the problem, surely, is who we deify. We are guilty of perpetuating a celebrity-obsessed culture, whether those figures drop rhymes, dimes, or guidelines.

The flip-side of this equation, however, are those to whom we don't accord enough respect: people like teachers, camp counsellors, and nonprofit volunteers. What links this latter group? They are all educators, responsible for bringing up our young, and us, too.

As we do our pack-ups and send-offs over the coming days, and say good riddance to our summer-holidaying political representatives, keep in mind those individuals who demonstrate real leadership and caring every day. Better yet, model the values they represent. And be sure to thank them -- they're more important now than ever.

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