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Political Accountability and Self-Dealing

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A municipal politician told my graduate class when he spoke about accountability in public office this week that politicians have the ability to make someone rich or poor by decisions that they make. When and how they make those decisions should be subject to rigorous controls and public scrutiny. Herein lies the potential for corruption in government: the awarding of contracts, the influence by the private sector, and self-dealing by public office holders.

Consider the following:

A politician from Quebec acknowledges receiving envelopes of cash from a businessman for lobbying efforts. Another Quebec politician is alleged to have profited personally from real estate deals and government policies. The Federal "sponsorship scandal" originated in Quebec. SNC Lavalin, a large construction company based in Quebec, is accused of massive bribery schemes and its former CEO has been arrested. (Its chair and three directors were replaced yesterday.) A Dr. Arthur Porter, former head of the McGill University Health Centre, in Quebec, faces fraud allegations. The mayors of Montreal and Laval, Quebec, have resigned amid corruption allegations. Quebec's anti-corruption squad has raided corporate, political and home offices in Quebec. Last week, a high-profile Hells Angel member was arrested in Quebec.

Justice France Charbonneau needs to propose comprehensive mandatory reforms to address organized crime and corruption in Quebec, similar to Justice Denise Bellamy's recommendations for the City of Toronto.

Corruption and bribery thrive when the very recipients of it are in power. Politicians need to be instructed by this independent judicial inquiry -- the Charbonneau Commission -- to implement reforms to internal controls, transparency, codes of conduct, independent audits, whistle-blowing, conflicts of interest policies, lobbying, communication, education, monitoring and enforcement. These standards and practices should be established for any political body, be it federal, provincial or municipal.

Lastly, governments need to lead by example. They need to impose the equivalent controls and expectations of accountability and transparency on themselves that they insist upon for the private sector.