03/27/2014 12:20 EDT | Updated 05/27/2014 05:59 EDT

How Canadian Tax Dollars Become Lavish Personal Spending Accounts

2012-04-27-mediabitesreal.jpg Alberta Premier Allison Redford was forced to resign last week following revelations that she had charged the treasury $45,000 to attend President Mandela's funeral. Redford's quick hand with the expense account chequebook, in turn, obviously brings to mind the shenanigans of our old pals in the Senate.

It's no longer worth denying. Canada is in the midst of a serious corruption crisis. It's time we started confronting it as the national outrage it is.

In my province of British Columbia, citizens are currently agog at the fact that the Portland Hotel Society, the oddly-named outfit that runs Vancouver's famous "safe injection site," has been blowing their nearly $28 million in yearly government handouts on booze, limo rides, cruises, spa visits, baby showers, and at least one all-expense paid trip to Disneyland for a well-connected member of the provincial legislature.

The PHS shooting gallery is one of the cause célèbres of BC politics; both the ruling Liberals and opposition NDP enthusiastically support it, ditto Vancouver's last six mayors. This perhaps explains why no audit of their books has been released publicly until now.

Nevertheless, some of the PHS's staunchest defenders have attempted to change the channel by noting that the speaker of the BC Legislature is mighty corrupt too. Speaker Reid, already embattled for having spent around $90,000 in public funds on perks and redecorating (including $6,000 in new curtains for her office), has more recently come under fire for booking her husband a first-class safari to South Africa on the taxpayer's dime.

If that sounds familiar, it's because in next door Alberta Premier Allison Redford was forced to resign last week following revelations that, among many other grotesque instances of nest-feathering for herself and her inner circle, she had charged the treasury $45,000 to attend President Mandela's funeral. A trip seemingly only justifiable, as Colman Byfield in the Calgary Sun snippily put it, on the grounds that "she and Madiba once posed for a photograph together."

Redford's quick hand with the expense account chequebook, in turn, obviously brings to mind the shenanigans of our old pals in the Senate, an entire branch of the federal government whose members were, until a few months ago, not expected to provide any public justification whatsoever for their lavish personal spending.

By now it's old hat that Senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, and Harb used this climate of ambiguity (or as Senate rules called it, the "honour system") to collectively bilk taxpayers out of nearly half a million in phoney living and travel costs. Does anyone believe the auditor-general's upcoming look into the spending habits of the upper chamber's remaining 90-odd members will reveal anything different?

There was a snide article on the left-wing site Rabble a while back claiming the Senate scandal had proven to Canada's native peoples that Ottawa wasn't "ready for self-government." But before anyone gets too self-righteous, it's worth noting, as the Canadian Press did last year, that "one-quarter of Canada's First Nations bands are under some kind of financial supervision ordered by the federal government" due to chronic mismanagement of treaty funds.

In 2013, a damning audit of Attawapiskat chief Teresa Spence's administration -- which found over $100 million in undocumented spending -- reminded Canadians that many aboriginal governments remain black holes of fiscal accountability, and very much the corrupt rackets of popular lore. Yet this remains a crisis Canada's aboriginal establishment has shown little interest in confronting.

Like the Assembly of First Nations, which mobilized in protest of the Harper government's First Nations Financial Transparency Act -- a law mandating aboriginal leaders release consolidated financial statements and publicly disclose the tax-free, one-percenter salaries they often pay themselves -- last week a bunch of Saskatchewan chiefs declared they'd rather opt-out of federal funding than subject their governments to Ottawa's financial oversight. Which is really just another way of saying they intend to take the government to court in the hopes some sympathetic judge will let them have it both ways.

But perhaps the natives are just taking a cue from the master of having it both ways: Quebec. A province in which a massive judicial inquiry on public sector corruption -- exposing millions in illegal political party donations and rigged Mafia-backed construction contracts -- still shows no signs of slowing down. A province in which the last two mayors of its largest city both had to resign following kickback charges -- and the city manager to boot!

Not a lot of people know this, but Canada actually tops the World Bank's official tally of countries with the most corrupt corporations thanks to Quebec -- specifically SNC-Lavalin, a hydra-headed construction empire whose deep ties to the province's political establishment are now uncomfortably well-known.

But let's not give our federal politicians a pass either. The current boss of the NDP was offered a bribe by a crooked mayor during his provincial politics days, then covered it up for years; the old boss of the NDP lived in a rent-controlled apartment despite making way over the income cut-off. The current boss of the Liberal Party exploited his standing as a parliamentarian to charge $20,000-a-pop for 30-minute speeches , and one of his star candidates, the former head of the Canadian Army, billed the government $72,000 in moving fees when he relocated from one Ottawa mansion to another.

Prime Minister Harper himself seems relatively clean -- though it's worth recalling that he's only in power in the first place thanks to public disgust with the so-called "Sponsorship Scandal," a multi-million dollar money laundering conspiracy in which sham government contracts were set up to divert taxpayer dollars into the pockets of the previous Liberal regime. You know, the one headed by that guy who's now spending his free time tromping around African dictatorships trying to scare up clients for his failing law firm.

To be sure, Canada is not Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. In the grand scheme of global corruption, we could probably do a lot worse. But ours is still undeniably a nation in which the increasing vanity and arrogance of those in positions of public trust seems to be breeding an ever-more cavalier, self-entitled attitude towards money that isn't theirs.

It's an outrage and a tragedy.

Unfortunately, it's also very Canadian.


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