New York Post: Forget Rob Ford, Canada is chock full of scandal
Toronto’s crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford is the most famous Canadian in the world. The Charlie Sheen of politics opens his mouth simply to change feet.
He’s certainly worked over the Canadian brand, which isn’t all bad.
Americans think that Canadians are boring, nice and polite folks who apologize to machinery. In a way, it’s gratifying to be noticed for something other than the weather.
But if Americans think Ford is an anomaly, they’re giving Canada way too much credit. In truth, the country is awash in scandal.
Most unnerving is Quebec, Canada’s Tammany Hall. Since 2011, a government commission has been investigating the awarding and management of public contracts. Its findings have led to the resignation in 2012 of the mayor of Canada’s second-largest city, Montreal; the arrest in 2013 of his replacement; the arrest in 2013 of nearby Laval’s mayor for “gangsterism” and criminal charges against two more small-town mayors.
In addition, Quebec’s anti-corruption squad has arrested 49 people and laid criminal charges against 13 companies.
“Acts of collusion and corruption exist everywhere in Quebec — in every region. Our investigations are proving this to us,” said Robert Lafreniere, head of the squad.
There are 20 more ongoing investigations outside the construction industry, he added, involving contracts for computer technology and work related to an ambitious scheme to develop mining, tourism and infrastructure in the province’s far north.
In the province next door, the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad recently scoured the premier’s office. Its probe concerns the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of two gas plants in 2011 on the eve of an election at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion.
In London, Ontario, another mayor has refused to quit despite the fact that he has been charged with fraud and faces a trial soon on allegations that he used taxpayer money to help pay for his son’s wedding reception in June 2005.
A more king-sized violation in Quebec involves public official Arthur Porter and two executives of SNC-Lavalin, who were arrested this year for fraud involving the $2.3 billion contract to build the McGill University Health Center.
Porter, who is now in Panama fighting extradition, was also charged with conspiracy and money laundering.
Another eyebrow raiser was the fact that Porter had been appointed in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be chair of the oversight committee of the country’s CIA, called the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. In 2011, he resigned under a cloud following revelations leaked to the press about his questionable business dealings around the world. His associates include an arms dealer who was arrested for trying to sell planes to Iran.
In more recent days, a controversy has arisen that may become Canada’s Watergate. At the center is the Canadian Senate, whose 105 members are political appointments given high-paying jobs until age 75. The institution is a throwback from Britain’s House of Lords and an undemocratic patronage dump for friends, partisans and bagmen.
In the past year, four senators have been pushed out of their jobs for claiming travel and housing expenses for which they were ineligible — in one case, charging for meals he ate at home. One resigned and three have been suspended without pay. Another faces sexual-assault charges and two are under investigation for fraud.
This week, Senate shenanigans reached into the prime minister’s office after police accused one of the senators, and the prime minister’s former chief of staff, of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. None of the allegations have been proven in court nor have criminal charges been laid. But Canada is in a tizzy, and there’s speculation as to whether the prime minister himself will be implicated.
With such serious charges floating around, it’s hard to get exorcised about Rob Ford. He’s never been accused of malfeasance, and Canada isn’t a country that’s exactly declared war on drugs.
For instance, in the midst of the Ford flap, newbie Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stumbled into admitting he smoked weed a few times while serving in Parliament.
So, the next time your Canadian cousins get smug about their superior culture, kindness and hockey, remind them that politicians behaving badly isn’t unique to the US. (And let’s be honest, Canadians aren’t really that much nicer — they’re just better at keeping nasty comments to themselves).
Canada gets just as dirty — so stay tuned and hold into your tuques.
Diane Francis is a dual citizen of the US and Canada and author of “Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country” (Harper).