Do you get the sense that political world has gone off its rails?
In Washington, the president has shut down a good part of the federal government for a month because he is in a snit over the refusal of Congress to give him $5.7 billion for a 30-foot wall to protect the United States from its southern neighbour, friend, ally and trading partner, Mexico. It’s a wall that everyone, except Trump and his core supporters, agrees will do nothing to achieve its stated purpose of keeping illegal drugs out of the U.S.
So government workers don’t get paid. Donald Trump refuses to budge. And Congress wrings its hands in a pathetic demonstration of impotence.
In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May, hoist on her own Brexit petard, is spinning in the breeze. Her rescue plan overwhelmingly rejected in Parliament, she nonetheless survived a non-confidence vote – leaving her a dead woman walking, as cartoonists depict her.
(Meanwhile, also in Britain, an old man driving suffers a kinder fate. Prince Philip was pulled from the wreckage of the Range Rover he was driving when he rolled it in a collision near Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk. Philip was unhurt, although some of his wife’s loyal subjects were so uncharitable as to suggest that perhaps, being 97, he might consider giving up driving.)
In Ivory Coast, two men are arrested for duping, and trying to blackmail, a prominent Canadian sucker into believing that they are a young woman named Brianna Dounia, the object of his online sexual fantasy. Brianna does not exist, but the sucker does. He’s Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Tony Clement, who was reputed to be the smartest member of the Tory caucus in matters of the internet and social media. He realized he had been duped when “Brianna” demanded 50,000 Euros not to distribute sexually explicit pictures he had sent her.
Booted from the Conservative caucus, poor Clement, like Theresa May, is a dead politician walking.
If we are looking for sanity in politics, the last place to look would be Ontario. That’s where Premier Doug Ford is assembling a bigger and better gravy train than the one his late brother, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, claimed he had stopped at city hall.
The premier has embraced patronage with a passion that puts Tony Clement’s sexting to shame. The latest object of his munificence: former Mississauga Mayor “Hurricane” Hazel McCallion, a Ford family friend and political supporter, whom Ontario taxpayers will be pleased to pay $150,000 a year as a “special adviser” to the premier. (Like Philip, McCallion is 97. Has 97 become the new 57?)
The taxpayers’ generosity does not end here. Earlier last week, Ford named Jenni Byrne, his principal secretary, to full-time membership on the Ontario Energy Board at about $197,000 per year. Byrne was Ford’s director of field operations in last June’s election; she also ran Stephen Harper’s election campaigns in 2011 and 2015,
To McCallion and Byrne can be added: Ron Taverner, the Ford family friend, whom the premier is still trying to install as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (at $274,000 a year); Reuben Devlin, a past president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, who will advise the government on ways to improve health care for three years (at $348,000 a year); and Ian Todd, an election campaign adviser, who is Ontario’s new trade representative in Washington ($350,000 a year, which is substantially more than the Canadian ambassador makes).
Patronage is here to stay. It’s been inseparable from the political process since the days of ancient Rome, when Emperor Caligula set out to make his favourite horse a senator.
Ontario, no doubt to Ford’s regret, does not have a senate. He is forced to invent other ways to reward friends and political cronies.
He’s become adept at it. This is a leader, it is worth noting, who claimed that Ontario was stone broke, bathing in Liberal red ink, when he took over.