Setting course toward democracy
“Thanks for your excellent work. You’re fired.”
Christy Clark and Co. implied that farewell to Auditor-General John Doyle; but public anger stirred them to reconsider their attempt to muffle his criticism.
Their clumsy first decision made soft-hearted people like me feel sorry for them; but voters will remember the manoeuvre without any sympathetic afterglow, at B.C.’s next general election, May 14, 2013.
As a licensed arm’s-length critic of government, Doyle drew attention to waste, cronyism, fakery and policy blunders.
The Libs’ “fire Doyle” decision was helpful to the public, as an example of how not to do politics. It allowed hope that Doyle or someone equally sharp-witted will keep an eye on government’s errors in future.
Doyle-targeted fumbles and betrayals were catalogued by Damien Gillis, in his Common Sense Canadian blog, starting with Doyle’s critique of then-forest-minister Pat Bell’s sellout of the public interest when he did a favour for a timber company by taking a big tract of southwestern Island
timberland out of the forest reserve and opening it for real estate
development without notice or
consultation, thereby trashing regional plans.
Bell compounded the offence by flying into a rage and attacking Doyle’s report.
The auditor-general found that inept timber-supply management has put B.C.’s forest industry in danger. Also, as Gillis noted, the Liberals stashed more than $80 billion in taxpayer commitments above and beyond the provincial debt which they’ve also lifted by some $20 billion during their tenure, by classifying them as contractual obligations instead of conventional debt. That figure includes some $53 billion in reckless, overpriced, unnecessary, completely secret private power contracts.
Doyle is a hard-nosed fact-finder and analyst. The fuss over his tenure arguably points toward the emerging new shape of Canada’s political system, which gives a louder voice to ordinary people in partnership with experts, organizers and visionaries.
The system-change counterbalances partisan politics. It mobilizes informed and creative public opinion, and sets a course toward the ideal of democracy or “government by the people,” which remains a distant vision although sloganeers pretend it already exists.
The leaders of the journey toward democracy are such built-in critics of government as Doyle and federal auditor-general Michael Ferguson, his predecessor, Sheila Fraser, and federal environmental watchdog Scott Vaughan, who resigned after the Harper government stonewalled his critical reports.
Close beside these guardians are such opinion-and-policy co-ordinators as Roy Romanow, who found that most Canadians want public healthcare. He showed that public healthcare is working quite well, and outlined some ways to make it more efficient and sensitive.
Why are appointed policy-shapers and built-in critics gaining recognition as essential officers of government? Why can’t elected governing politicians do the whole lawmaking job, and journalists and lobbyists and opposing politicians do all the criticizing?
Because election campaigns do not examine policy. Government control-freaks block access to knowledge. Auditors-general are canny, principled insiders empowered to ferret through the political-bureaucratic maze.
Elections are tournaments of slogans and putdowns. Each contender tries to play the fractions of the electorate like a pipe organ, offer clever sound-bites and strong body-language, and win trust. The campaign workers try to get supporters to the poll.
Some candidates have well-organized plans, managerial talent and kindly popular rapport. Most candidates maintain a cluster of good intentions. But since the era when medieval kings summoned barons in “parliaments” to demand money and soldiers, politics has been a struggle between top dogs and everybody else.
Doyle and successors will help people see where they stand.
• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.