Rex Murphy: Dalton departs

The cancellation of the gas plants is the biggest scandal of our time. But it’s McGuinty’s casual manner that really rankles

Rex Murphy – National Post

There are so many. To rework a standout line from Hamlet: When scandals come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions. In these rich, mesmerizing, disgusting, toxic times we may call Scandalpalooza, it is hard to know where to look, which spectacle at what level of government on which to feast our horrified eyes.

The Rob Ford/Toronto Star cage-match is like some zany humiliating mock soap opera that has burst its bounds, something began as a comedy which has veered into strange and ominious regions of absurdity. In Ottawa, it’s pick-a-Senator-a-day time. Evidently, Mike Duffy is finally being granted a spell and it’s Pamela Wallin’s turn in the grim spotlight. I returned back to Toronto from a trip to the unbroken innocence and 24 hour sunlight of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories only to find Peter Mansbridge interviewing Wallin over her “carelessness” with expense accounts, paybacks of close to $40,000 and possibly more to come. It was, for her, classic scandal “management.”

There are actually professions who specialize in that now, which if nothing else tells us how frequent public misbehaviour has become. It now supports a boutique industry of people who work to get the rich and powerful out of trouble of their own making.

I don’t know if Wallin employs any such wizards. But certainly in the Mansbridge interview, she followed the now-standard procedures: be upfront, confess “errors and mistakes,” adopt a sad, apologetic tone. Put on a Feel-My-Pain face. Repeat, till it sounds very much like an old-fashioned prayer, how sorry you are. Sens. Brazeau and Harb were no doubt taking notes.

Yet all these worthy scandals can’t claim the gold. That goes to this week’s once-premier, the three-term, demure-as-a-church mouse Dalton McGuinty.

For connoisseurs of outrageous public behaviour, McGuinty in many ways is and always has been a huge disappointment. He has less edge than a marshmallow. His presence is almost eerily understated: when he enters a room it is as if there is one less person in it. His public speeches have less fervour than dry cleaning instructions.

McGuinty delivered himself of the Quote of the Century on resigning: he leaves ‘with his idealism intact.’ How wonderful. What of the public’s idealism?

Yet in the stuff that really counts, in putting a real dent into public confidence, and — during the course of an election, mind you — turning part of the management of a province into a partisan manoeuvre, Departing Dalton is King of the Sad Pile.

Duffy may give better television clips as he scurries through a kitchen avoiding reporters. Wallin may be hypnotic under fire. Mayor Ford and his brother have a dark, almost fearsome flamboyance. But McGuinty’s play with the gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, their cancellation at huge cost for potential electoral gain — this stands, in its substance, alone. Only quite recently we have learned that aides in the-then premier’s office deleted emails covering the transactions, which raises the original sin to a quite new level.

McGuinty delivered himself of the Quote of the Century on resigning: he leaves “with his idealism intact.” How wonderful. What of the public’s idealism? No comment on that was forthcoming.

In the ordinary course of things, if a politician were to offer, say, a thousand dollars of his own money to an individual in exchange for that individual’s vote, it would be seen for what it was: a bribe. But if a government, while campaigning, with partisan intent, spends hundreds of millions in the hope of influencing a riding’s vote, that was just another day in McGuinty’s government. And when the evidence vanishes? Mere carelessness!

The gas plant cancellation is the truly big scandal of our time. It, by far, involves the largest disbursement of public monies in a dubious manner. The deletion of the emails is very close to sinister. But it was McGuinty’s casual conduct during the whole affair that truly stands out. Yet it was that very same manner that has — so far — spared him.

His successor, Premier Kathleen Wynne, is now on shaky moral ground . She is premier, in part, because the Liberals used this highly questionable tactic to earn their narrow win. The honourable thing to do would be for her to call an election on just this issue — and call it now. Sadly, we live in times when doing the honourable thing is a wisp of forlorn hope, as opposed to a realistic expectation.

National Post