In Politicians We Trust (?)

by Wayne Prins on March 10, 2014

Corrupt, embarrassing, pathetic, typical. I’ve heard these words a lot the past year in conversations about Canadian politics and politicians. The first three accurately describe high-profile scandals, such as Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s crack smoking. The fourth, however, is most troubling. The widespread perception that these antics are “typical” is as unfortunate as it is wrong.

By any objective standard—one not tainted by sensationalist media coverage—Canadians are blessed with one of the most stable and reliable political systems in the world. Thousands of politicians, the vast majority of whom are well-meaning and gifted, willingly take on the risk of public office to contribute to the inner workings of a civil society that maintains one of the highest standards of living in history.

My passion on the topic stems from personal experience. I have a family member who was a politician, a man who served his community faithfully and with integrity for over forty years, ten in elected office. He became the victim of a widely misunderstood controversy that gained momentum in the public eye. Professionally, the controversy amounted to an early retirement from politics. Personally, it was devastating. Our whole family suffered from the petty and cruel behaviour of those who sacrificed, on a whim, a person of good character.

I find it discouraging when the positive Canadian spirit is hampered by blanket cynicism and distrust. This is not to say that instances of corruption and other bad behaviour should not be exposed. But we shouldn’t let the bad examples taint our view of the whole.

Similarly, we shouldn’t let instances of bad behaviour on the part of some unions taint our view of the overall good that unions do. We keep hearing calls for restricting the rights of unions, and laws that would undermine unions’ ability to exist. We need look no further than south of the border, where over thirty states have enacted “right-to-work” laws—which really mean the right to work without the better wages, benefits, and protection that unions provide. Around the globe in places such as Bangladesh and China, vulnerable workers are sadly lacking protection. Despite its flaws, our labour relations system protects Canadians and doesn’t undermine unionism.

I encourage you to maintain a positive faith in our political system and the politicians who work within it. I encourage you to think about the difference that unions such as CLAC make in your day-to-day life. Demand accountability, but be thankful for the quality of life you enjoy—and remember the role politicians and unions play in maintaining it.

Previous post: