Corruption and its roots in weak systems

For the most part, I’ve been avoiding the various political controversies of the past few weeks and focusing on the real accountability stories. On Wednesday, my frustration got the better of me when it became apparent that wrongdoing is still being rewarded under Prime Minister Harper, much as it was under Chrétien and Mulroney before him.

I used the term corruption, something my colleagues tend to shy away from as it conjures images of third world countries. But just because we’re not as bad as the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan or Nigeria, doesn’t mean that we should pat ourselves on the back and ignore the corruption that does creep into our system.

Which brings me to the story about the Prime Minister’s former senior advisor, Bruce Carson. This story reads like it comes out of a third world country, or England. It has the PM calling in the RCMP to investigate influence peddling, Carson allegedly acting as an unregistered lobbyist, a former escort (a beautiful 23-year-old, now engaged to 66 year-old Carson)… wow. As a result, Carson has resigned from one job and has taken leave from a tar sands panel.

Dodgy lobbying and the prostitute aside, this case shows just how vulnerable our appointment processes are. I mean, how did he get the tar sands appointment? Is he an expert in the field? And what does it say when someone who sells himself to the highest bidder is put onto a panel that is supposed to be working in the public interest?

Nothing good, that’s for sure.

And what about the Lobbying Commissioner? I’d be really interested to know whether anyone made a complaint about him and whether she ever started an investigation. My guess is yes, and no. But since she doesn’t like to tell us about her cases, we may never know.

So while the PM has very rightly called in the RCMP and distanced himself from Carson, he still bears responsibility for failing to implement the Public Appointments Commission he promised and ensuring watchdogs are effective.

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Carson takes leave from Tar Sands panel
Ottawa Citizen, March 18, 2011:
Summary: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s embattled former senior advisor Bruce Carson has taken “a leave of absence” from a high-profile panel formed in January to advise the Alberta government on future environmental monitoring of the province’s Tar Sands. Carson, who is being investigated by the RCMP for allegedly using his high-level connections to land millions of dollars in federal contracts, phoned Alberta’s Environment Minister Rob Renner on Thursday to offer his resignation.

The Businessman, the Girlfriend, the Water Deal and the PMO
Ottawa Citizen, March 18, 2011:
Summary: A former top adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was lobbying the Indian Affairs Department earlier this year for a water filtration company involved in a multi-million dollar deal in which his fiancée, a former upscale call girl from Ottawa, stood to gain a lucrative commission.