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The Canadian way

December 09, 2012

Irregular goings-on in and around Toronto these past few weeks have kept the Canadian news reels spicy and varying.

Interrupting the obsessive reporting about cold spells, moose advisory for highway road users or ice hockey updates was a lot of local politics — the Toronto Mayor got fired, the Ontario legislature was prorogued by the Provincial Premier and a Canadian bagged the highest accounting position in England!

It was the Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty (equivalent of any Chief Minister in Pakistan) who set the stage for political upsets over a month ago. With local issues proving too hot to handle, he abrogated the parliament and gave in a post-dated resignation while announcing his end as his (Liberal) party’s provincial leader after 12 years in that role. Let’s pass over the political details here (they are numerous and dull) but one aspect of Canadian governance that often reminds me of Pakistani-style politics, is the frequent prorogation of Parliament.

The current Canadian Prime Minister has prorogued Parliament twice in four years for reasons other than holiday recess, like derailing unwanted inquiries, stalling government bills and allowing the Party to gain lobbying time in the Senate. Apparently more than 30 bills have been known to die prematurely midway between the House and Senate because of (un)timely prorogation. That’s Canadian democracy wrapped in clean linen.

The boot Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford got last week, however, was a first time, landmark occurrence and all because of a technical glitch on paper — literally! Winning by the skin of his teeth, Ford’s two-years as Mayor were chaotic and politically aggressive to say the least. He tried overhauling many previous systems and the intrinsically old fashioned Canadians are not used to that. They prefer older, tried and tested ways. Also, they are a stickler for fine print (even if it overrules the larger picture).

Mayor Ford was not the right man to bring about change anyway, as being primarily a clumsy politician he was devoid of any tact or social graces. He freely expelled angry words, ridiculed conventions, stepped on many toes during his tenure and became the pet object of ridicule in the media where he was liberally poked fun at. From his losing battle to reduce his expansive girth to his domestic disharmony with his wife and then his foolish explanation on why he was reading the newspaper while driving the car, Mayor Ford was a walking joke. But the breach of rules that caught Toronto’s blustering mayor was the least of his errors — the use of office stationary (worth $3000) to solicit funds for a football charity he supports. The money did not go into his pocket but the letterhead paper he used from his office to solicit donations was bought from tax payers’ money and hence, not his to use.

He was asked to pay the money, he refused on grounds that the demand was ‘ridiculous’, a citizen then filed a suit against him for corruption and the ruling judge fired him for ‘conflict of interest’. So now for the sake of $3000 the city of Toronto might have to dish out $7 million of taxpayers’ money for a new Mayoral election. That’s accountability, the Canadian way.

On a very different note — while Ford’s ideas of change were being opposed at home — Canada’s top banker, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, was being eyed as the saviour of their financial woes by the UK. Ironically, the moment that the judge passed the verdict on Ford was the same time when news broke out of Carney’s appointment as Governor for the Bank of England. It appears that Carney’s good old Canadian banking policies of preserving low interest rates and discounting virtually enhanced dollar figures were the best approach for keeping Canada afloat and financially solid during the worst of the recent recession. And that is why Carney of the Bank of Canada has become Governor (designate) of the Bank of England.

With several political loose ends hanging within Canada, the coming months promise more political drama. We now await the date declaring when our precious $7 million will be spent to account for the $3,000 Rob Ford spent, and we also await the eventual provincial election (more dollars spent) to determine Ontario’s Prime Minister.

The best of all though is when Carney takes his staid, tried and tested fiscal policies with him to help get England out of the credit crisis they are struggling with since 2008 and Canadians get to smugly smile as their savvy Brit relatives publicly accept Canadian brilliance in one department at least. Times are  changing, eh?