By Graham Lane
Published on June 1, 2017 in the Winnipeg Sun
How lucky we have Steven Fletcher.
Tremendous responsibilities have politicians — municipal, provincial and federal. We elect them for policies, promises and general behaviour that we think will work for us. If truth were told, acting in the general public interest — assuming we know what is the public interest — is secondary. PC or NDP, taxpayers play second fiddle to politicians looking after themselves.
Make no mistake, whether government is democratic, oligopolistic or a dictatorship, office is sought for power and power brings opportunities for both the good and the bad. Opportunities for the good, properly seized and delivered can bring better health systems, reasonable taxes and fees, good laws, efficient public services and better lives for citizens.
Too often, the elected enjoy power for selfish purposes — such as wealth and power for the regime and friends. Power is centred in the leader.
Canada’s democracy often yields majority governments, where ultimate political power rests with the prime minister, provincial premiers, mayors. The spoils of victory open for the winner.
The premier names his cabinet, changing them and their duties at his pleasure. The premier, assisted by his cabinet members, appoints the heads and members of a blizzard of government agencies and enterprises. Virtually none of the appointments come through an application process. All serve at his pleasure: no fixed terms. As for the benefits bestowed to hundreds of appointees, decent compensation and open door to opportunities for travel and other perks.
Recently Pallister demanded that Crown agencies reduce their management ranks by 15% — providing him the opportunity to “weed out” previous NDP appointees. The party in government puts in who they want and push out who do they don’t want — loyalty is not to the public interest, but to the party and premier.
Early in May, a Manitoba PC provincial backbencher tabled a bill which, if enacted, would reduce the risk that elected officials would feather their own nest and their friends while administering monopoly power through laws, government operations and trusted subordinates.
Bill 212, The Conflict of Interest Act, a private member bill, sought to contain the actions of MLAs of all political parties in the Manitoba Legislature within reasonable limits. Tabled by Steven Fletcher, seemingly a rebel with a cause, it was not supported by the majority government that he is a member of, and thus died. As matters stand, the current law governing the actions of MLAs needs a major overhaul. Saskatchewan’s conflict of interest law is a model to guide towards.
The Honourable Steven Fletcher — the “honourable” title earned from his stint as a federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper — correctly assesses Manitoba’s current legislation to be weak, open to disuse, and dated.
The fact that Mr. Fletcher tabled his bill without the support of his own party “speaks volumes.” The lack of support from the PC caucus, including its ring-master, Premier Brian Pallister, leaves stand a law that a truck could run through.
Pallister’s pre-election musings included that, if elected, his government would be marked by “openness and accountability.” He started well with sharing his mandate letters to his cabinet members. So much for that. Since then, we have closed doors, closed thinking and a government without a clue as to how to successfully re-float the Good Ship Manitoba.
— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward at manitobaforward.ca.
More From Manitoba Forward