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Leaderless: News from an autopilot nation

By Jackson Murphy
web posted January 5, 2004

One of the most interesting things to develop in Canadian politics recently is the notion of autopilot, as in the government being on autopilot. It seems not to matter who is in power in government at any level and the mantra of the Canadian politician is the politics of doing pretty much as little as possible. The problem this season, it seems, is actually finding our elected officials in the flesh.

As Canada rang in the New Year last week, a provincial government was reeling from rumor and conjecture while police raids reached into the legislature itself. Surprisingly this shocking development wasn't enough to cut short the Premier of British Columbia's annual holiday. Meanwhile the latest discovery of mad cow disease in an American farm, then preliminarily traced back to Canada, wasn't enough to bring the hardworking Prime Minister back from his tropical vacation.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin was more than capable of raising the salaries for his senior political staff while on vacation but failed to address the new concerns surrounding mad cow or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). To say nothing of other pressing matters of state including the paltry Canadian response to the devastating Iranian earthquake and that the Governor General visited the troops in Kabul, Afghanistan while Martin was sunning himself outside the country.

Mad cow is a potentially damaging hot button issue. It is a political hot potato as the Canadian Press reports; "A single diseased cow discovered in Alberta in May is estimated to have cost the Canadian cattle industry $1.9 billion in exports so far this year. The industry is currently valued at $6.8 billion per year."

That's an awfully expensive cow and certainly worthy of our highest political official. I was going to write, "elected official", but of course we didn't elected him as much as coronate him. No doubt that is why he felt that after being on the job less than a month he needed a sunny holiday following his hard fought non-campaign.

Which is why it is equally offensive for someone with no mandate to send yet another un-elected official, whom the press continues to insist on calling the "Commander in Chief," to visit our troops in Afghanistan. He's on a holiday while the Governor General goes to deal with what is arguably Canada's top foreign policy concern today.

Over on the left coast while the Premier of British Columbia was on holiday, again, RCMP officers raided offices in the legislature prompting the government's Finance Minister and House Leader Gary Collins, conveniently also on holiday, to briefly come home. The raids are loosely associated with an ongoing long-term investigation into organized crime and drugs that have now forced the government to fire Mr. Collins' top political aide.

The Vancouver Sun's January 2nd edition featured a sobering cover in black and white asking 27 questions that remain unanswered. They included, "Why would the government fire someone who has not been charged with any crime? Have the province's $28-billion operations been compromised? What if anything is the link between drugs, organized or commercial crime to staff in the B.C. legislature?"

Adding to the raids in the legislature, two individuals politically connected to Prime Minister Paul Martin, a Liberal Party lobbyist and a party organizer who also happens to be the Deputy Premier, Christy Clark's husband, were also "visited" by the RCMP. The prime minister's office has decided against suspending the two men.

Another piece to the puzzle was the search of Clark's brother's home. Bruce Clark also happens to be the federal Liberal Party's chief fundraiser in British Columbia. The search warrants have been sealed for now, but there are other unknown warrants too.

To be clear there is no indication that any elected official has any connection to these matters. But Collins' brief sojourn from his vacation while the Premier stays in his Maui spider hole isn't filling the electorate with very much confidence.

"Frankly, I think the premier should have been heading home on the next available flight, simply to demonstrate resolute leadership," writes The Sun's Stephen Hume. "Because let's also be clear about what we're really discussing when the term "organized crime" enters a conversation, even as an indirect association. We're talking about the kind of people who pimp children on the streets; who drive a global expansion of web-based child pornography; who recruit teenagers into a dreadful bondage of drugs and prostitution."

A leader would get on the next plane return home and put all of this in its proper context, declare war on organized crime, Eliot Ness style, and inspire. But a leader in Canada takes another sip on the daiquiri then turns over and applies more sunscreen. 2004 is scarcely a week old and the political autopilot has already been turned on. For the people there remain only questions and very few answers.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right and the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.

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