Serious Business: Sex, Drugs and Revolving Doors
My grandfather, George Benson Swayne, was a great man. Perhaps not in the sense of having accomplished anything you’d notice on the world stage because he lived in a smaller world, a town of barely 20,000 people but in that town he was highly-regarded and well-respected.
He worked for CP Rail for most of his career taking a decade off to sit as mayor. He served three consecutive terms and was elected by acclamation to each. He could have served a fourth but declined to run.
I didn’t know all that back then, of course, his only role in my life was that he was my grandfather and I loved him dearly. He smelled of White Owl cigars, Old Spice and sometimes a bit of my grandmother’s Elizabeth Arden cologne. He had a bit of an effeminate side which meant my grandmother’s and my mother’s perfumes were never safe when he was around.
If he danced with a woman who was wearing a backless gown, he took his decorative hankerchief from his suit jacket pocket and placed it over his hand so as not to embarrass her by having his hand touch her bare skin.
He loved peppermint humbugs which he always shared with me; loved to play cards and would play any game with anyone young or old at the sound of a shuffle and told me the same riddles and jokes every year from the time I was able to talk until he died when I was in my teens.
That was in 1967 and I miss him to this day.
I was deeply touched when my daughter named her son after my grandfather after telling me that even though she had never met him, she felt she knew him from all the stories I told her about him.
I still remember how people would come up to my grandfather after church where he would sing the hymns loudly and completely off key or when we walked together along Main Street just to shake his hand and pay their respects. Often, men would simply tip their hats to him as we walked by.
He was a quiet, soft-spoken gentleman who brought meaning to the word ‘gentle’. He also defined the word integrity for me.
He was precisely the kind of person we need in politics and very seldom see anymore; a simple, honest man who understood and lived the meaning of the words duty and service.
We’re not seeing too much of that in too many mayors in Canada these days – they’re dropping like flies caught up in spider’s webs of corruption of their own making.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to tar all sitting mayors with the same brush as some but the simple reality is that too many come to office with grand schemes and plans we can’t afford and more than a few it seems come with the intention of enriching themselves through less than ethical means.
In Quebec, no fewer than seven mayors have either been forced to resign or have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses in the past seven months alone – and five of them are from only two cities.
Laval Mayor Alexandre Duplessis resigned on Friday after allegations of having stiffed a young lady from a an escort service although he didn’t stiff her in the traditional manner. As the story goes, he apparently stiffed her by refusing to pay for her services which I have on fairly good authority is considered a no-no in the escort business. The escort service threatened to go public which actually led to the whole mess going public which then led to first the usual denial, then the usual refusal to resign and then the usual resignation – all within about six hours on Friday.
Phew! Things move at such a pace in Quebec municipal politics that it exhausts me and leaves me breathless at times.
Mr. Duplessis was the interim mayor appointed to run the city after the previous mayor was arrested and charged with ‘gangsterism’. The word gangster is not a word one usually likes to hear associated with elected officials but since the Charbonneau Commission of Corruption got rolling, it’s a word along with fraud, racketeering and illegal fund raising with which the people of Quebec are becoming quite familiar.
More than three dozen people, former municipal mayors and bureaucrats, have been arrested and charged with various offenses to date and I believe that law enforcement is just getting warmed up.
Things were so bad in Laval that the province put the city into trusteeship shortly after Mr. Duplessis was appointed interim mayor. Now, just two months after his appointment, the city is looking for its third mayor in as many months.
It’s the same situation in Montreal where the interim mayor, who was brought in to replace the elected mayor who resigned over corruption allegations has himself now been forced to resign after being arrested and charged with fraud. A new interim mayor has been appointed for Montreal and you have to believe that the good folks of the city are holding their breath that this interim mayor will survive until the municipal elections in November.
Now I understand that the provincial government is considering the installation of revolving doors on mayors’ offices to facilitate moving them in and out faster.
A few years back, the then mayor of Ottawa was charged and tried for influence peddling. He was acquitted but his arrest and trial consumed most of his one term in office which meant that the city was more consumed with legal matters than city business.
In London Ontario, the current mayor is on trial for fraud dating back to his term as a Liberal Cabinet Minister under Jean Chretien and he is being investigated for possible embezzlement of funds from a charity.
And then there is the Gong Show that is Toronto.
Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford, was charged with conflict of interest when he used City Stationary to solicit funds for a football team for underprivileged youth. While he was acquitted, the people behind the charges have appealed the acquittal to the Supreme Court of Canada. One suspects that the mayor will be retired and have grandchildren before it gets resolved.
So consumed with angst about Toronto’s mayor are some that it has become a constant barrage of cheap shots and gotcha moments in the media that led up to the Toronto Star claiming to have seen a video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
Well – that got everybody’s attention for a month. The American web site Gawker was involved, late night television shows ridiculed the mayor and the city and, of course, his detractors blamed it all on the mayor.
They may – or may not – be right but to date, nothing has been proven. The alleged video has never surfaced despite the fact that Gawker claims to have raised the $200,000 asking price to purchase it and the people of Toronto now have an outright war on their hands between the mayor and half his council and the mayor and the provincial government.
It is municipal politics turned into a very bloody episode of Survivor. It almost makes the revolving door of corruption in Quebec municipal politics seem quite benign.
Is this really what we want or need from our elected representatives? Are we really prepared to continue to support his kind of selfish, unethical and outright stupid behaviour from people elected to serve their communities?
Each one of these mayors continues to have their supporters. It is unbelievable! While everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the simple fact is that those in public office should be holding themselves to such a standard that these types of allegations, charges and events should just never happen – and if they are incapable of holding themselves to that standard, then we should.
Think about it for a moment.
So bereft of ethical standards and integrity has politics become that governments at all levels have had to create Ethics Commissioners just to keep an eye on themselves and each other. The NDP in Ontario is strutting about like a peacock in heat because they got a commitment from the Liberal Government to create a Parliamentary Budget Watchdog to oversee and report on government fiscal management.
But why is all that necessary?
Why are our elected representatives these days refusing to hold themselves to a level of accountability and transparency that is above reproach?
I don’t have an answer for that but I know it’s possible. I knew and loved a gentle man who lived that standard and who was respected for it. You would have thought that politicians might have learned something after seeing so many slink from office in disgrace, their reputations in tatters or worse, being charged with criminal offenses for having failed to meet the same standards.
You might have thought it but you’d be wrong if you did.
They learn nothing.
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