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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Party for the Course

I'm shocked, shocked to find patronage in modern Canadian politics:

At least 20 patronage appointments handed out by the Harper government this month went to political supporters who had given money to the Conservative party or its candidates, the Liberals say.

The political connections of some appointees are more obvious than others: Pat Binns, the former Progressive Conservative premier of Prince Edward Island, was made consul-general in Boston, a position that often goes to party faithful. The Chrétien Liberals had filled the spot with defeated Nova Scotia MP Mary Clancy and, later, former Indian Affairs minister Ron Irwin.

Sian Matthews of Calgary was re-appointed to the board of directors of Canada Post Corp. In 1993, Matthews served as official agent to Stephen Harper and has donated $3,750 to Harper or the party since.

Political patronage is a deep and important Canadian tradition. It predates Confederation. According to some scholars it predates even agriculture. Arguably, it is our first, and among our elected masters, most popular national sport. Yet not everyone can play. Only friends - both fair and foul weather - of the government of the day seem to get these plum positions. From time to time an opposition politico is given a free ticket to pork paradise, just to show we're all in this together, at least among the political class. 

The ordinary proles - that would be we the taxpayers - occasionally get upset at this sort of thing. Getting free stuff without deserving it strikes at the heart of Canadians' sense of fairness. Unless, of course, it's free health care, subsidized university tuition, cheap mortgages and subsidies for our particular ethnic / class / demographic / regional sub-group. But that's different. Because its free stuff for us little guys. It's only appalling for all those rich bastards to be at the trough. 

Frederic Bastiat, whose works should be mandatory reading for all high school students, famously observed that the state is the great fiction, by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Eventually, however, you run out of everyone else. The United States is getting to that stage. The Second French Republic, in which Bastiat wrote, meet with a nasty end at the hands of Napoleon III. 

What drove France toward the arms of the younger Bonaparte, and is steadily undermining our liberal democracies, is pressure group warfare. Each group makes its claims upon the public purse, i.e. everyone else. This pits old against the young, the young against the old, rich against the poor, and region against region. Once the government is bankrupt, it can no longer placate everyone at once. It must favour some groups over others, sometimes openly. That in turn provokes backlashes, sometimes quite violent, as we've seen in Greece recently, and as happened in other southern European states in the 1920s. 

It's easy enough to damn the patronage of the elite. Yet it is small price, borne by all. The patronage of the masses, euphemistically called the welfare state, is applauded as visionary and morally noble. It is the latter, however, which is the far more dangerous. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 31, 2010 | Permalink


Unless, of course, it's free health care, subsidized university tuition, cheap mortgages and subsidies for our particular ethnic / class / demographic / regional sub-group.
Posted by PUBLIUS on August 31, 2010

I could agree with most of this if we were not taxed to death for some of these "free" perks. Cheap mortgages are only temporary to keep our economic heads above water. Banks hate them but have no choice at this time.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-08-31 11:25:50 PM

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