Anyone who's ever run competitive distance races knows how I'm feeling right now.
You start off strong, then you hit a wall, then you get your second wind. And you run and you run and you run. And then at some point if you run hard enough and long enough, your chest starts to burn. Your arms start to stray from their crisp patterns of motion by your side and wobble around a bit. Your stride stops being worthy of the name and disintigrates into a continuous cycle of headlong stumbles and last minute recoveries. And if you keep pushing it, eventually your legs just seem to lose their skeletal mass, and you collapse.
You know you should keep going, you want to keep going, but you simply can't.
From today's National Post comes word that civil servants in the Department of National Defence have been researching opposition (read Tory and prior to that Alliance) election defence proposals for their Liberal political masters in contravention of their own strict ethical guidelines. They used public servants to do their election research for them on the taxpayer's dime.
The evidence from Department of National Defence documents and internal correspondence illustrates a pattern of Liberal partisan support during the election campaigns of 2000 and 2004. National Defence deputy ministers and other officials tracked, evaluated and analyzed opposition platforms and passed the results of their findings in weekly policy reports to the Liberal Cabinet.
I know I should be outraged over this. I used to get incensed over this type of thing. Intellectually, I still abhor it. But I can't seem to summon the emotion right now.
I mean, how long can anyone sustain that level of indignation and disgust? With ethics and trust, not policy, mind you! Mine started with the cynical cancellation of the Sea King replacements in 1993 - a purely political gesture with no thought whatsoever to the human or operational consequences. It continued through the Red Book promise-breaking spree; through the Grand Mere fiasco; through the HRDC scandal; through the reprehensible actions of key Liberals appointed to the BDC, to Via Rail, to Canada Post, to the Ambassadorship of Denmark, and to the Royal Canadian Mint. It continued through the needless death of a sailor that can be traced back to an entirely partisan political calculation regarding the purchase of submarines. It continued through the contemptuous way in which parliamentary tradition was abused until a naive Conservative MP could be bribed into subverting our system of government to the benefit of the Liberal Party of Canada. As all this continued, oh, my blood boiled. And my outrage, my passion, my sense of fair play and honesty and justice ran and ran and ran.
But by the time we got to the latest revelations about Adscam, my lungs were already burning, and my stride was going wobbly.
I wasn't the only one - the entire Canadian electorate seemed to suffer this malaise, and much earlier than me. Andrew Coyne wrote passionately and eloquently about this problem back in April of 2001, and his words still ring true:
Democracy in Canada can survive the ethical failings of one man, or even one government. It cannot long survive -- not as something meaningful -- the sort of slow institutional suffocation to which it has been subjected of late. What went on in Shawinigan, what was allowed to go on throughout the department of Human Resources Development, is far more than a matter of poor judgment, or even partisan excess. It is the product -- I should say the inevitable product -- of a systematic breakdown in our democratic institutions, the point at which a number of well-known failings intersect: the decline of Parliament, as the watchdog on public spending; the consequent accretion of powers in the Prime Minister's Office; and of these, especially, his near universal powers of appointment. The scandal may have begun with the affairs I mentioned. But it continues, and deepens, with each day that these go unaddressed.
If, in the end, we decide that "it doesn't matter" -- not the conflict of interest, not the misuse of public funds, not the lies and the half-truths and the frank contempt for Parliament displayed every day in question period -- then we also conclude that none of the rest of it matters, either. It doesn't matter that so many public officials, high and low, are personally answerable to the Prime Minister, with neither their appointment nor their dismissal subject to public scrutiny. It doesn't matter that supposedly arm's-length Crown corporations have become the Prime Minister's political chequing account. It doesn't matter that Parliament is neutered, that the conflict of interest guidelines are a sham. And it doesn't matter that it doesn't matter: that we have come to expect so little from those in public life, even in the way of personal integrity.
But we should know we are also saying that democracy doesn't matter; that we are content to be ruled, rather than governed. Which being the case, we deserve everything we get.
Using civil servants at DND to do partisan research on behalf of the Liberal bosses doesn't surprise me after all this. But the truth is that I'm tired of being outraged. I'm so very tired. I'm exhausted, in fact.
My head tells my legs to keep running, but I know this feeling all too well. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.
Because if people like me who care deeply about the political process lose faith entirely, if even we can no longer hold up evidence of right and wrong in government and call the masses to stand up on their hind legs...well, there's not much left after that, is there?