Public policy in Canada is meant to be based on the principles of technical competence and transparency in the framework of peace, order and good government. This implies that considerations of public and individual welfare constitute the basis for every decision made at every level of government.
In the summer of 2013, Canadians find themselves awash in political scandal. From vote rigging to cover-ups, and sexual misconduct to drug use there seems to be no limit to the range or depth of wayward behaviour in which our politicians indulge.
Although these are serious issues and may well run counter to citizen interests, there are other types of misconduct which heavily impact individual, community and national interests by fundamentally altering the structure of decision making.
We are concerned here with corruption. The first type is the obvious cash-for-contract transaction which goes on constantly whether in the form of campaign transactions or scholarships for the politicians’ children or paid vacations and board appointments for spouses. The possibilities are endless. The Montreal area is replacing mayors at a furious rate as revelations of contract rigging are revealed.
But the type of corruption which is the most damaging is that of rigging the process to make market for a small segment of special interest groups. This takes place at every level of government and works as follows.
Planning Process Ownership
Planning and expert staff address a certain question in the light of national interests and work on producing a report and recommendations for politicians to enact. The clear recommendations might not favour the interests of certain groups who manoeuver to assure that their interests are better served. They do this by placing “friendly” people on the research team to manipulate the findings and terms of reference.
If direct control of reports is not possible, draft recommendations can be eliminated or watered down by politicians in debt to the interest groups.
In this way, the market structure most favourable for the interest groups is established without any possibility of any kind of criminal investigation being undertaken. An excellent example of this is Calgary where the certainty of major flood damage was put aside so the development community could maximize its short term profits.
In 1973, a firm called Montreal Engineering was hired to look at the flows of the Bow River for planning purposes. They put the maximum flow for a 150 year event at 2850 cu m/sec.
The peak flow rate for the 2013 flood was 1830 cu m/s. The 1932 flood rate was 1500 cu m/sec.
In no way did the planning authorities believe the area that did most recently flood would not flood. They had scientific data and photographic proof from 1932. Future floods were forecast to be potentially far (55%) larger.
Picture the latest flood with 55% greater flow. Would any bridges still be standing?
So why build where you know there are going to be massive problems? Because, in 1983, the commercial lobbies (developers) didn't want property values to be impacted by declaring the areas that did flood a Danger Zone. Their politicians compromised the report and rigged the system.
|Centre Street Bridge in 1932
(as a side note, High River, the hardest hit area in the 2013 flood was under 7 feet of water in the flood of 1942.)
They made their money and they are gone while individuals and taxpayers will be picking up the bill for many, many years.
The growth-forever lobby doesn't want anything standing in the way of quick and large profits. The Calgary case is common across the country at every level of government - developer money buys the outcome which favours the growth-forever lobby.
Calgary planning was bad planning because it was potentially good planning corrupted.
Climate change will force us (if we want to make good plans) to take competent and honest planning and make it even more robust and comprehensive. But science and public accountability have to find a way to overcome corruption.
Any reasonable individual with any kind of exposure to the issues involved would have to know with absolute certainty that the Calgary flood plain areas would suffer immense damage from floods on an on-going basis. The failure of the Calgary administration to make public policy with the safety of the public and sustainability of both public and private assets in this case is as clear an example of systemic corruption as is possible to imagine. The only way this failure of government due diligence could have been more flagrant would have been if the major floods happened every 5 years instead of between 30 and 80 years.
Growth Mandate Trumps Good Government
The Calgary flood demonstrates how powerful the growth-forever lobby is. The growth mandate simply permeates all government processes and any challenge to it is automatically swept aside. Growth is always justified while leaving natural assets in tact is an unnatural act for most politicians while long-term citizen welfare is ignored.
The growth mantra induces a suspension of reason and the drug cocktail of a larger tax base, program expansion and shiny towers is just as seductive to career politicians as an expanding market is to the growth lobby. This bias is not exposed by the fawning coverage from the growth worshipping media corporations.
If the decision making process were based on different criteria such as per-capita incomes, well-being, protecting natural assets and fiscal balance, in an environment of technical substance rather than lobbyist influence we could expect very different policies.
Like the process which allowed building on a flood plain on Calgary, the growth mandate overrides all considerations be they environmental such as climate change, lost agricultural land or social such as equality, incomes per capita, crime and congestion to quality of life or economic such as fiscal balance and resources per capita.
In most cases, the growth-forever lobby is successful in having vital national goals and considerations ignored or minimized. For instance there has never been an environmental impact study of mass immigration done despite the fact immigration has the greatest impact of any factors in many critical areas.
Whether flood plain construction, carbon emissions, cheap labour and unemployment, fiscal deficits or environmental decline, no matter what the clear evidence available and clear interests of the Canadian people, the growth lobby has been able to manipulate pro-growth policies in every jurisdiction.
The growth lobby is the biggest source of political campaign contributions and the largest source of advertising revenue for media corporations. In human history, very few elites have held the kind of power that the growth lobby holds in Canada today. The unthinking dominance of one goal, - growth – means complete ownership of the public policy process and is a classic example of institutional corruption. The very institutions which are charged with creating public policy and those with the responsibility to encourage open discussion and the flow of information in society are actually obsessed with a goal which is clearly not in the public interest.
Even if such studies were done and accepted as submissions, the Calgary experience raises the question of whether scientific input regarding long term human and societal welfare would make any difference to the institutions which create policy. The Calgary decision was made in the face of photographic and scientific proof leaving no question of what would happen in the future.
Policy manipulation happens on a continuous basis on the municipal, provincial and federal levels as the growth-forever lobby has its maximum profit agenda implemented by a completely compromised political system. The key elements are mass immigration and measurement by GDP. As long as the economy is growing, everything will be alright. This is true for the growth-forever lobby but the interests of the nation and Canadians and their families and communities lie with quality of assets and stability, rather than ever greater cash flow.
Higher per capita incomes, a healthy environment, preservation of natural assets and balanced government budgets with a strong social safety net are the national interests which are sacrificed for simple growth and fast profits for a select few.
There are many good, honest people working to implement progressive policies in Canada but putting honest people into a corrupt system will have no long term beneficial effect. The growth mandate has to be replaced by the sustainability mandate if social progress and individual well-being are to be enhanced and environmental and fiscal balance are to be achieved.
Conflict of Interests
|Growth Forever Lobby Interest||Public Interest|
|Economic Measurement||GDP growth –continuously higher dollar flows||Higher or stable incomes per capita. Size of economy is unimportant|
|Environmental Requirement||Environmental considerations are obstacles – costs which do nothing to enhance the bottom line||Environment is critical to health, quality of life and future prospects of generations to come.|
|Resource Priority||Exploit as quickly as possible||Maintain high ratio of resources per capita for the long term|
|Time Reference||Quarterly report, annual bonus, maximum 5 years view||3 generation view for most families, nation needs 7+ generation view|
|Equality||Conflicts with need for cheap labour||Higher levels of equality means higher quality of life and a stronger social safety net|
|Employment||Needs short term cheap labour, low investment||Wants higher incomes, higher productivity, job security|
|Fiscal Balance||Irrelevant mostly but tightly managed budgets mean fewer subsidies||Fiscal balance critical for health of social safety net and stability|
|Investment||Have the government (tax payer) make the investments in infrastructure necessary for rapid growth||Maximum investment for highest education and productivity and social services|
|Debt||Public assumes debt for rapid development which lasts far longer than any income from the development||Debt is minimized by stable development projects which pay their own way|
|Infrastructure||Minimum needed for projects to proceed||Full spectrum of infrastructure needed to support communities and their long term stability including maintenance of the infrastructure|
|Scientific Integrity||Facts as required to support the project only right now.||Full spectrum of information to provide perspective on all aspects of public interests over the long term.|
|National Goals||Growth, more, business as usual||Quality of life, stability, progress for the individual, the family, the community and the nation|
|Transparency||Corruption can only take place in an environment of low levels of information and high levels of confusion||Full information and clear national goals are critical to transparency and public policy in the national interest|