Can the Canadian Parliament be reformed in the wake of a series of corruption scandals?

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Whether Canada’s political system, wracked by a series of corruption scandals, can be effectively reformed will be entirely dependent upon the pressures imposed on the nation’s governing structures and political parties by the public they ostensibly serve.  Canada’s is a democratic system, with a history that placed a relatively high priority on transparency and integrity in government.  Political scandals involving allegations of influence-buying have been exceeded in scale only by the country’s recent listing by the World Bank as home to the most corrupt corporate culture in the world. [See “Canadian Companies are the Most Corrupt and Fraudulent, According to World Bank Blacklist,” International Business Times, October 5, 2013].

Revelations over the past two years of bribery, alleged drug use by the mayor of Toronto, allegations of improper financial transactions on the part of the prime minister’s chief of staff intended to benefit a member of Parliament, charges that the politically-important province of Quebec’s government has been involved in steering public works contracts to organized crime-controlled businesses, and many, many more such instances have seriously eroded public confidence in Canada’s institutions of government. 

What happens now, however, is purely speculative.   While the seemingly ubiquitous series of specially-appointed commissions tasked with investigating individual cases will grind forward, there is no guarantee that any substantive reforms will be implemented.  Certainly, the Canadian Parliament can and probably will pass measures intended to reform the way it does business, including addressing the manner in which political donations are processed and “business-as-usual” relationships between politicians and corporations are regulated.  As the history of political corruption or malfeasance in the United States demonstrates, however, such reforms may prove illusory.  What the Canadians can and should do, however, is police its political system more closely and impose harsher penalties for infractions of Canadian laws.  While stiff penalties in the form of prison sentences and fines will not eliminate the problem, one always hopes some politicians will be deterred from making egregious errors in judgment by the threat of stricter enforcement of laws and harsher penalties.

In the end, as with any democratic political system, any serious long-term reforms will have to involve active participation in the political process by the voters.  It is they who have it in their power to remove a politician from office through legitimate means, either through recall movements or through votes cast for the incumbents’ opponents.  Hopefully, the avalanche of scandals currently affecting Canada’s government will provoke serious reforms and more active voter participation.  The alternative would likely manifest itself in levels of voter apathy that serve only further entrench the positions of those who exploit their positions for monetary or political gain.

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