Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tely Trouble II

Well, here's the start of the column, in case you missed it: "There's nothing quite as discouraging as watching someone squander an opportunity. You know the feeling: watching someone have all the tools, and decide to waste the chance.The hockey phenom who could take his skills all the way to the NHL, but who never grasps the concept that even the very, very good have to work very, very hard to be at the top of their game.The kid who has all the skills needed to make his way through grad school, but focuses on recreational drugs instead.The politician who has enough credibility to clean up the shop, but decides to let his minions dive face-first into the porkbarrel instead.And that's why, to me, Danny Williams has been something of a disappointment."

Why a disappointment? The answer:"Unlike so many former politicians in this province, he has nothing to gain or fear from his party. He is the main driving force of their popularity - leaving aside the lame presence of an opposition clearly unequipped for power - and the Tories could no more oust Williams than they could single-handedly bring back the cod fishery.He's wildly fiscally independent, and will never need a sinecure to keep the financial wolf from the door.In other words, he will never need to call on favours, so he should be able to break the chain of governments filling seats with friends, family and acquaintances."

What is Wangersky arguing here, if not that the fact that DW's wealth is a principal reason why he is a veritable hockey phenom who had an amazing opportunity because he was wealthier than previous premiers? Yes, Wangersky then goes on to explain his "disappointment," but I reject the premise on which he bases this disappointment. Most former premiers rode a wave of popularity into office and had little to fear from their caucus or the electorate, at least in their first term.

Wangersky's thesis is that DW is special and somehow less inherently prone to corruption than his pedecessors because he's rich, popular, and has a weak cabinet. You can believe this if you want to, but I think it's based on faulty reasoning. The fact that DW has "nothing to gain or fear from his party" does not, in itself, mean that he is less prone to be corrupt. One could argue that the lack of an opposing power base in the PC Party actually mitigates the checks against corruption.

DW is no more of a "phenom" than Peckford or Tobin were in their prime. Wangersky qualifies his argument by saying that DW has been merely "something of a disappointment," so perhaps he's holding out hope that the true "hockey phenom" will somehow show his inner virtue after all. Where is the evidence that DW has somehow tried "to clean up the system," beyond blasting away at the Liberals when he was in opposition?And, as for the conclusion to the column, in case you also misread this part, too:"Premier Williams is powerful enough not to have to worry about that - powerful enough to say that the system ends here.Instead, the chain of patronage stuffing goes on - and if anything, it's gotten worse.It's an opportunity lost."

Interesting use of the passive voice, as if corruption is something that just happens and that not stopping it is a lost opportunity. If DW is so uniquely powerful, wouldn't it be more logical to conclude that he is either actively or passively engaged in patronage, especially since he's now into his second term? Why is it that absolute power, in this instance, is supposed to act as a check against corruption? Is this another instance of NL's exceptionalism?

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