By Lorne Gunter
The Liberals' infamous spin doctors are master conjurors. Their principal
talent is always getting ahead of a story, which is why it has been so
shocking to watch them give reporters and opposition MPs a nearly two-week
head start on the scandal in the Human Resource Development department's job
The dogged work of Reform MP Diane Ablonczy cannot be underplayed in all
this. Without her repeated efforts to make this scandal public it might have
died in its sleep.
Still, the Liberals' necromancers have been able to smother similar issues
in the crib by dismissing them as just more Reform grumpiness.
However, until Wednesday, when they began to get "on point," the Liberals
played bunny-in-the-headlights while the press, the opposition and the
public hammered them.
For one, this is not the most stellar group of Liberals ever sent to Ottawa,
and they have grown especially flaccid because they have faced uneven
opposition from Reform and enjoyed a largely free ride from a press gallery
in which most members are easily satiated and only a few are not
The government was already reeling from the lambasting it took on its
NHL-subsidy offer, and cabinet is hopelessly divided between tax-and-spend,
70s-style Liberals and more fiscally prudent members. When this sort of
issue comes up, it doesn't know whether to defend the spending as worthy or
join the public in outrage.
And the government may have underestimated the depths of tax rage in the
land. Being Canadians, we may be unprepared to demand tax cuts instead of
programs for the needy. But scatter a billion into the wind at the same time
as charging us the highest personal taxes in the western world, and look
The press outrage on the HRDC scandal is intriguing, too. Last year, when
the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed even greater sums had been
frittered away by Industry Canada on corporate welfare, there was hardly a
Perhaps the difference has do to with the advent of the National Post, which
has increased competition among national media outlets and broken up the
one-hand-washes-the-other relationship that used to exist between the
government and the gallery. Perhaps the difference is attributable to the
source of the information: an internal government audit versus the
investigations of an interest group.
But I think the real reason the Liberals had no clue which way to jump can
be seen in an eerily innocuous remark the prime minister made when he
rescued his Human Resource Minister, Jane "Little Lady" Stewart, after she
crumbled at a scrum last Tuesday.
A billion dollars is not lost, he assured. There are no allegations of big
fraud here. "We always have problems of this nature."
Precisely. The Liberals didn't automatically know how to handle this scandal
because they could not see what was so scandalous. They could not understand
why this program stuck out among the hundreds of other money-squandering
ventures on-going in this and every other government.
The HRDC schemes are not remarkable because they are sloppier, or more
corrupt or inept than other government programs. They are remarkable because
they are typically messy, rotten and incompetent.
If you want reliable cost accounting, don't give money to government - any
government, regardless of its political stripe. If you desire your money be
directed only to worthy initiatives and truly needy individuals, don't give
it to government.
At Indian Affairs, at Sheila Copps's Heritage Canada, the Canadian Firearms
Centre and the transportation department (where they are contemplating
spending $750 million on VIA Rail just because Minister David Collenette is
self-described "train buff"), at Multiculturalism and at Status of Women and
at a dozen other departments and agencies, the profligacy of the HRDC job
grants is repeated daily.
Anyone who wants money spent wisely for useful ends should heed this one
piece of advice: Don't give it to government.
The flaw is not only with the Liberals. Their total lack of concern for
taxpayers money and their arrogant self-delusion that they have a moral
right to an unending supply of your earnings, place them among the worst
offenders. The flaw, however, is with the perversity of unlimited, big
The post-Depression, post-war nanny state has set government to work solving
problems it could not solve in a thousand years with a thousand, trillion
dollars. The HRDC schemes are but a tiny example that proves that rule.
Stewart should resign for her gross mishandling of this affair. But so long
as we continue to believe government can solve all social ills, such waste
will be the norm, not the exception.
Lorne Gunter, Columnist
The Edmonton Journal
P.O. Box 2421
Edmonton AB CANADA
off tele: (780) 429-5267
fax: (780) 429-5500 (requires a cover page)
cell: (780) 916-0719