Time was when a good, old-fashioned political scandal in this country involved equal measures of illicit drugs and public inebriation.
Now, according to the Globe and Mail this week, the mayor of Brampton, Ontario, Susan Fennell, has been accused of improperly charging $172,608 to the municipal credit card, which she used to pay for “hotel upgrades, flight passes and even IQ quizzes. . .on her cell phone.”
One wonders how that last one worked out for her. The auditors, in any case, aren’t waiting around to find out; they are less interested in the details of her preoccupations than in the scope of her alleged public pinching.
Says the Globe piece: “An expense scandal has been simmering since last fall, but it wasn’t until a four-month audit was completed this week by Deloitte Canada that the extent of the mayor’s breaches of the city’s spending policy were revealed, highlighting and high level of dysfunction in Canada’s ninth-largest city.”
Specifically, Deloitte found that the burgermeister of this burb of 600,000 souls had violated the codebook 266 times and possibly more, since Ms. Fennell couldn’t provide details about 72 other spending excursions.
Naturally, her fellow councillors are livid. “We certainly didn’t sit around this table and approve first-class travel and luxury hotel rooms,” said Elaine Moore, who is no fan of the mayor on a good day. “I think what we have is an attitude of compete disregard for taxpayers’ dollars.”
What irks and astonishes others who are not privy to the traditional perks of municipal office is the lack of procedures in place to enforce spending policy. Says the Globe: “In February, 2011, councillors voted 7-2 to. . .allow members to approve their own claims. . .It’s a move that;s baffled observers.”
Indeed, exclaimed Susan Crawford of the city’s Board of Trade, “There’s no corporation in our country that doesn’t have an oversight function in terms of expenses – recording them, reviewing them and approving them,”
Still, is Ms. Fennell worried? Commenting on her colleagues‘ demand for a criminal investigation into her activities, she smirked, “Do you want to stick to the (Ontario Provincial Police or do you want to double-check the proper protocol with Peel, OPP, RCMP, CSIS, the army?”
Elsewhere in Public Service Land, where the roads are paved with gold and no one need ever check his bank account, scandal-plagued former Alberta Premier Alison Redford penned her goodbyes to the citizens of the Wild Rose province.
“I am stepping down immediately as MLA for Calgary-Elbow to start the next chapter of my life, teaching and resuming work in international development and public policy,” she wrote in the Edmonton Journal this week. “I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”
Oh really? According to the CBC, which obtained an advance copy of Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher’s report on the former premier’s spending habits, “false passengers” appeared on several government flights. Ms. Redford’s staff would routinely ‘cancel’ the manifest at the last minute, thus “making it possible for (her) to fly alone with her entourage.”
The CBC report continued: “(The A-G) also concluded Redford derived a “personal benefit” by taking her daughter on dozens of government flights. Saher raises the question of whether Redford’s desire to take her daughter on out-of-province trips may have influenced the decision to use government aircraft rather than commercial carriers.”
Again, just as in Brampton, the peasants are revolting. Jim Lightbody, a University of Alberta political scientist can scarcely believe his eyes. “It reveals a scarcely disguised contempt for taxpayers’ money,” he told the CBC.
Indeed, it does. But that also seems to be the way the circus is heading these days.
Earlier this summer, Joe Fontana – the former mayor of London, Ontario, having been convicted of fraud and breach of trust (charges that stemmed from his time serving as federal Liberal cabinet minister) – was sentenced to four months of house detention and several more of probation.
Former Conservative senator Mike Duffy faces 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Who knows what’s happening in the Pamela Wallin case, as the RCMP continues its investigation into her expenses?
It all makes one yearn for a little illicit-drug and public-inebriation action.
Dear Rob Ford: Won’t you come out and play?