Saturday, May 22, 2010

MP Expenses Scandal: Grassroots Outrage or Media Invention

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, I like the discussions that take place over at Steve V's Far and Wide. They're mostly Grits but they tolerate my Green-tinged rants and the partisanship doesn't permeate the conversation as much as on some other blogs. The topic on everybody's tongue these days is the MP expenses issue. Steve figgers the dang media's blown it all out of proportion and he's got hisself boog on that idea today.

I disagree with Steve and I just spent a few minutes blatherin' on (and on) about it. I'm recyclin' that comment here.

We all gave the MSM proper shit for failing to seize upon the prorogation issue. Their excuse was that they didn't think the public was politically astute enough to grasp the nuances of parliamentary protocol. They were wrong and they ended up admitting as much.

You don't have to be too politically astute to understand expense account sleaze, though. The issue comes hot on the heels of the UK's MP expenses scandal with homegrown provincial counterparts in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. The MSM doesn't have to wonder whether or not the public understands. We get it and they know it.

While I agree there are similarities between this issue and prorogation, there are major differences. Prorogation was all about ducking responsibility for the handing over of Afghan detainees to torture. I am one of those who have been on top of that issue for years but I know very well that it fails to strike a chord with many Canadians.

The A-G issue is all about money --- our money. Despite the fact that the amount pales in comparison to what we've squandered on an unwinnable and immoral war, it hits us close to home.

WRT the Facebook thing, there could be a couple of mitigating factors. First, the very fact that the MSM IS all over this issue makes it seem less important for individuals to get personally involved. This time around, the media is not ignoring the issue and perhaps would-be Facebook group members are sitting back and allowing the media to do its job and push for disclosure.

Secondly, the first and largest Facebook group is the creation of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, considered by many to be a right-wing lobby group. The anti-prorogation group was the creation of a non-partisan student and was truly a grassroots effort.

Perhaps partisanship is the biggest difference here. With prorogation, it was everyone against the ruling Conservatives. They only got 38% of the votes, after all. 62% voted against them and were not happy with the affront to democracy. There weren't too many card-carrying CPCers out on the streets on January 23. There were plenty of Liberals, Dippers and Greens.

In the expenses issue, highly partisan citizens -- card-carrying party members from all parties -- may be holding back. Ignatieff hasn't endorsed the protest. Neither has Layton. In fact, they are the ones we are protesting against, along with the Harper Conservatives. When the party faithful are being told that this isn't an issue by the party leaders and nearly every MP, party members are not too likely to join a Facebook group or take to the streets.

When the 4 parties finally struck a deal on the detainee documents, it was big news. The parties in this hitherto fractious parliament had been able to reach an agreement. The media was a bit surprised by the fact, as were many voters. Getting to the bottom of the torture allegations was secondary in the reportage. The all-party agreement on a divisive issue was the big story.

Jump ahead a couple weeks and there's parliamentary unanimity on another issue: MP expenses. Why shouldn't that be newsworthy? When the MPs solidarity is contrasted with the public's diametrically opposite solidarity, it's news.

Poll after poll after poll has found the MPs to be entirely out of step with public opinion. That's news and the media would be remiss in failing to report it. Remember, we faulted them severely for failing to pick up on the outrage around prorogation. Do they want to be accused of being out of touch yet again?

There is a big difference between journalists' expense accounts and MPs expense accounts. The MPs are spending our money. The MPs are our employees. The MPs are public servants. The MPs pledged accountability and transparency and we elected them and gave them our confidence. Abuse may be commonplace in every workplace but in this particular workplace, we are the employers. We have every right to see the books and we have every right to be outraged when MPs band together across party lines to hide them from us.

If we lose confidence in the media, we can quit buying newspapers. If we lose confidence in MPs of every party, we can live with it until the next election at which time we can choose between tweedle-crook and tweedle-crookeder.

Scandals are news. Scandal sell papers. So what? Would we rather bury our heads in the sand? There's a bigger scandal brewing regarding the detainees and I relish the moment that the media grabs it and runs with it. Crimes against expense accounts are scandalous, sure. War crimes and crimes against humanity are more scandalous and I won't fault the media for delving into such a scandal -- even if their motivation is to sell more papers.

No comments: