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Canada's rich history of political disgrace

Pepper spray, tainted tuna and miracle cucumbers have all played their part in Canada’s long tradition of political misconduct. Be it lack of judgement or for personal gain, politicians misbehave. They get caught. The public is outraged. Then all is pretty much forgotten. And the cycle starts again. From John A. Macdonald and the Pacific railway fiasco to the sponsorship affair, CBC Archives looks back at some of the biggest scandals, boondoggles and white elephants in Canadian politics.

Corruption has been part of Canadian politics since the days of Sir John A. Macdonald. While Canada may not be considered a hotbed of corruption internationally, it is no stranger to scandals. The most recent is the sponsorship debacle, described in this clip as a scandal of "epic proportions," by Akaash Maharaj, the former national policy chair of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Despite the long history of corruption and misconduct, pleas for ethics regulation have been ignored, says Maureen Mancuso, a political science professor at the University of Guelph. It has led to the accepted public perception that politicians are corrupt. Investigative journalist Stevie Cameron blames the lure of money, saying corrupt politicians should receive the same punishment as violent criminals.
• In a 2002 survey, Leger Marketing found that 69 per cent of Canadians said the federal system was highly or somewhat corrupt. At the provincial level it was 68 per cent. Municipal politicians fared better at 53 per cent.

• "The level of crookedness that we have come to expect from our politicians is so high that indeed people can get away with anything. The cynicism is so profound that it will take something absolutely extraordinary to shock people. Their sensitivity has been dulled completely" -- Gilles Paquet, University of Ottawa political science professor, in the National Post, April 2002

• Chuck Guité, a retired civil servant mentioned in this clip, was a key player in the sponsorship scandal. He testified at the Gomery Inquiry that the sponsorship program was "politically driven" from the start to reward Liberal-friendly ad firms, pointing his finger at Jean Chrétien's office and former Public Works minister Alfonso Gagliano.

• Stevie Cameron is an investigative journalist and Brian Mulroney's nemesis. Cameron wrote several books, including On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years (1994).
• She also co-authored the book on the Airbus affair called The Last Amigo: Karlheinz Schreiber and the Anatomy of a Scandal (2001) with Harvey Cashore.


• The Airbus affair involved alleged commissions paid to members of the Brian Mulroney government in exchange for the purchase of a large order of Airbus jets by Air Canada.

• In 1995 the RCMP accused Mulroney of taking kickbacks on the sale of Airbus planes to Air Canada during his time as prime minister. Maintaining his innocence, Mulroney launched a $50 million defamation suit against the Canadian government. The case was settled out of court with the Canadian government issuing an apology and paying Mulroney's $2 million legal fees. For more on this topic visit: Brian Mulroney: The Negotiator.
Medium: Radio
Program: The Current
Broadcast Date: April 14, 2005
Guest(s): Stevie Cameron, Akaash Maharaj, Maureen Mancuso
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
Duration: 12:51

Last updated: May 23, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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