Cronyism or fair-minded democracy‏?

Occasionally, voters will ask if they'll be treated fairly if the MLA they elect is not part of the governing party. It's a fair question.

Occasionally, voters will ask if they’ll be treated fairly if the MLA they elect is not part of the governing party. It’s a fair question. And as odd as it sounds, the answer is that it depends on whether the government you’re dealing with is ethical or unethical.

Cronyism is what occurs when elected officials inappropriately channel financial benefits to individuals and groups who offer political support in exchange for taxpayer-funded favors. When building schools and hospitals, ethical governments will establish transparent rules and processes that apply fairly and equally to everybody. They’ll develop ways to measure the need of each community, quantify results, and establish priorities. The evaluation and decision-making processes will be public. Backroom deal-making will be avoided.

Crony-style governments are quite the opposite. They’ll always make decisions in backrooms out of the taxpayer’s view. When determining infrastructure spending they’ll ignore communities with the keenest need and instead channel tax dollars into regions and projects that generate a greater perceived political benefit. They treat people unfairly. They treat regions unequally.

Crony-style government is most common in countries that are corrupt. It almost always emerges in political administrations where a single political party has been in power for a long time.

In Mexico, for example—where federal elections are held every six years—the political party known as the PRI won 12 consecutive elections. It governed for seven consecutive decades. In such a situation, cronyism becomes inevitable.

It’s the same in countries where a single President or Prime Minister stays in office for 30 or 40 years. Cronyism becomes part of the landscape. (The world’s longest serving national leader, who is non-royalty, assumed public office in 1975—four years after the PC Party took control of Alberta.)

Crony-style government is not so much about under the table payoffs as it is about favouritism and a lack of ethics. It definitely has to do with scheduling priorities and the way governments build public facilities like schools, hospitals, and the like. But it also has to do with the way government contracts are awarded, which is why sole source contracting is a key aspect of cronyism.

When crony-style governments buy things, rather than opting for open bidding processes they’ll often make agreements with friendly or supporter-controlled businesses, even for dollar amounts that can’t easily be justified. In 2013-14, the Alberta PCs spent almost $1 billion on sole source contracts.

A small example of how this works can be seen in the way the PC government awarded more than $200,000 in contracts from Alberta Health to a consulting company whose senior executives ran PC Party election campaigns. The contracts were untendered, personally handled by the Minister, and according to one report, contracted for “communication” services that weren’t even needed.

How the NDP will perform we have yet to see. Even so, the simple fact is if a political candidate from any party tells you there is a financial advantage to having an MLA that belongs to a governing party, what that person is actually telling you is that he or she would be prepared to manipulate the system in order to produce a benefit for one person or region, at the expense of another person or region.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what unethical government looks like, acts like, and sounds like. It is third world governance at its worst. It doesn’t belong in Alberta.