What's a big deal these days?
More than a decade ago, after the Somalia commission was shut down by the Chrétien government, former UWO journalism dean Peter Desbarats lamented that the media was losing its capacity for outrage. It was a prescient warning of the political culture that exists today -- one in which we measure an Auditor-General's explosive findings according to whether they have an influence on the election polls or the leaders' debates.
All the talk around Ottawa at the moment is whether people outside the political bubble will see the Auditor-General's intervention in the same light as her investigations into the Liberal sponsorship scandal, or the RCMP's announcement in the midst of the 2005-06 election campaign. Or are we so turned off, cynical about politics in general that nothing can outrage us anymore?
"I’m getting the impression a large slice of the public is so cynical about what goes on in Ottawa that it’s harder and harder to outrage them,” Prof. Nelson Wiseman says in the Hill Times today.
After years of creating the consumption democracy and lowering expectations of traditional democracy, we have a population that is disengaged from its own community and its history. That means disconnected from a key source its moral core. Politics makes a difference if you are connected to each other. Otherwise, not so much.
I think we should add to this the rule of rotation that seems to govern Canadian prime ministers and their scandal-management strategies. Brian Mulroney treated scandals as a big deal and fired cabinet ministers. Jean Chrétien treated scandals they were no big deal, shrugging and moving on. Paul Martin treated scandals as a huge deal, setting up the Gomery commission and an all-out media blitz. Stephen Harper is following the Chrétien school -- shrug, move on. Note who has been rewarded by history in that chain of prime ministers.
I guess that takes us back to Peter Desbarats and his profound disappointment in a media that allows, even encourages prime ministers to treat serious ethical criticism like it's lint on a suit. Here's Desbarats, talking about the deafening silence from political reporters when the Somalia commission was shut down: