Saturday, January 15, 2005

You Want Anchovies With that Crow, Ms. Sgro?

Well, we've got the 2005 Canadian Political Casualty List started. Judy Sgro is the first to go down in flames -- in this case, the fires of a pizza oven.

"She decided to step down a day after an affidavit from Harjit Singh, who owns a pizza shop in Brampton, Ont., was filed in Federal Court in Toronto.

"In the sworn affidavit, Singh says Sgro pressed him for free pizza and garlic bread and asked him to supply '15 or 16' volunteers for her campaign office.

"'I told her my whole situation and she assured me that if I helped out in her election campaign she would get me immigration in Canada,' Singh alleges in the affidavit.

"He says Sgro broke their deal and ordered his arrest and deportation to his native India when she began to come under fire last fall for helping an exotic dancer from Romania who also worked on her re-election campaign."

As Jason Hayes points out, this does seem pretty silly for a scandal worth a resignation. Of course, this isn't quite as silly as the Robert Coates resignation of 1984. Coates, the Conservative defence minister, resigned because (wait for it) he attended a strip club in Germany. (He didn't even proposition the dancer.)

In today's political climate, of course, what a cabinet minister should and should not do is very much on the fuzzy side. It's not as complicated in the States because Cabinet officials aren't elected; John Ashcroft doesn't have to help his Congressional district get funding for a new police station because he doesn't represent a district.

In Canada, as in Britain, Cabinet members also have responsibilities as MPs for their ridings. In the case of Ms. Sgro, the line blurred because the dancer in question did help her win and lived in her riding. As an MP, she would have been derelict if she had refused the dancer her help. But as a Cabinet Minister, she blew it because she essentially helped the dancer "jump the queue" ahead of other people in the same situation. (The ruling of "exotic dancers" as an industry in need of help was, of course, extremely stupid, but that's a different matter.)

It's not quite a conflict of interest situation because Ms. Sgro didn't benefit personally, but it could more appropriately labeled cronyism, which used to be acceptable behavior in the early days of Canadian politics (and was a prominent feature in Atlantic provincial politics) but no longer.

In Mr. Singh's case, the accusation suggests that the line dissolved completely: he's accusing Ms. Sgro of using her powers of a Minister over an issue that should have been handled at the MP level.

Ms. Sgro's Cabinet career is pretty much a clear demonstration of the Peter Principle at work: a capable MP who had no trouble as parliamentary secretary, but more power and responsiblity went to her head and dropped her in way over it.

Assuming Ms. Sgro settles the Singh matter quickly, she might want to think twice before offering to take a Cabinet post again. Good judgement is one of those things that can only be taught by Life, and not on a Cabinet job.