In simplistic terms, our social democratic system stands by, and defends, the ordinary citizen’s right to do what he or she wants, so long as it does not prevent anyone else from enjoying similar liberties. This seems reasonable.
However, public servants such as politicians are not ordinary citizens. Once an individual accepts public money, the moral standards to which he or she is held must be higher than those of the ordinary citizen.
It’s no longer enough to simply do what one thinks is right. Stewardship of public resources is the basic expectation of those trusted with the task of distributing the money taken in the form of taxes, levies and licensing fees. Public interests trump individual interests when public money is being spent.
Political decisions are supposed to be made for the benefit of the public but recent events in Canada have shown that there are other factors at play.
How can we ensure that governments are using resources wisely?
The answer, of course, is complete transparency. If those making important decisions are not prepared to hold the public interests at top of mind simply because it’s the right thing to do, perhaps public scrutiny will remind them of their responsibilities.
The only way to repair the trust that has been broken by the political shenanigans that have so captivated Canadians recently is to ensure that the public has the information necessary to hold their elected and non-elected officials accountable for the ways in which public money is spent.
All decisions, all expenditures must be widely and easily accessible to the ordinary citizen. Governments must post expenses and budgets on the Internet. The era of closed-door deals is over. Meetings and decisions should be live-streamed or tweeted. If you wouldn’t make the decision in public, don’t make it in the back rooms.
Good use of public resources is a politician’s primary responsibility. An accountability strategy that includes total transparency for every decision is the only way to ensure that will happen.
Dear politicians, please leave the entertainment to those paid to entertain, and get back to the work you are really paid to do.
Jennifer Dunsford is a community correspondent for St. James-Assiniboia.