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The Gomery 'scandal'? A tempest in a coffee cup

Okay, enough already with the huffing and the puffing, people. Enough with the televised speeches. Most of all, enough with the pompous moral outrage. You're all overacting. So $100-million was paid to ad agencies between 1997 and 2003, some portion of which is unaccounted for. Some portion of that was stolen. And some portion of that, it seems, ended up in Liberal coffers.

These grants consumed less than 0.01 per cent of federal revenues during those six years. I paid a grand total of $107,000 in income tax to Ottawa over the same period. Therefore, the sponsorship program wasted $10.70 of my money over six years. That's $1.78 per year -- enough for a double-double at Tim's, and a doughnut every second year.

The Gomery commission will cost me twice as much. (That's money well spent.) An instant-replay election will double my tab again. (That's money down the drain.) I would gladly buy a Tim's (and a doughnut) for every MP, and every scribe in the Press Gallery, if only they would all shut up about it now. (Actually, forget doughnuts for the journalists. They get enough already.) Are some Quebec Liberals corrupt? Yes. Should we get to the bottom of it all? Of course. Should the culprits go to jail? I hope so.

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Is the sponsorship issue the most scandalous thing in Canada right now? Not even close. Why don't we get banner headlines about the unsolved murders of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Canadian prostitutes? Why don't we bring down the government over Canadian complicity in the torture of Maher Arar? Why don't we have televised hearings on the thousands of Canadians who die prematurely because of smog?

Has the sponsorship scandal destroyed Canada's reputation, demolished the "moral authority" of government? Get real.

Does it even hold a candle to the self-dealing, tax-evasion, insider-trading and tax-deductible partying that occurs in Canada's private sector every business day of the year? Hardly.

Most damning of all, does the sponsorship scandal remotely affect my life, or those of 99.9 per cent of my fellow Canadians? Uh-uh.

We all want better governance. But we want other things, too: jobs, security, health, fun.

In my life, $10.70 over six years is utterly irrelevant. Sheila Fraser herself couldn't keep track of the $10 bills that fly in and out of my daily hustle and bustle.

Here's something that is relevant in my life. I spend exactly $1,293 a month on regulated non-profit childcare for my two daughters. That's $7,700 per year for each girl. In contrast, government spends 1/20th as much ($386 per year) for each child under 6. Even the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has berated Canada's "patchwork of uneconomic, fragmented" childcare services; 86 per cent of Canadians say they want a publicly-funded, universal system. The experts -- from Fraser Mustard to David Dodge -- know we must move quickly. And the Liberals have finally started to do that, albeit in a tortuous, wishy-washy way.

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But now, with all the huffing and puffing in Ottawa, the plug may be pulled. And the Tories, bowing to the religious quacks and radical privatizers who anchor their coalition, have already said they'll cancel the program if they win.

Suppose Adscam's whole $100-million was paid back to Canadians. My share would buy 20 minutes of care for my girls. I have to arrange and pay for 2,000 hours every year. There are only enough regulated group-care spaces in Canada for 15 per cent of kids under 6. Most of the rest spend their days in ad hoc, unregulated, and typically unstimulating arrangements -- proven to undermine their lifelong potential. How many families can even dream of spending $1,293 per month so their kids can have quality care? Now that's scandalous.

I've picked childcare as something that actually matters to my life. I could have picked a dozen other problems. But instead of improving things, our political system is paralyzed.

I can't even hear what the MPs are saying in the Commons any more, let alone have faith that they will make a positive difference to my life.

The sponsorship scandal has

indeed revealed a deep failure of governance in Canada -- not because of an undocumented $100-million, but because of the inability of both government and those who would bring it down to make things better.

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Jim Stanford is an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union. He gets enough doughnuts, too.

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