Audrey McLaughlin likens corruption within Canadian politics to more brutal forms she has witnessed in war-torn parts of the world.
Liberal corruption threatens the country, she warned during a news conference on Thursday.
Since retiring as federal New Democratic Party leader in 1997, McLaughlin has been to North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe working with non-governmental organizations to foster stability in violent, corrupt, strife-filled countries.
“To see, for example, an elderly Palestinian woman or man holding up their ballot with great joy, that they can express their views, is very heart-rending,” McLaughlin said at the campaign headquarters of Pam Boyde, the NDP’s federal candidate.
“The second thing that seems to really strike one in doing international work in developing countries and developing democracies is the influence of corruption, which undermines the basis and foundation of democracy in those countries, and the lack of accountability from politicians, which leads to an incredible amount of cynicism,” she said.
“I came home last summer to the Yukon, and I have to say I was extremely frustrated and disappointed about the cynicism here, the apathy here of voters, the amount of corruption, the lack of accountability, which I feel, very strongly, undermines our own democracy.”
Corruption scandals that have rocked the ruling federal Liberal Party, from the still-lingering sponsorship scandal to new allegations of income trust fraud, are unforgivable, said McLaughlin.
It prompted her to take a “higher profile” in support of Boyde’s campaign.
“We have to vote now to end Liberal corruption, not to reward corruption and reward arrogance, but to demand accountability,” said McLaughlin.
“I think the way to do that, of course, is to vote NDP.”
Asked to clarify the connection between democracy in Canada and in Palestine — where politics is a daily matter of life and death — McLaughlin shied away from making one.
“What I’m saying is that, as corruption becomes a part of a political system, it undermines any real form of democracy,” she said as Boyde listened in via speakerphone from Pelly Crossing.
McLaughlin then tried to scratch the Teflon image of incumbent MP Larry Bagnell.
“Larry is a nice person; I don’t have any problem with Larry,” she said.
“But Larry is a Liberal. He is part of the problem, not part of the solution. And you cannot separate yourself from party policies and what your party has done.”
Voters must punish the scandal-plagued Liberals by voting NDP, said McLaughlin and Boyde.
“We want to win as many seats in the House of Commons as we possibly can,” said Boyde.
“Then we’ll be able to change things.”
But Canada’s 2006 election is between the Conservative Party and the Liberals, with the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Green Party fighting for the scraps.
By McLaughlin’s own admission, the NDP remains a third choice.
But not in the Yukon.
There may be four candidates — an absent Phillippe LeBlond is running again for the Green Party, and Sue Greetham is running for the Conservatives — but on election day, January 23, either Bagnell or Boyde will win.
And it’ll probably be Bagnell.
For many Yukoners, the guy has been a conscientious, hardworking MP.
The Liberal Party’s problems don’t seem to stick to him.
In the last election, in June 2004, the Liberal Party was rocked by the sponsorship scandal. It saw its majority government reduced to a bare minority. But Bagnell won 45.5 per cent of 12,578 Yukon votes to Boyde’s 25.5 per cent.
“People were upset and should have been upset, but we’ve taken action since then and the inquiry has cleared the present members of parliament,” Bagnell said in a December interview.
“They punished us in the last election. We were headed for a big majority until that came up.
“They spoke loud and clear that that wasn’t acceptable.”
After that, Liberal leader Paul Martin’s creation of a “northern strategy” was the “biggest announcement” of his first term as an elected Prime minister, noted Bagnell.
Bagnell’s only glaring failure in office was his absence during a 2003 vote on funding for the federal gun registry.
He felt the crack of the party whip, and decided not to show rather than vote in favour of the Liberal bill, but against the wishes of his constituents.
Most Yukoners forgave or forgot, and voted Bagnell in again.
However, despite the best efforts of Liberal spindoctors, a growing number of Canadians seem determined to punish the party for the slew of scandals that have cropped up during its 12-year rule.
Both the Conservatives and the NDP hope to make serious gains this election.
But that will be tough without electoral reform.
Under the current first-past-the-post federal system, the only battleground that really matters is vote-rich Ontario.
However, changing that system could be a first step in curbing corruption, said McLaughlin.
“I’ve always been in favour of proportional representation to change the system,” she said.
“Voters are not powerless. It’s not just other people that change the system, it’s voters.”