Is Atlantic Canada really the Land of the Pork Barrel? “There’s a huge disjuncture between that popular image and the reality of the political culture down here,” insists Leonard Preyra, a political scientist at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University. “The truth is governments have made a huge effort to eliminate patronage.” Perhaps easier said than done in an area where government jobs and funding can still be the difference between the haves and have-nots. Witness Conservative Premier John Hamm in Nova Scotia, who campaigned on a promise to decrease patronage, but just last week was pilloried by the opposition after announcing that $11.3 million in new infrastructure money from Ottawa was going exclusively to nine Tory ridings.
The area has seen a heck of a lot worse-from the mass civil service firings in Prince Edward Island that happened whenever the government changed, to the plum contracts Joey Smallwood handed out to party supporters throughout his long reign in Newfoundland. In Nova Scotia, the old ways seemed to reach their apogee during the scandal-ridden final days of the “Teflon John” Buchanan era, which ran from 1978-1990. The Tory premier’s run ended when a former deputy minister, in charge of awarding public contracts, said that he believed Buchanan may have accepted kickbacks and was directing contracts to friends and allies. The bureaucrat, Michael Zareski, claimed Buchanan at one point even ordered him to buy 200 special machines that dispensed disposable toilet-seat covers, a scheme allegedly intended to line the pockets of a friend.
The RCMP investigated and cleared Buchanan of any criminal wrongdoing, although three Tories-two of them Buchanan cabinet ministers-were convicted of offences. Meanwhile,
Buchanan had accepted a Senate appointment from his old friend, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. But his embarrassing excesses left at least one lasting legacy to Nova Scotia: a view that the province’s patronage culture had to change-even if his successors have found that living up to that promise is another matter. JOHN DEMONT
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