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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

Amid the political morality tales, some serve us with distinction Add to ...

Thank you, Stephen Mandel. And thank you, Mark Carney.

In Mr. Mandel’s case, the citizens of Edmonton can feel grateful for his service as mayor. In Mr. Carney’s case, he spoke clearly and intelligently to Canadians about their economy and the world’s, as governor of the Bank of Canada.

Mr. Mandel announced this week that he will leave the mayor’s office after three terms. The praise he received was about as universal as any political man could dream of receiving.

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“No more crap,” he promised when elected, by which he meant in part paying attention to Edmonton’s design, planning and architecture, all of which had been ignored for too long. Under his watch, the central city improved dramatically, a light rapid transit system sprouted extensions, serious efforts were made to expand affordable housing and, finally, a deal was struck for a downtown development, including a new arena for the NHL’s Oilers. Former premier Ed Stelmach, who doesn’t get a very good press these days, attended the mayor’s press conference and was thanked for his attention to Edmonton’s needs.

Mr. Mandel could have cruised to another victory, but said he was “tired’ and had accomplished many of his goals. By leaving, he fulfilled the oldest but least respected maxim of politics: Quit while you are ahead.

As for Mr. Carney, he now takes on the difficult task of running the Bank of England – difficult because Britain has far deeper economic problems than Canada and is also set to embark upon yet another debilitating, distracting debate about its relations with Europe, to say nothing of a referendum on Scottish independence. Let us hope Canada has only lent Mr. Carney to Britain.

These are somewhat depressing days for Canadian public life, so it is important to remember that there are people like Mr. Mandel and Mr. Carney willing to serve – and with distinction.

In contrast to Edmonton’s municipal situation, there is Toronto’s ongoing Rob Ford gong show, which deepened Thursday when the mayor fired his chief of staff. The city natters incessantly about being “world class,” but it has a dysfunctional municipal system, presided over by a man who was known to be intellectually unfit to be mayor even before allegations arose about drinking and drug use. Toronto is also a metropolitan area that has vastly outgrown its required public investments, especially in urban transportation.

Instead of serious debate about where to find the money, we have the mayor, plus the provincial New Democrats and Conservatives at Queen’s Park, all playing counterproductive populist politics by resisting any public money for what is self-evidently a crying public need.

In Quebec, meanwhile, the mayor of Montreal has resigned in disgrace over corruption allegations. The mayor of Laval, adjacent to Montreal, has been charged under the Criminal Code with, wait for it, “gangsterism.”

Weekly shame fills the Montreal media as yet another allegation of corruption spills from the Charbonneau commission. Fresh and astonishing revelations also besiege SNC-Lavalin, the engineering company once thought to be the crown jewel of Quebec’s industrial crown. (Just where was the former board of directors of SNC-Lavalin, led then by someone whose lectures to Canadians about wastefulness in government were so forceful and ubiquitous?)

In Ottawa, four senators are alleged to have submitted improper expenses. Mike Duffy is the best known because of his former celebrity status on television. He got $90,000 from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to pay off what he owed. Predictably, the explanations surrounding this inappropriate transaction have changed, as the federal Conservatives’ spin machine swung into action for damage control.

But listening to the punditocracy, even rereading what has appeared in this space, reveals once again an ahistorical, over-the-top reaction to what was inappropriate behaviour by a handful of people but hardly the stuff of moral depravity, writ large, in the government.

This is the stuff of Peace Tower politics, whereby what strikes people within sight of the tower is of insatiable, prurient interest but of far less importance in the short term, and very little at all in the long term, to the citizenry. People who do not like whatever government is in power at the time, and the media who feast on these morality tales, seize upon the stories and greatly inflate their importance.

To wit: Remember, among many others, “Tunagate” and “Shawinigate”? Where are they now?

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