It has increasingly become routine for politicians to turn their backs on their electoral commitments before the conclusion of their terms. Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien when their popularity numbers plummeted toward single digit territory in some areas of the country did so. In both cases their successors proved ultimately unsuccessful with voters. Kim Campbell who had the misfortune to follow Mulroney presided over parliament just long enough to oversee an election campaign which virtually cleared the Chateau by the Rideau of any and all Progressive Conservative representation. From majority government to a caucus of two, Jean Charest whose political career would twist and turn for the next twenty years and Elsie Wayne, the feisty and popular Mayor of St. John, New Brunswick.
On the provincial scene and just in Ontario, Bob Rae perhaps should and certainly could have chosen the resignation route, but instead decided more appropriately to leave the decision of his political future to voters who after almost five years of his erratic and expensive governing were only too glad to dispatch Mr. Rae to the trash pile of politicians-past (or so we thought). Ontarians replaced Rae with Progressive Conservative Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. Harris easily survived a first re-election campaign, only to resign the Premier’s office and what remained of his CSR prior to the conclusion of a second mandate he requested of voters.
Waiting in the wings was Liberal Dalton McGuinty, almost no-one’s first or second choice as Liberal leader prior to assuming the mantle and who then turned out to be one of Ontario’s most successful (electorally) Premier’s. Now McGuinty too has handed back the keys to the Queen’s Park corner office, heading off to who knows where (at the moment). With him goes a lovely parting gift in the form of a severance cheque in the sum of $313,461. Why a politician who resigns his office should receive severance of any amount remains a mystery, until we remember it is the politicians who decide among themselves to award such benefits. Benefits largely unknown in the private sector.
Frankly, it is troublesome to see politicians at any level walking away from their sworn duties as public servants prior to the expiration of their term. Too often it appears they do so for reasons of barely disguised personal ambition. A new and better paying job awaits, or possibly a run at a more prominent office. City councillors who abandon their wards in pursuit of provincial or federal seats and/or premiers with federal ambitions would be cases in point. Should McGuinty decide a run at the federal Liberals top job is his current true calling it would be fair for his opponents (including Bob Rae) to challenge Premier Dad’s true commitment to a position for which he applies and is trusted to carry out.
Politicians walking away from their elected positions prior to the completion of a term of office isn’t exclusively a Canadian phenomenon. Sarah Palin turned her back on the Alaska Governor’s mansion after it became clear she stood to make a fortune as a broadcaster and pundit while simultaneously maintaining the option of a return to politics at a future time of her choosing.
November 6, Americans will decide who should manage the affairs of their nation until 2016. It is probably not too much of a reach to suggest at least a few highly profiled eventual winners in the U.S. will decline to complete their elected term.
From this corner there remains something fundamentally inappropriate for anyone applying for public office (often accompanied by lucrative salary and pension) to turn his or her back on that office prior to the next election cycle. Resign then if you no longer want the job for any reason. To abandon early sought for responsibility and to do so purely for self-interest whatever shape or form, is inappropriate and should bar such an individual from seeking any other public office for at least one full election cycle.