Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Harper's Mr. Wright

"The executive of the modern state," Karl Marx and Frederick Engels once famously observed, "is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." In Canada this delegation now appears to have been dispensed with, as a prominent member of the class in question will now serve directly as Harper's next Chief of Staff.

Nigel Wright is the Managing Director of Onex, a vast conglomerate with fingers in almost every pie you can think of. He will not even give up his Onex job for the duration of his employ. Needless to say, Harper's biddable ethics lapdog Mary Dawson sees nothing whatever to worry about. One is tempted to make some observation about "business as usual," but that would, in the present circumstances, be a little superfluous.

Norman Spector poses the problem clearly:

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff is involved in all government decisions. Everything passes through his office. Mr. Wright swears he will be completely devoted to his job and that he is eager to serve the Government and Canadians. There is no reason to doubt this, but the reality is that he will almost always be in the hot seat, in an uncomfortable position or be handcuffed.

A so-called "ethical wall" has been constructed, allegedly to shield Wright from any conflict of interest. But other than becoming a latter-day anchorite, it is difficult to see how he could avoid it. Onex's huge sweep in the Canadian economy could be seen to impinge in one way or another upon almost every government decision that gets made these days.

Might we be permitted to cite this new Onex acquisition (the PMO) as a striking instance of vertical integration?

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