COMMENTARY: It’s getting hard to stomach all the political buck passing

FILE - In this July 19, 2017, file photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., centre, walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump in the State Dinning Room of the White House.
FILE - In this July 19, 2017, file photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., centre, walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump in the State Dinning Room of the White House. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

Perhaps I’m just cranky and in need of a vacation. But the refusal of our elected leaders to take any responsibility for their own failures is grating on my nerves.

We’ll start south of the border, with Jeff Flake, the junior senator for Arizona. A Republican, he recently made waves with an op-ed published by Politico. The op-ed, an extract from his forthcoming book (Conscience of a Conservative), was titled, “My party is in denial about Donald Trump.” It details — brutally but accurately — the total failure of the GOP to hold the president accountable to any standard at all. It’s worth reading in full, but this is a representative chunk:

“It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama’s legitimacy were levelled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued. To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.”

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Interesting. Flake is known to be a Trump critic; he was a Never Trumper before the election. But has he been a principled objector or just part of the herd he’s bemoaning?

More the latter, it would seem, as noted by Jennifer Senior in her review of Flake’s book in The New York Times. It turns out that Flake has consistently voted with the rest of the GOP since the last election, including just last week, when he voted, more than once, with the party to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

It’s not that I think Flake’s wrong. I think he’s right. But walk the talk, senator. Please. Any time now would be super.

This is not, unfortunately, a problem confined to the United States. A few similar issues up here in Canada also caught my eye this week.

The first was a tweet by James Bezan. Bezan is a Conservative MP and the party’s current critic for National Defence. He was responding to a tweet by fellow Tory MP Peter Kent. Kent noted the recent launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea. ICMBs fired from North Korea can hit North America, the first time the Pyongyang regime has had that capability. Kent said this is why Canada must join the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) program, which just had another successful test, and Bezan agreed, noting in a retweet that, “During our defence policy review, Canadians told [the Conservatives] that Canada must be part of BMD to defend against rogue states like [North Korea].”

READ MORE: North Korea has ICBMs: Is it too late to do anything?

There’s a problem here.

Again, just as with Flake, I entirely agree with what the two gentlemen are saying. North Korea’s missile program is a threat, including to Canada. And it has never made sense for Canada to not be part of the American missile defence system. We already share a continental air defence command with the United States (NORAD), and we have already endorsed (and help fund) missile defence for our NATO allies. There is no reasonable way to explain Canada wanting BMD for every member of NATO except itself. It’s just a terrible policy decision we’re weirdly sticking to.

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So, hey, good on you, Conservative MPs Kent and Bezan. Except, wait a minute. The original decision to decline the American offer to join in their BMD system was made back in 2005, under then-prime minister Paul Martin. Martin was a Liberal. The Liberals lost the next election, and a guy named Stephen Harper became prime minister. He stayed PM for 10 years. What party was he in, again?

Oh, that’s right. He was a Conservative. Just like Bezan and Kent. Gee, if only their party had bothered to sign Canada up at some point of their decade in office.

The above examples are grating. The last one is truly appalling and comes right out of my own backyard. After a cabinet shuffle this week in Ontario, Peter Milczyn became Ontario’s Minister of Housing. One of the major challenges in Toronto these days is a massive backlog of repairs at the long-dysfunctional Toronto Community Housing Corporation, which oversees more than 100,000 residents who live in social housing.

Responsibility for social housing used to be at the provincial level until it was “downloaded” — dumped onto — municipalities years ago, as part of provincial cost-cutting. Since then, years of chronic underinvestment in basic upkeep have resulted in an accumulated repair bill of nearly $900 million, as well as thousands of units on the brink of falling apart. Soon, some will literally be unfit for occupancy. Toronto, needless to say, is not sitting on a cool $900 million of spare cash.

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READ MORE: Ontario budget 2017: Toronto mayor accuses province of turning its back on transit, housing

Milczyn knows this. He was a long-serving Toronto city councillor before he made the jump to provincial politics. This week, after his installation as housing minister, Milcyzn spoke with the Toronto Sun, where he accused the city of “deliberately” underfunding the TCHC, noting he understands “from my time on city council how the city for many years deliberately underfunded housing and how the city allowed Toronto Community Housing to lose its focus.”

Hmm. Wasn’t he on that council for much of this time? Indeed he was!

Also, here’s what he said to say about it just last year: “[The] reason why much of the social housing in this province is not in as good repair as it should be, was that a previous [provincial] government deliberately cut funding … Municipalities and this government have been working for a number of years now to reverse those cuts and bring social housing back to where it once proudly was in this province.”

See how that worked? First, it was a previous provincial government’s fault, now the city “deliberately” underinvested. The facts haven’t changed, only his job title.

It got worse: the minister went on to say that “Simply writing a blank cheque to the City of Toronto is not going to improve the quality of housing for the tenants in Toronto Community Housing.”

That’s insane. Assuming Toronto doesn’t take the cheque and blow it all on ice cream, and instead spent it on fixing the housing — I’m pretty cynical about politicians, but I think we could trust them to get that one right — it would certainly improve the quality of housing. That’s how repairs work: they improve the quality of something. I grant that it wouldn’t magically transform the TCHC into a shipshape organization; I’m not sure that can be done. But fixing the housing, Minister, would at least have the side effect of fixing the damned housing.

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Hypocrisy is nothing new in politics, nor is opportunism. Alas, nor are utterly nonsensical statements like Milczyn’s above. Again, like I said, perhaps I just need a vacation. But this nonsense has of late seemed more grating then normal. We deserve better. Will we ever demand it?

Matt Gurney is host of The Morning Show on Toronto’s Talk Radio AM640 and a columnist for Global News.