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The Toronto and Montreal Mayoral Scandals:


The Toronto and Montreal Mayoral Scandals: Anything but Contradictory to Canada's International Image to the Informed Observer

Canada, a nation that has long been viewed in the international arena as one of the world's least corrupt societies, has seen its international reputation tarnished in recent weeks by a string of high profile political scandals. For the past month, protesters in Toronto have been calling for the resignation of Mayor Rob Ford over news of an alleged video showing the politician smoking crack-cocaine (Argitis and Tomesco). Meanwhile, Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested on June 16, 2013, by Quebec's anti-corruption police over fraud allegations linked to two real estate transactions that involved "tens of thousands of dollars" in illegal payments between 2013 and 2011 (Argitis and Tomesco). Upon close analysis and examination, it becomes evident that nobody should be surprised by the recent events. The scandals are anything but contradictory to Canada's international image – at least, that is, for the more informed observer who is capable of looking beyond politicized perceptions.

For many years, Canada's international image could certainly be described as exceptional, at least with respect to perceptions about corruption. As a case in point, since the organization's founding in 1993, Transparency International has consistently rated Canada as one of the world's least corrupt nations. Between 2013 and 2010, in fact, Transparency International ranked Canada in the top 10 of the organization's corruption perception index (CPI), most impressively reaching as high as number six in 2013 (Argitis and Tomesco). Even more, Canada has bolstered its reputation as a conscientious player in international politics by taking proactive steps to control corruption within its borders and in the global marketplace. Earlier this year, for instance, Quebec's Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC) announced its plans to expand its anti-corruption efforts by casting its investigative net beyond Montreal into smaller cities, boroughs, and provinces. These efforts have been further supported by the establishment of a dedicated and fully resourced police department responsible for monitoring and enforcing anti-corruption laws and policies (Crane and Matten). The arrest and prosecution of a number of corporate and political wrongdoers seems to have shown the world that Canada and the UPAC mean business. All considered, the general consensus among the international anti-corruption community has long been such that Canada is viewed as a leader in the fight against corruption, at least by those who do not question politicized accounts.

Given Canada's longstanding and almost rosy reputation as one of the world's least corrupt nations, it is certainly not surprising that the recent scandals in Toronto and Montreal caught so many people by surprise and captured the imaginations of literally millions. Simply put, people are shocked and amazed that high ranking Canadian officials would even be accused of the types of indiscretions and crimes allegedly committed by Mayor Ford and Mayor Applebaum, let alone be arrested and subjected to impending prosecution. It would, therefore, seem at this point in the discussion that the answer to the fundamental question concerning how these scandals contradict the international image of Canada and the Canadian government is a foregone conclusion. Stated in different terms, the facts would appear to suggest that the scandals are grossly contradictory of Canada's international image as a nation relatively free of corruption.

The problem with the above prima facie inference is that informed researchers argue that Canada's prevailing international image as a low corruption nation is not only misleading, but even false. The point, more exactly, is that for those who hold a more informed opinion and image of Canada, the recent scandals are anything but contradictory. Researchers Andersson and Heywood point out, for example, that the annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published by Transparency International, has had a pivotal role in focusing attention on corruption and, by extension, seemingly providing Canada with not only a passing grade, but even raving reviews (Andersson and Heywood). Misconceptions and exaggerations arise, in other words, because Transparency Internationals' theoretical framework and methodologies are seriously flawed.

In elaborating on Transparency Internationals' paradigmatic difficulties, the organization's model is based on a definition of corruption that creates conceptual contradictions such that corruption in developed nations like Canada is often overlooked. Even further, Andersson and Heywood explain that "the CPI measures perceptions rather than, for example, reported cases, prosecutions or proven incidences of corruption" (Andersson and Heywood). This is a big problem because perceptions are not necessarily based on facts or solid evidence, but rather conjecture. Or, as Andersson and Heywood put it, "there can be a striking disjuncture between perceptions and personal experience of corruption" (Andersson and Heywood).

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