Canada’s moral compass is swinging wildly about and, though I’m reluctant to say it, the nation has become more interesting as a result.

If you don’t believe me, read the headlines – and not just those written by media outlets in our own country.

Surf the Internet. We’re making news around the world for reasons never expected nor ever wanted. Some high-profile unsavory situations are challenging Canadians’ pretensions of being orderly and polite.

Canadian politicians are becoming rock stars on the international scandal charts. 

The most obvious example, since it even has traction on American late-night talk shows, is the stumbling odyssey of Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford.

Did he or did he not smoke crack cocaine through a glass bong and was it captured on video? Two reporters from the Toronto Star newspaper believe it’s true. 

Now that has raised the requested $200,000 to purchase the video, will the deal be consummated? Is it legal to engage in such a transaction?

And was older brother, Doug Ford, a well-known hashish dealer in Etobicoke thirty years ago, as alleged by the Globe & Mail? Enquiring minds want to know. 

How is the nation’s urban showcase supposed to function when there is such an “Entertainment Tonight” atmosphere at City Hall?

The city needs to participate in some major decisions about its rapid growth. The provincial agency Metrolinx is proposing $34 billion in spending on transit projects over the next couple of decades, to be financed by a one percentage-point increase in the HST, a five-cent-per-litre special gasoline levy, a 15% hike in development charges, dedicated toll lanes on major highways and higher parking fees for the business community. 

Mr. Ford has always opposed an expanded tax haul in whatever form it might take. But his administration is suffering from paralysis brought on by a firing, defections and the Mayor’s own understated response to the crisis.

Perhaps he’s operating under the assumption that there’s no such thing as unfortunate publicity, as long as his name is spelled right. At least in that regard, he’s lucky.

Mr. Ford isn’t the only Ontario mayor in trouble. Consider the case of Hazel McCallion, the nonagenarian leader of Mississauga since 1978. She’s come under questioning for perhaps exerting too much influence over a development project promoted by her son.

If her 34-year stint as Mayor is terminated by a conflict-of-interest ruling, then “Hurricane” Hazel (as she’s known) will exit not with a thunderclap, but a drizzle. Clearly, in the “bad press” department, it’s not in her make-up to be upstaged by whipper-snapper colleagues.

Turn your eyes east. The former Mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, who held dominion over his realm for 23 years, was recently escorted to a lock-up by Quebec’s anti-corruption squad. Arrested along with 36 other individuals, he’s been charged with the inelegantly-termed crime of gangsterism.

At the provincial level, Ontario’s former Premier Dalton McGuinty and newly-minted chief legislator Kathleen Wynne have danced around the issue of why work on two natural gas-fired power plants was canceled and the projects moved elsewhere during the last election, at the urging of irate NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) constituents.

The penalty costs will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A couple of seats were consequently saved in the ensuing vote, which has proven to be highly significant, since the Liberals continue to rule Queen’s Park, but only by means of a minority government.

Maybe one has to climb a rung higher to the federal level to find true integrity. But isn’t that where four Senators in the Upper Chamber – Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau –  have been discovered playing fast and loose with their expenses?

Mr. Harb is a Liberal and the other three are Conservatives. Among items fudged or inappropriately charged by one or another of the miscreants have been travel and living expenses, the latter based on false claims with regard to place-of-residency.

There may also have been some double-dipping (i.e., accepting recompense for time in the Senate when they were actually out on the hustings, soliciting votes for their Party.) 

The Prime Minister has accepted the resignation of his Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, for a reason that continues to set heads shaking. Mr. Wright wrote a personal cheque to cover Mr. Duffy’s $90,000 in disputed expense claims.

Who among us doesn’t wish we had an “angel” like Mr. Wright to save us when we stray?

One wayward politician’s scandal is usually another’s seize-the-moment stepping stone. Not so at this time or in this instance. 

The leaders of the other two major political parties in Ottawa are also squirming on various hot seats. They’ve proven incapable of getting out of their own way.

Many years ago, Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP Party, was offered an envelope filled with unknown content by Laval’s Mayor, Mr. Vaillancourt. He refused acceptance, but rather than reporting the incident immediately, he has only recently spoken with authorities about what might have been a bribe

And Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has expressed opposition to Senate reform since its current configuration – with more representation from Quebec than B.C. and Alberta – provides an advantage to his home province. 

What’s to be done about this mess? Don’t waste time asking pollsters to provide an answer.

As shown in the latest Quebec, Alberta and B.C. provincial elections, their confusion about what is really going on is every bit as profound as strollers along Main Street.

Perhaps we need some outside arbitration. A natural choice, President Obama, can be ruled out.

In three key files, he has his own quagmires to sort out – the changing narrative about the lethal assault on American officials in Benghazi, Libya; the seizure of e-mail accounts from 20 Associated Press reporters to flush out a government security leak; and the IRA’s targeted audits of the taxes paid by Tea Party membership associations and other conservative groups.

Both north and south of the border, our federal leaders have been playing the “plausible deniability” card. Since it’s been “marked”, it’s easy to find in the deck. But over time, its glossy finish will start to fade and its appearance will become shopworn.

Nor are the scandals limited to the public sector. Our own industry, construction, is being dragged through hot coals by the Charbonneau Inquiry in Quebec. Corruption and kickback schemes have spread tentacles throughout the provincial economy. Even such a stalwart of the engineering community as SNC-Lavalin has become implicated in the nefarious shenanigans.

One thing is perfectly clear, however. The political instinct to proceed with more infrastructure projects, especially as they relate to H2O treatment plants, is true to the mark.

Lapses in judgment to the left of us and the right – literally and politically – have shown there’s an unacceptable something in the drinking water.

Alex Carrick

Find Canadian construction-related economic articles in Canadian Construction Market News and in the Economic Outlook section of Daily Commercial News.