Aren’t political dynasties the death of real democracy?


“Enter Caroline Mulroney. Having won the nomination as PC candidate for York-Simcoe unopposed, she has all but thrown her tiara into the ring. Or, more accurately, the besotted national media has done it for her.”

Does democracy benefit when politics turns into just another family business?

That is the greater question that sits behind the CBC’s Evan Dyer’s fine piece on whether Caroline Mulroney’s possible emergence in provincial politics is yet another dynastic movement in the making.

I sincerely hope it isn’t. That isn’t to say I don’t understand the temptation. With their leader splatted on the political windshield like a particularly angry Picasso, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives are in the market for a replacement. No, not just in the market — in a fever.

With mere months to go before a provincial election they were supposed to have won, the leaderless PCs must now explain why they chose Patrick Brown as top-dog in the first place.

The Party may try to avoid it, but voters looking ahead to June 7, 2018 will be expecting an answer. How could the PC party have wanted Ontarians to vote for a man who had to resign under such tawdry and admittedly murky circumstances?  And since the Tories chose him, how good is their judgement?

And there is another question they can’t avoid. How can a party that hopes to be the government expect the electorate to trust a new leader with with only a few months on the job in Opposition? People rarely propose on a blind date.

Enter Caroline Mulroney. Having won the nomination as PC candidate for York-Simcoe unopposed, she has all but thrown her tiara into the ring. Or, more accurately, the besotted national media has done it for her.

And why not? She is a lawyer who graduated cum laude from Harvard, has her mother Mila’s killer smile, and some part of her father’s political DNA. Depending on how good your memory is, not a bad combination — especially for a party looking for instant credibility.

And that last part is exactly the problem.

Politics is already tainted with the democracy-killing reality that at the leadership level, it is the preserve of the rich, well-connected, and entitled. That is particularly true in the United States, where it now costs a billion dollars to run for President. But to an increasing extent, the same thing is happening here. Through her parents and her marriage, Caroline Mulroney is all three.

Brian Mulroney’s daughter married Andrew Polk Lapham, son of one of my hero’s in life, the former legendary editor of Harper’s Magazine, and an exquisite writer in his own right, Lewis Lapham.

Lapham’s daughter, Delphina, married a prince.

Caroline’s husband, Andrew Lapham parlayed his hedge-fund experience in New York into the Chairman’s job at Blackstone Canada, a private equity firm whose US parent has $387 billion under management.

Suffice to say, the Lapham family is blue-chip New York intelligentsia and finance with a dash of royalty.

But the more important connection is Caroline’s father, the former prime minister. Whatever you may think of Brian Mulroney, he is a wealthy, powerful and well-connected man. That is based largely on the fact that he has “prime minister of Canada” on his resume for back-to-back majority governments in the 1980s.

Though his days in political office are long gone, along with his former party, Mulroney still carries a big stick. He is a senior partner in the Montreal law firm of Ogilvy,Renault, and has garnered Board memberships with the ease that regular people amass crumpled gas receipts.

His board appointments include Archer Daniels Midland, Barrick Gold Corp., Quebecor Inc., and Wyndham Worldwide Corp. He is also, by the way, on the Board of Blackstone US, the company that employs his son-in-law. And when a cancer fundraiser held at Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate last year needed someone to sing “Irish Eyes Are Shining”, one Brian Francis Mulroney did the honours. Ronald Reagan no doubt beamed down on the flannel-throated encore of Mulroney’s most cringeworthy moment in the lap of presidential power.

For the financial connections alone, legendary Republican political guru Arthur Finkelstein, would have liked a Caroline Mulroney candidacy. It was Finkelstein’s view that money decided who was heard in any political debate these days — which is why the Republicans so fiercely battled until they got the US Supreme Court to do away with spending limits during elections. Now everyone hears the Koch Brothers in America’s red, white and blue plutocracy.

But that wouldn’t be the only reason Finkelstein, who died in 2017, would have liked Caroline Mulroney. This was a man who once advised Stephen Harper not to seek the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 because no one outside elite political and media circles knew who he was.

Money may be the mother’s milk of politics, but name recognition is the yeast that makes thing rise – especially these days, which explains why Oprah was briefly floated as a presidential candidate. My colleague Paul Adams nailed it — name recognition is often just a synonym for fame. Justin Trudeau didn’t have to work at letting people know who he was, and the Mulroney name needs no explanatory advertising in Ontario, nor anywhere else.

My question is how can other candidates compete with all that in a fight for the top job? How do they compete if the former PM starts working the phones on behalf of his daughter, as some people say he already doing?

How can they compete if the elder Mulroney starts calling in favours and pressing others go to work on behalf of Caroline, but not, say, on behalf of Christine Elliott, though she is far from a no-name commodity?

And how do they compete at the fundraising level, should the Mulroney name turn on all those gushing faucets at the disposal of a former PM? The simple answer is that they can’t.

Think about it. Canada already has a prime minister who is a son of a prime minister. Trudeau’s fisheries minister, Dominic Leblanc, is the son of a former federal fisheries minister, Romeo. Now there is a real possibility, and so far it is only that, Ontario could have a premier whose father was a prime minister. It’s not that these people are not talented or worthy. It is that are part of the Star Chamber that runs things.

This is not a saga of ‘Left or Right’, but a narrative of the times. There is a reason that the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Clintons look more like self-proclaimed establishment royalty than mere members of a political party.  The succession was monarchical. John became Bobby and after Bobby there was Ted. First there was George H.W, followed by George “Dubya”, and then Jeb, at least until he wilted under Trump’s scorching attacks. After Bill came Hillary, and there are many touting that Chelsea is not far behind.

Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz did some nifty math a few years back in the New York Times on the subject of what nepotism means in contemporary politics”

“….there were about 250 baby boomer males born to governors. Five of them became governors themselves, about one in fifty. This is 6,000 times the rate of the average American. The same methodology suggests that sons of Senators had an 8,500 times higher chance of becoming a senator than an average American male boomer.”

But not to worry. I am happy to report that all of these millionaire, billionaire and famous politicians are now champions of the middle class. No, really.

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