After Dale Saip and Kerry-Lynne Findlay stories, will bankruptcy shaming become commonplace?
This week, media outlets have been focusing on past financial troubles of Conservative candidates.
Former Delta-Richmond East nominee Dale Saip was forced to step aside after it was revealed that he declared bankruptcy in 1993. This left creditors on the hook for $340,000.
The replacement candidate, lawyer Kerry-Lynne Findlay, also declared bankruptcy. According to a CBC report, she listed $175,000 in assets and debts of nearly $558,000 in 2001. She attributed it to a long legal fight over real estate with the Musqueam band.
In 2008, the Vancouver Sun also highlighted the past bankruptcies of three federal candidates—Conservative Lorne Mayencourt, Liberal Don Olson, and Green Doug Perry.
Those who've never filed for bankruptcy might be quick to judge these politicians. Some will see it as a moral failing, notwithstanding any reasons behind these candidates' financial troubles.
But before we rush to any conclusions, consider this: the man who is often judged the greatest American president in history was also a former bankrupt.
Abraham Lincoln filed for bankruptcy in 1833 after his business partner died. He spent the following 17 years repaying his debts.
There wasn't any modern bankruptcy legislation, which would have enabled him to obtain protection from his creditors.
After being elected president in 1860, Lincoln went on to end slavery and guided the United States through the Civil War. His Gettysburg address and the Emancipation Proclamation have ensured that he remains a political giant nearly 150 years after his assassination.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of students and former students across Canada are struggling to repay huge debts, which were necessary to finance their postsecondary education.
They can't seek protection on this debt for at least 10 years after leaving school. That's due to an amendment to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act brought in while Paul Martin was the Liberal finance minister.
If the media's keen interest in politicians' past bankruptcies evolves into a bit of a witch hunt, it could conceivably deprive this country of some fine political candidates in the future.
This will be particularly true if major parties start refusing to nominate anyone with a personal bankruptcy in their background.
Modern bankruptcy legislation was created to give people an opportunity for a fresh start. There are often very good reasons why people can't repay their debts.
Despite this, bankruptcy shaming of politicians has become a blood sport south of the border, according to a blog post by Texas bankruptcy lawyer Reed Almand.
"The fact the politicians are attempting to use bankruptcy shaming as a political tactic to win votes is just baffling," Reed writes. "Don’t they realize that more and more Americans are choosing bankruptcy because they cannot get out from under the mounting debt in their lives? Don’t they realize that they may be alienating many of their voters by wagging their finger at those who choose to file bankruptcy to protect their assets and their loved ones?"
It's a good thing bankruptcy shaming didn't exist to the same degree in Lincoln's time because he might not have gotten his party's nomination.
And for all our sakes, let's hope that bankruptcy shaming doesn't become prevalent in Canada in the future, when many former debt-soaked students enter politics.
The public might be better off in the long run if there were more politicians who've endured financial hardship in their past. After all, these candidates will be less likely than a millionaire shipping tycoon to bring in discriminatory legislation that prevents financially strapped former students from seeking protection from a major creditor.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.
Federal election 2011