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.
Mar 27, 2011 at 12:35am
Excellent column. I once had a very wealthy retired businessman tell me, if you haven't gone bankrupt you haven't been in business. Every year it seems we come up with more and more ways to ensure we have candidates who are bland have never taken risks and have never said or done anything controversial. We have no one but our own puritan hypocrisy to blame for the lack of inspiring politicians in Canada today.
Mar 27, 2011 at 8:38am
Great column. I had to go bankrupt because of my student loans.
Guess I won't ever be able to run for office without being called a scumbag or some journalist digging into my 'sordid' financial past.
Mar 27, 2011 at 10:08am
I would expect that everyone who has found themselves looking at student loan repayment while accepting a job that was way below their salary expectations has given a fleeting thought to bankruptcy. (Maybe even me, although the family credo was that bankruptcy, like welfare, is for other people. Getting slammed in the media would have been easy peasy compared to getting "the look" from my grandmother.)
I graduated before Paul Martin made the change, and I think it was probably my cohort that prompted it.
For some reason bankruptcy has been glossed over as maybe a fleeting embarrassment. Hasn't Donald Trump been bankrupt?
But what's lost in the spin is that there are real victims of bankruptcy. Creditors who have to write off debts aren't just the banks, (who get first dibs after the government.) It's the small businesses and contractors and employees who get left holding the bag.
Maybe the media should be taking the place of grandmothers in guiding behaviour so that it becomes thought of as a true last resort.
Mar 27, 2011 at 10:17am
Lincoln took 17 years to repay his debt which makes him an honorable and faithful politician. Let the current politicians honor their debts as Lincoln did and than I too shall respect them as I do Lincoln. These politicians will squander our money as they did theirs with no consequences. I have never declared bankruptcy, and have had to run a tight ship, but it is possible. If a politician can not balance their own budget and will take chances with their own business choices,knowing the possible consequences, than I do not want that same politician making choices with our hard earned tax dollars. Set an example or remove yourself, the public is sick of the lies and the fraud that politicians try to feed us. Politicians were once respected as they earned it, but not any more. Take the 17 years to repay your debts and than I will respect you to as a politician.
Mar 27, 2011 at 3:28pm
The irony of both Dale Saip and Kerry-Lynne Findlay, the former and current Conservative candidates here in Delta/Richmond East, having declared bankruptcy a combined total of 3 times in the past 15 years is that they are supposed to represent a fiscally conservative group of people.
Being a Conservative has developed a whole new meaning. CONSERVATIVES CAN'T HANDLE THEIR MONEY$$$$$$$$$$$$................BaaWhaaaaaa!
Mar 27, 2011 at 4:14pm
It is certainly easier to point fingers to make yourself sound better than to risk say something constructive. Unfortunately mud slinging is becoming the norm in politics.
Voter apathy is something political parties rely on. Ignore the polls and advertising, pick your best choice for candidate and get out and vote. If all eligible votes were cast there would be at least a government elected by the majority of voters.
Mar 27, 2011 at 5:05pm
This false notion that you can 'control' everything in your life comes crumbling down from something as simple as job loss or a divorce.
Then, suddenly, you are faced with a bunch of creditors who want money and are unwilling to compromise. To all those who think going bankrupt is an easy choice - what do you do then?
Do you try to talk nice to the creditors and ask for more time? That doesn't work.
Do you ask them nicely not to sue you for money you don't have? Also a no-go.
Do you ask your ex-spouse to stop suing you for support and half your assets? Good luck.
This idea that it's all about 'personal responsibility' ignores that bad things happen to good people, and there is no such thing as a creditor willing to wait. Creditors are often the ones who FORCE an individual into bankruptcy in order to salvage what assets they can right away.
And by the way, bankruptcy is no joy ride. For seven years you are not only unable to get credit, but some jobs will not hire you and some apartments will not rent to you.
Mar 27, 2011 at 5:19pm
These candidates have already taken much from the taxpayer and are looking for another 'tax payer' haven...the federal pension plan for MP's. I say give them what they deserve....time to pay it back and .... This is an insult to taxpayers....who ultimately pay the bill.
Mar 27, 2011 at 5:42pm
I know a few people who have gone bankrupt and know it's no picnic. Bankruptcy should be there as a last resort.
Sometimes it's treated as a first resort. There were students I knew who were planning on going bankrupt. Let's just say they didn't ration their beer money.
There are business people who go bankrupt as a last resort, and there are business people who go bankrupt because it's easy to take risks with other people's money.
I don't think it's too much for the media to ask which category a potential Member of Parliament falls into.
of no consequence
Mar 28, 2011 at 10:11am
Money money money money. Money money money... money.
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Money money money money:
Money money money money-Money- money money money? Money money money money money money money money!
Professor of no consequence
Reagan-Thatcher Chair of Anglo-American Thought