Public inquiry plays into Horgan's hands

If it makes us feel any better, we can all recall how John Horgan only months ago threw shade on the need for a money laundering inquiry: too time-consuming, too resource-greedy, too distractive, too little a province could directly do, anyway.

But really, was there any doubt his government would call one?

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This is at first blush a dream scenario for the BC NDP: a made-for-media haul over the coals of the preceding Liberal government through daily testimony that will, it prays, provide evidence of an awestruck and dumbstruck administration of the economic contamination under its nose - and perhaps with its hand - of real estate, luxury goods, our gaming tables and even our post-secondary institutions.

What politicians in their right minds - even their left ones - wouldn't love it?

The timelines announced Wednesday are exquisite for the next election. A black-hat vilification of the Liberals for a year or so - made more devastating because leader Andrew Wilkinson hasn't dispatched the old guard among his ranks - followed by white-knight legislation. Game of Thrones couldn't have scripted it better. Well played politically.

For now.

But while it is true that a thorough and public examination is better than a tepid and private one in alerting the public to the apprehended threat government seemingly snored through, I doubt many are ready to understand the full impact of the laundered dollar and the relevance in their daily lives. This might get quite personal for many of us.

What we see typically in our portrayal of money laundering are the bad guys - the gangs, the influences from afar, the carpetbaggers - and their links to our drug trade, to organized crime and even terrorism, and to our conflated housing market. And sure, hardly anyone would want them to continue to evade punishment, whether it is eventual imprisonment or more immediate civil forfeiture.

What we don't regularly realize, though, is how even laundered money finds its place into the routine economy through layering and integration. For every property there is an agent earning income. For every supercar there is a supercar salesperson on commission. Intentionally or not, there are legal and financial services and institutions in the mix. There are businesses paying rent or mortgages. There are unwitting people in turn shopping, spending and investing.

If you wish to drive a stake into the heart of money laundering, you will take more than the vampires with you.

Granted, that dirty money evades direct taxation and depresses overall economic performance, so beating it back will plug some holes, but its disappearance or diminution will create several new ones into the economy that will be a test to replace.

Which is not to say you don't conduct the inquiry, only that as part of the process you don't stay in the simpleton phase of quantifying the sums involved. An inquiry needs to understand the periphery of the scourge, too, and to some degree prepare the public for the true picture of the impact in our lives if we stop the shell games.

To date, the government hasn't done anything like that; it appears more driven by the opportunity of dropping the big one than the more difficult task of comprehending the fallout. Witness how Horgan recently departed from the statesman pose to state: "I believe the public should have access to what the former government knew and when they knew it," he said. "An inquiry would assist in getting that information."

What the public wants isn't entirely what the public needs, though, and the inquiry announced Wednesday ought not only to be bipartisan but educational. The Charbonneau inquiry into Quebec construction fraud played such a role, as have many other such initiatives.

The terms of reference for the new inquiry are weighted to the political and other institutions that were asleep as the wayward train passed the switch.

There is much more inadvertent complicity in this story in our economic performance than has so far been told, and we deserve to understand that as part of this important process as the easy villains in politics and business are drawn and quartered - and electorally exploited.

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