Is it just me, or is anyone else finding it difficult to work up the appropriate outrage to the recent mess in Ottawa?

It’s not for lack of trying. The incendiary commentary about the scandals, the patronage, the ministerial sloppiness, and the firing of finance minister, Paul Martin is everywhere.

There have been pages and pages devoted to it in newspapers and hours of it on television. This thing is so big that the CBC went so far as to interrupt its aggressively tedious, minute-by-minute coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee for special reports on the scandal-plagued Liberals.

Even former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, of all people, is shocked by the Liberals “squalid misconduct.”

At a fundraiser in Halifax last week he weighed in on recent events, lecturing Prime Minister Jean Chrétien about his government’s ethical lapses which is a little like former American president Bill Clinton criticizing John F. Kennedy for his extramarital affairs. But still it’s got to hurt.

There’s no disputing that it all stinks, the corruption, the cronyism, the dispiriting spectacle of the Prime Minister’s cynical and selfish attempts to protect his own future by kicking Art Eggleton out of cabinet, demoting Don Boudria and axing Paul Martin.

But the outrage from the media and the hectoring by the other parties seem, for the most part, as hollow and superficial as Chrétien’s self-preserving efforts to redress his party’s failings, like his recent cabinet shuffle, or the ethics package he plans to release next week, which requires ministers to reveal past political donations.

Is anybody outside of politics or the media, truly shocked to hear that politicians give contracts to campaign donors, or take advantage of their expense accounts, or give their ex-girlfriends jobs?

Their ubiquity doesn’t justify these transgressions, but it does undermine the frenzied attacks by the opposition parties. Haven’t they, and wouldn’t they, do exactly the same thing? After all, Chrétien himself once campaigned as a reformer who promised to clean up the corruption of the Mulroney years. As the old adage goes, corruption tends to follow power and the Prime Minister offers a perfect example of that.

He’s an ambitious, arrogant and power hungry leader who genuinely seems to think that he can rule the country completely unfettered by any kind of ethical concern. He’s a hothead, who has, among other things, choked a protester, made jokes about the use of pepper spray, subjected Member of Parliament Carolyn Bennett to a humiliating dressing-down when she raised concerns about the representation of women in cabinet, and most recently made light of “a few million dollars” that may have been stolen during a government Public Relations campaign in Quebec.

But those voices clamouring for him to resign might as well save their breath. Chrétien is hanging onto his leadership so tightly, he makes Stockwell Day look like a pushover.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Prime Minister would fire Martin because of the threat posed by the finance minister’s leadership ambitions.

Nor should Martin’s ego and his own quest for power be obscured by his lousy treatment at the hands of Chrétien, or by the almost entirely glowing and uncritical tributes that have been written about Martin in the wake of his firing.

If only the scandal hunt and the Liberal power struggle were actually about something more than just scoring political points. If only there was a glimmer of a chance that all this outrage might lead to real, substantive change. If only what consumed all this media space and Commons debate was policy not politics.

If only the performance of politicians was based on their intelligence, their expertise and their commitment to public service, instead of trifling scandals. If only the struggle between Chrétien and Martin was about issues like health care, housing, poverty, education, job creation and not about who has control of the sandbox.

Instead, for the next eight months, as the Prime Minister tries to head off a leadership review at the Liberal convention in February 2003, he’ll be engaged in a struggle within his own ranks, working the caucus, making decisions and basing policy changes on what will earn him party support — not on what’s good for Canadians.

And that’s what makes me outraged.