Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday July 22, 2020
Ethical questions abound in politics
For the third time since he became prime minister in 2015, the behaviour of Justin Trudeau is being investigated by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The investigation involves a proposed non-tendered contract worth $19 million to the WE Charity, which was supposed to operate a new student-volunteer program. Trudeau had participated in the cabinet meeting that approved the contract.
Because both the prime minister and his wife had a close relationship with the charity, the opposition complained to the ethics commissioner that Trudeau was guilty of violating the conflict of interest law. Days later it was revealed that Trudeau’s mother and brother had been paid nearly $300,000 for multiple speaking engagements at WE Charity events. This seems to be a classic case of confusing or intermingling private interests with the public interest, which is the essential nature of a conflict of interest.
The case caused me to reflect on why politicians appear to have such difficulty reasoning and acting ethically. Here are some random thoughts:
There is illegal and unethical behaviour in all occupations, but politics seems to involve greater temptations and risks that legal rules and ethical standards will be violated.
Politics involves contention over competing ideas and interests, together with competition to gain power, and these fundamental facts can override respect for ethical norms. Politicians and their advisers take the pragmatic view that if they do not break or bend the rules, they will lose ground to their opponents. They tell themselves that after they win, they will behave in an exemplary ethical manner, but then re-election becomes a strong motivation.
Most politicians enter public life for altruistic reasons of public service. A minority, however, become corrupted by the political process. They develop the view that politics is a game and to the winner go the spoils. Individuals from a famous political family, or long-serving politicians, may develop the view that they are, as a former Liberal cabinet minister declared, “entitled to their entitlements.” Rewarding family and “political friends” is seen as a perk of the job. (Winnipeg Free Press)