Fall 2020 – Ethics in Politics: Oxymoron or Necessity?

To be offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar

Ethics in Politics: Oxymoron or Necessity?
Presented by Ian Greene

Tuesdays, 6 October to 24 November 2020 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

6 October – Introduction to Ethics in Politics

We will start by recalling some serious ethical breaches on the part of Canadian politicians with dire consequences for their governments, including:

– Conflicts of interest and the 1991 defeat of B.C.’s Social Credit government

– The Pearson Airport terminals contracts scandals in 1992-1993

– The Saskatchewan communication expenses fraud that destroyed the province’s Conservative party and sent several cabinet ministers to jail

– The resignation of Joe Fontana, mayor of London, Ontario, because of a conviction for fraud

– The gas plant cancellation that dogged the McGuinty and Wynne governments

These examples will introduce the concepts and principles of ethics, morality and law that are to be used in this lecture series. We will look at:

– The role of ethics in democracy

– Political leaders’ obligations to uphold ethics in government

– The consequences of failure to do so, including defeat of governments

13 October – Conflicts of Interest

What happens when public office is used for personal gain or to help family members or friends? Do you remember:

– The 1986 inquiry by Justice Parker involving federal cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens

– The scandals involving several cabinet ministers in Ontario in 1987 that led to the appointment of the world’s first independent Integrity Commissioner

– The Sponsorship scandal from 1995to 2005 that contributed to the defeat of the Liberal government

– Stephen Harper and the Duffy affair

– Conflicts of interest on Toronto City Council involving the Ford brothers

– Even closer to home, the conflict of interest of a former mayor of Mississauga?

What has resulted from the recommendation of the 1991 Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing that political parties develop their own bottom-up, enforceable codes of conduct?

20 October – Lobbyists and Ethics

What lobbyists do, and what ethical guidelines they need to observe federally, provincially and municipally. Different kinds of lobbyists – “hired guns,” in-house lobbyists, trade associations and “astro-turf” or fake lobby groups. Major Canadian lobbyist scandals include:

– Airbus (1988–2008), which led to the Oliphant Inquiry into Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney

– The computer leasing scandal in the City of Toronto (1998–2004), which resulted in a new ethics regime for the city

– The 2010 case of former MP Rahim Jaffer who became a lobbyist and did not register, but nevertheless tried to use his influence with former colleagues

Comparisons will be made with lobbyist activity and regulation in the U.S. and other countries.

27 October – Whistleblowers

We will look at some well-known cases of whistleblowing, such as:

– Richard Colvin’s disclosure of the mistreatment of Afghan detainees by Canada’s mission (2007)

– Edgar Schmidt’s exposure of the federal government’s failure to scrutinize draft legislation for breaches of the Charter of Rights (2012)

– Sylvie Therrien’s revelation of fraud in the Employment Insurance program (2012)

– The exposure of misuse of funds and substandard equipment at ORNGE Air (2012)

Most of these whistleblowers paid a heavy price for their honesty because of the inadequacy of effective legislation to protect whistleblowers. Effective whistleblowing legislation might even have helped to prevent the shocking number of deaths in Ontario long-term care homes because of COVID-19.

3 November – Donald Trump and the Future of Ethics in Politics

After a brief review of the Donald Trump impeachment saga and a list of ethics transgressions since 2016 – especially mishandling the COVID-19 crisis – we will look at why the American system for preventing and addressing ethics breaches generally does not work as well as Canada’s system.

We’ll see that the struggle – national and international – to promote ethics in politics is never-ending, shaped for example by:

– Skepticism from those who think that ethics in politics is unimportant or unachievable – perhaps an oxymoron rather than a necessity?

– Citizen participation to apply existing rules and make them better, including, for example, the roles of the OECD, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, various U.N. agencies, Transparency International, and the World Council of Churches

– Evidence of the relationship between higher ethical standards in government and higher levels of both economic development and individual happiness

– Evidence of the relationship between attendance at religious institutions and attitudes toward public sector ethics

– How ordinary citizens promote ethics in politics through voting and activism

10 November – The SNC-Lavalin and the WE Charity Scandals

Today we will first consider the decades-long struggle in Canada for deferred prosecution legislation to combat the bribery of foreign officials by Canadian companies. This hit the headlines with the SNC-Lavalin affair and the tension between Justin Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as well as the report of Mario Dion, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Then we’ll look at how Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau should have recused themselves from participating in the decision-making process that led to the cabinet’s endorsement of the WE Charity to deliver a program to encourage students to participate in volunteer activities. How serious was this ethics breach? Why did it happen?

17 November – Patronage

Struggles have lasted over two centuries to abolish the practice of patronage appointments in the public service. Patronage practices have lingered in Canada, especially in the Atlantic provinces.

– Premier John Savage of Nova Scotia (1993–1997) abolished patronage in public service appointments but he annoyed many in his Liberal party by doing so and eventually had to resign

– The patronage appointments that prompted the unforgettable election debate between Brian Mulroney and John Turner

– Some notorious examples of patronage during the Mulroney and Harper eras and their impact in the machinery of government

– The failed attempt of the Doug Ford government to appoint Ford’s friend, Ron Taverner, as head of the Ontario Provincial Police in 2019

– Justin Trudeau’s attempts to reduce patronage appointments to the Senate and the judiciary

24 November – The Canadian Model of Parliamentary Ethics

Examples of promoting ethics in Canadian politics and public life:

– Canada’s relatively new system of independent conflict of interest commissioners in Parliament, every province and territory, and many cities, such as Toronto

– Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s recent decree that Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland may not have contact with former ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton because he broke the conflict of interest rules

– Canada’s lobbyist commissioner investigating whether the WE Charity broke the lobbyist registration rules

How well is our system of ethics commissioners, lobbyist registrars and whistleblowing (“wrong-doing”) commissioners working? Have they resulted in higher ethical standards and more trust in our elected politicians? What works and what doesn’t? Bottom line: how important is ethics in politics?

In spite of some shortcomings, Canada is a world leader in promoting ethics in politics and public life, as compared with the U.S., the U.K., other Commonwealth countries and Europe.

Note:  Many of the examples mentioned here are taken from Ian Greene and David Shugarman, Honest Politics Now: What Ethical Conduct Means in Canadian Public Life (Toronto: Lorimer, 2017).