In order for the average Canadian to believe in their government, they need to see that ethics are being taken seriously – which, with the governing Liberals under Prime Minister Trudeau, they are most certainly not. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Chris Young
When first learning about government in civics class, students are taught about the importance of government and how laws are made. It is often painted as a simple process where everyone is happy with the outcome.
As we get older, and more often cynical, our view of government shifts to that of a select group of elites who sit in a private room at the most expensive steakhouses in town while slapping each other on the back with a glass of scotch in one hand and a fat cigar in the others.
In Canada, it is the role of the Ethics Commissioner to ensure that elected officials, Ministers, Senators, and their staff follow a strict moral code that empowers Canadians to have the utmost faith in their government. If anyone violates this code, the Commissioner will hit them with their mighty powers and the offender will have to leave town with their tail between their legs.
Well, that is partially true, the Commissioner can release a report naming and shaming them to the public and fine offenders up to 500 dollars. In the past three years, the Commissioner has ruled five times that members of the governing Liberals have violated this moral code. Most recently, Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, gave her long-time friend, and prominent Liberal support, over $22,000 in government contracts.
Besides Minister Ng, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Treasury Board, MP Greg Fergus, was found by the Ethic Commissioner to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act by writing a letter in support of a television channel’s application for mandatory carriage. Compared to his boss, the Prime Minister, who has violated the Act twice since coming to power, Fergus’s violation is relatively minor.
Ethical lapses in judgment just seem par for the course for this government. After all, other than being named publicly, the small fine is peanuts when the person charged with the offence is making three times the salary of the average Canadian. But the concern for ethics extends beyond the government and includes their government appointees.
Most recently, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki announced her retirement from the force. This follows a tenure that can only be described as rocky. She assumed the position as the first woman to permanently hold the role. Prior to her appointment, she had a stellar resume that included being stationed in several provinces across Canada and internationally experienced.
Once she assumed the Commissioner’s position, she faced significant criticism for a number of her decisions, including breach of duty for alleged spying on anti-oil protesters and her explanation of systemic racism within the RCMP by comparing it to height. She also struggled in providing advice to the federal cabinet around the Freedom Convoy last year.
Though her biggest lapse of judgment followed the 2020 mass murder in Nova Scotia, where she allegedly promised the Prime Minister and Public Safety Minister to leverage the murders to get a gun control law passed. Her actions are not only a serious ethical concern in this situation, but also put into question the RCMP’s independence from the state and its political agenda. It is appalling that the federal government would use the death of 22 innocent people for political means and that they would involve the head of Canada’s top police in the matter.
In order for the average Canadian to believe in their government, they need to see that ethics are being taken seriously. This extends to the government but also to those who the government has appointed to key roles. It is important for arm’s-length organizations to remain an arm’s length from the government. As the US Supreme Court has shown in recent years when an entity that is not meant to be political becomes tied up in partisan games, it leads to a more divided country and harms people’s livelihoods.
If Justin Trudeau and his government are actually as concerned as they claim to be about Canada becoming divided, then they need to get their act together. That starts with taking accountability, leading by example, and making the right choices.
Canadians need to believe that their government is fighting for the little guy and not just the friends of Ministers. And, if this government continues on the path that they are on, then voters will ultimately decide, and that might not end well for the Prime Minister’s tenure in office.
Daniel Perry is a consultant with Summa Strategies Canada, one of the country’s leading public affairs firms. During the most recent federal election, he was a regular panelist on CBC’s Power and Politics and CTV Morning Ottawa.