Thursday, August 15, 2019

History of ethics in politics

This tries to be a history blog, not a current events commentary. With regard to the Ethics Commissioner report of yesterday, I just want to say:

The unusual thing about this whole SNC-Lavalin contretemps is not that the prime minister and PMO attempted to apply inappropriate pressure upon a minister attempting to do her job.  It's that the minister resisted and pushed back -- the rarest event in Canadian politics, and one not at all encouraged by our political culture. One imagines all the cabinet ministers (of all parties, in all provinces as well as Ottawa) who, when inappropriately pressured by the boss, have said, "Yes, sir, how high?"  And thereby averted a scandal -- or rather prevented us from being scandalized by hearing of it.

The remarkable part of last winter's committee hearings on this matter was seeing the prime minister, the staff advisor, and the head of the civil service all saying (not in so many words, but quite clearly) the same thing: that when the prime minister's office applies presssure, it is never inappropriate. The elected politician, the hired gun, and the apolitical public servant are all steeped in the conventional wisdom of Canadian politics:  a prime ministers and party leaders are a leader, not accountable to those who follow them.
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