Ethics? What Ethics?

I’m confused. Again. And puzzling over the misuse of the English language by a well-known Canadian politician.

Canada’s Prime Minister has (again) been found by the Ethics Commissioner to have broken the law. I’m sure that’s not something he wanted to have happen a couple of weeks before the official start of the 2019 federal election campaign.

For a Prime Minister to be found ethically deficient should be troubling to Canadians. To violate the laws of the land (again) might have some wondering if the man is fit to remain in his job. Party strategists must be in full damage-control mode.

I don’t understand the Prime Minister’s reaction to the Ethics Commissioner’s findings, or at least I don’t understand the words he used. My grasp of the English language is reasonably strong, but the man has me baffled.

It is a damning report. The Commissioner says the PM clearly stepped over ethical boundaries in the SNC-Lavalin affair. That scandal, earlier this year, led to the resignation of a couple of cabinet ministers as well as the PM’s chief of staff. Not to mention seeing the Liberal brand and the PM’s personal popularity drop as it became increasingly apparent his story was at odds with the facts. Like his American counterpart, apparently the only facts that mattered were the ones in his head – which as it turned out only bore a passing resemblance to reality.

Now that the report is out, the PM says he takes “responsibility” for his actions. That said, he will not apologize, because he feels he did nothing wrong.

If he did nothing wrong, what is he taking responsibility for? He disagrees with the Ethics Commissioner. That would seem to me to be within his rights. He has no plans to issue an apology for his behaviour. That makes sense if he feels he did nothing wrong. But how is that taking responsibility for anything?

What he really means, I think, is that he understands that politically he has no choice but to accept the blame. He expressed confidence in the Ethics Commissioner at the outset of the investigation. He would look even sillier if he just rejected the report completely. Picking a fight with the Ethics Commissioner would probably not be politically advantageous for him and his party. He just wants this issue to go away, because there is no way he can look good in that spotlight. He has painted himself into a political corner and is hoping time will let the paint dry and allow him to escape.

The sad thing is, this is not the first time he has run afoul of the Commissioner and been censured for an ethics violation. It makes you wonder if there is a pattern here, a belief perhaps that the rules don’t apply to him.

The funny thing is, when I was in the US on vacation earlier this month just about every American I met asked me if they could have our Prime Minister and take their president in trade. Down there they know about his hair and his flair, but nothing about his policies or the various scandals, personal and governmental.

They were shocked when I said the two men are very similar. Both from privileged backgrounds, both ethically challenged, both at times not seeming to grasp that actions and words make a difference.

The difference may lie in our system of government. The US, for all its famous checks and balances in the system, does not seem to have a mechanism to call a president to account. Yes, there is impeachment, but that process is political – people distrust the motives of those involved.

Canada’s Ethics Commissioner, on the other hand, is an independent officer of Parliament. Any findings or ethical breaches are based on the law, not on political considerations.

That makes his ruling in the SNC-Lavalin affair that more damning. I wonder if the voters will take note in October, or whether the Teflon Prime Minister will once again escape with no mud sticking to him.


  1. Interesting post as I always thought, obviously like so many others, that your PM was a decent intelligent guy. Unlike that complete oaf south of the border. Sounds like your system of accountability is built for purpose more than theirs though.

    1. Accountability is imperfect. The House Ethics Committee, with a Liberal majority, declined to call the Ethics Commissioner as a witness. They apparently don’t want to know what he thinks. And they certainly don’t want him complaining further about all the information the Prime Minister refused to provide.

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