No Shame Anymore

The feeling was one of sadness as I heard the news reports on Canada’s latest government scandal. “Not again,” I thought. “What about integrity is unclear?”

Maybe it is all part of a government conspiracy to lower voters’ expectations. Make ethical breach after ethical breach. Apologize when you are caught, saying your actions were unintentional. Then go on as before until the next time you are caught breaching ethics and the laws. Repeat your apology, and the cycle continues.

Do it often enough, without consequences, and the public will stop caring. The assumption will be that all politicians are crooked. An ethically challenged government may be easily re-elected.

Canada’s Finance Minister was the latest to get caught. At least he is Finance Minister as I write this – he may have stepped down before you read it. But probably not. His government’s pattern is to admit guilt without taking responsibility for actions that would get you fired in private industry.

Canadians were surprised to discover Wednesday that the Finance Minister had “forgotten” to repay $41,000 advanced to him by a charity for a family trip three years ago to observe some of that charity’s overseas efforts. Ministers of the Crown, unlike ordinary MPs, are not allowed to accept travel gifts from organizations, so as not to be influenced by them.

The Minister conveniently remembered that he hadn’t repaid the money and wrote a reimbursement cheque just hours before appearing before a Parliamentary committee investigating government ties to that charity. The timing looks fortuitous. Imagine his embarrassment if he had been asked about it during the committee meeting!

Cynics will wonder if the money would have ever been repaid if the scandal hadn’t broken. It is a good question.

I have always had the impression the Finance Minister was a competent individual, even if I disagreed with his fiscal policies. It is rather disturbing he could forget a $41,000 debt. And perhaps more disturbing that the charity, which would be well aware of the rules, didn’t make sure they got their money back.

What saddens me is that we as a society seem to have divorced actions from consequences. The government’s recent ethical scandals have been clear violations of Canadian law, admitted to by the politicians as they apologize.

We Canadians are a forgiving people. When someone says they are sorry, we accept the apology and move on. However, the expectation is, or should be, that the offence won’t be repeated.

Yet these days we are hearing about repeated ethics violations involving the Prime Minister and his cabinet. They seem to think that because they have good intentions these breaches are minor technicalities, for which there should be no punishment.

I understand that. If I were in their position I might try the same argument. I would be wrong to do so though.

Leaders who feel themselves above the law do not understand the nature of leadership. It is sad when they are not able to comprehend the damage they do to their names and to the country.

This is not unique to Canada – you can probably think of examples where you live. We can only hope the voters demand better the next time they go to the polls.

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