Can we really expect ethics in politics?

Trudeau’s is just the latest in a history rife with political scandal

Over the last week, condemnation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been almost universal over a finding by the federal ethics commissioner he violated the Conflict of Interest Act in his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The Interior News could add its voice to that litany of complaints, but instead we want to ask a question.

What is the ethical standard we can actually expect our leaders to uphold?

Let’s face it, just being a politician requires, shall we say, a certain amount of ethical flexibility.

Perfect ethical behaviour is the strict adherence to a set of moral principles regardless of context or consequences.

In the real world, we face ethical dilemmas every day, in which none of the possible solutions may be absolutely acceptable from an ethical perspective. When the consequences are small, it’s easy enough to take the high moral ground, or do nothing, but what about when the stakes are high?

Political leaders must make tough calls all the time, decisions that offer the greater good and lesser evil. Often they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

On SNC-Lavalin, the commissioner ruled Trudeau made the wrong call from an ethical perspective. He almost certainly also made the wrong call from a political perspective.

But, can we honestly expect any better from any of the other parties?

If the Liberals and Conservatives are beholden to certain special interests, could we really expect the NDP or Greens not to be beholden to different special interests?

In any event, that is a moot point. Realistically, neither of those major parties, never mind any of the fringe parties, are going to form government. There was a time the NDP was likely ready to and probably would have formed a relatively competent government, but that time has passed for now.

So, we are left with Liberals or Conservatives, both with long histories of corruption and croneyism.

Have we really already forgotten Mike Duffy, Dean Del Maestro, Peter Penashue, robocalls and the dozens of other scandals of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives?

Could we really expect a Conservative government under Andrew Scheer to be any different?

To Scheer’s credit, as speaker of the House in 2011, he condemned his own party for sowing misinformation with phone calls telling voters Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was about to step down as a “reprehensible tactic.”

Nevertheless, common sense would tell us no matter who is in power, it is only a matter of time before they are beset by some scandal or another.

As the British historian and moralist Lord Acton put it: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The good news is nobody gets to have absolute power in Canada and all of the above Conservative and Liberal scandals have proven we have a reasonably robust system of checks and balances against politicians’ worst instincts.

In a little less than two months, Canadian voters will face our own ethical dilemma, a choice between two parties, neither of which is historically acceptable from an ethical perspective.

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