There’s something fishy about government ethics


There was a time when a federal Cabinet minister felt compelled to resign because of a food inspector failing to detect and prevent tainted tuna from entering the marketplace.

You could easily argue that it is unrealistic for the senior elected official responsible for running a very large department from personally inspecting every tin of tuna to ensure it was free of contaminants. You could easily argue the inspector should have been held responsible, and maybe a supervisor in cases of gross negligence, and that the firings stop there. But no. John Fraser felt honour bound to fall in his sword and left the Cabinet table.

Say what you will about politics, and politicians, but there was a time when ethics and reputation mattered.

Fast forward 40 years, and you’d be forgiven for asking of you lived in the same democratic society.

Now, at least in recent times, at least five government MPs have been caught in ethics violations, including the Prime Minister and his own Parliamentary Secretary.

But they are sorry.

Really double-dog sorry.

They won’t ever do it again. Honest.

They probably even took the time to have their communications teams draft those apologies for them, and practiced in front of a mirror. That’s how much they care.

But resign? Laughable.

There are differing schools of thought on how to deal with these situations. When Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, several of his Cabinet ministers did resign when they were in the wrong, or took responsibility for faults in their department. While that was an honourable course of action, and in several cases, warranted, Mulroney later believed the resignations did more harm than good.

So, in 1989, when Finance Minister Michael Wilson’s budget was leaked in advance of it being presented, Mulroney refused to accept Wilson’s resignation. Wilson was right to offer that resignation, as was the tradition when budgets were leaked to the press in advance of the Budget Speech. But Mulroney chose to stand by his minister and carry on.

From that point on, slowly but surely, potholes which once proved fatal to politicians became survivable through excessive apologies and statements of regret.

We have reached the point where the response isn’t, “I’m sorry”, but “So what?”.

They get away with it because people aren’t paying attention, see it as a joke, and move on to what’s happened last night on Big Brother.

So instead of Bev Oda having to resign her Cabinet post because she had the audacity to order a glass of $16 orange juice at the Ritz in London, we now have someone from the federal government booking a $6,000 per night hotel suite which came with a butler — without any consequences at all.

I mean, there’s inflation and all. But there’s something fishy about all of that.



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Keith Borkowsky is a commentator who has 10 years of experience in politics as a past member of the Manitoba Legislature Press Gallery, as well as campaign manager, political staffer, and advisor to senior politicians and municipal governments. Aside from experience in politics, Keith was a sports reporter for more than 10 years. In the Brandon area, he covered curling in print as well as a play-by-play commentator on television