Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Tone at the top

The Globe editorializes on Bev Oda's resignation: "Bev Oda’s departure: an overdue nod to accountability."
The departure of Bev Oda from the federal cabinet should have happened months ago. Nevertheless, her resignation - effective July 31, apparently prompted by the knowledge or belief that she would be shuffled out later this summer - is a much-needed signal that Prime Miniter [sic] Stephen Harper holds his ministers accountable.
Yes, it's a heck of an accountable operation he's running.

There are no consequences for Christian Paradis, repeat ethics offender. Harper said in March, after the Ethics Commissioner dinged Paradis again, that the punishment is simply for Paradis to learn from his conduct. Right then. Paradis is rumoured to be up for Minister of Environment, see today's Buzzetti column. That should be interesting, selling the environmental policies of this government in Quebec. Maybe he might get some just desserts that way, come to think of it.

There have been no consequences for Tony Clement of G8 spending fiasco fame.

There have been no consequences for Peter MacKay of helicopter ride fame, who has bungled the F-35 file by letting it be represented publicly, during a federal election, that the cost of the jets was $10 billion less than he knew. A massive breach in accountability, documented by the Auditor General, for which Harper offers nothing to the Canadian people in acknowledgement.

Following on that point, Mr. Harper himself doesn't exactly set a convincing ethical tone at the top either. Doesn't really talk to the major Canadian media, a key mechanism through which accountability is made possible in our political system. Presenting himself publicly to answer questions on major files is not something he really does. He provides no real answers in the House of Commons. He institutes a policy whereby the Government of Canada is to be referenced as the Harper Government, indulging in a rebranding that serves a partisan interest. Parliamentary committees increasingly move to in camera sessions. Omnibus bills that can't practically be examined are how legislation is being done.

Harper is not walking the walk on accountability. His ministers get the message through all of this. They take their cues from their leader and they look around at their fellow ministers' behaviour as well. 

There was an interesting column recently, "When Good People Behave Badly," on an ethics phenomenon that could be at work here:
It's an interesting question, how observing the questionable behavior of others affects our own actions.
It turns out that a key determinant on this question is who is the unethical role model? Francesca Gino, now at Harvard, and colleagues investigated this by having students complete a task on which they could cheat in order to earn more money. Upon seeing cheating from another student from their own school -- wearing university paraphernalia -- students became more likely to cheat themselves. It would seem that seeing someone you affiliate with engage in unethical behavior can make you view cheating as less problematic.
Maybe the more you see it, the more you get enured to it. And who is doing it makes a difference. Possibly explains such lenient editorials too.