Tuesday, April 08, 2008

An ethics deficit

VANCOUVER — John Les seemed genuinely surprised when he learned a special prosecutor was investigating allegations he and other officials may have profited from land transactions while he was mayor of Chilliwack, B.C., in the 1990s. The Canadian Press

Les says he did nothing wrong and expects to be cleared. That seems to be a recurring theme in the Campbell government, and agencies it administers. Premier Gordon Campbell, himself, when caught drink driving in Hawaii was not cleared, but back in BC he adopted the Les argument.

Skating close to or beyond the edges of the law seems to be something of a provincial sport; blatantly ignoring ethical issues is, it seems, as natural as breathing. Therein is the real danger for the authorities and the people of the province.

If you ignore the ethical underpinnings then it is not a matter of obeying the law so much as not getting caught breaking it. Lawmakers have an absolute duty to adhere to the laws they make, otherwise anyone else has a right to ignore the law as well.

The issue is not just the politicians either; I’ve already alluded to the agencies they administer. Here it is a joint obligation to perform in the interest of the wider community. There is a list of agencies implicated in various scandal, including insurance arm ICBC, the Agricultural Land Commission or the Milk Marketing Board, Fisheries and Aquaculture, even local government authorities. Each have been tainted by ethical, if not outright legal, breaches.

I expect the fast and loose approach is so entrenched that people like Campbell and Les really don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong, it’s just business as usual. That is not good enough for people who put themselves forward as community leaders. Democracy is not about awarding perks of office, it is about duty and responsibility to the citizens they represent.

British Columbians, I should point out, are not on there own when it comes to ethical failures in government systems. Sadly it is more common than the alternative. Power corrupts, but it only does so as long as the people allow it too.

1 comment:

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