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Roy Green: Ethical behaviour should not be negotiable

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference as he visits the Public Health Agency of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, July 31, 2020.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference as he visits the Public Health Agency of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, July 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines ethics as “moral principles; rules of conduct.”

Perhaps it’s a result of the current climate of suspicion surrounding behaviours inside the lines of Canadian politics, but a first reading of the dictionary’s definition had me searching for a cleverly masked escape clause.

READ MORE: (July 3, 2020) Ethics commissioner launches investigation into Trudeau, $900M WE Charity contract

Those words “moral principles; rules of conduct” do not as easily deliver an unequivocal mantra as the one learned at a parent’s knee: “Do not ever embarrass your mother by your actions.”

There is no soft or open-to-interpretation boundary, no maybe, no what if, and assuredly, no time limit.

However, outside maternal consideration, compelling ethics debates do take place and are not, it appears, easily resolved. For example, debates on capital punishment, right-to-die legislation and genetic cloning lead to no easy answers.

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Ethics committee grills government officials about WE contract
Ethics committee grills government officials about WE contract

But let’s scramble back inside the ropes of the political arena where behaviour among the elected class appears, some of the time at least, to be locked in the extra-ethical embrace of opportunity, or at least holding hands with damage control.

Recent Canadian federal governance has engaged in keeping any definition of ethics in a state of imbalance.

The prime minister of Canada, in a mere five years of occupying the highest elected office in the land, has twice collided with the parliamentary Conflict of Interest Act. Justin Trudeau has been officially censured for crossing the lines set by the act, first by former federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson and then by her successor Mario Dion.

And yet Trudeau may have again wandered sufficiently so far afield of expected behaviour in the awarding of a $912-million, sole-source federal government contract to WE Charity that the prime minister, for a third time, is under an ethics violation investigation.

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READ MORE: Trudeau has ‘full confidence’ in Morneau after report claims they had policy clashes

Keeping the prime minister company in this current review is Minister of Finance Bill Morneau.

Former commissioner Mary Dawson, speaking on my program last week, speculated that Trudeau may have a blind spot where ethical behaviours are concerned.

Additionally troublesome is that while Members of Parliament have the option to have a sitting Conflict of Interest Act Commissioner examine the suitability of a proposed transaction, neither Trudeau nor Morneau sought out current commissioner Dion’s counsel on the WE Charity questions that are now swirling around their political futures.

Ethics. The most simple definition may be: “Do the right thing.”

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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