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The Banana Republic of Ontario: In Search of Moral Leadership

April 10, 2016


In my recent post Should Leaders Ever be Morally Flexible? I talked about whether it’s ever right to adjust one’s morals to suit a situation. We’ve become so numb to our elected “leaders,” whether at the municipal, state-provincial or national levels, acting without integrity that it’s now ingrained in the public’s consciousness that this is how government works on behalf of its citizens. The problem deepens when senior public servants engage in moral flexibility, such as when they play around with their expense accounts, hire family members or accept bribes from business people seeking contracts.

Recently, in my home province of Ontario (Canada’s largest with a population of 13.5 million) the premier has been practicing moral flexibility. Kathleen Wynne was exposed by the media in April for effectively selling access to her cabinet’s members and to herself.

As if it wasn’t distasteful enough that special access was given to those who coughed up the money, Wynne had placed quotas on her ministers for raising funds for the Ontario Liberal Party. For example, it meant that the finance minister had to hit up Bay Street, Canada’s equivalent to Wall Street. Shaking down businesspeople for the privilege of having a face-to-face with a cabinet minister or the premier, for the bargain price of a mere $6,000, has left a bad taste in the mouth of the province’s electorate.

Realizing that she’d been caught in a public relations disaster, Wynne went into full damage control, publicly stating that the practice was to stop immediately. Of particular arrogance was when she followed this announcement with the challenge to the leader of the Conservative Party to also stop fund raising from business. What Premier Wynne apparently doesn’t understand is that SHE has the power and the ability to dispense taxpayers’ monies to favored business people who have made political contributions. Patrick Brown, as leader of the Conservatives, has no such power.

Trudeau Wynne

Poor judgement when it comes to ethical leadership is not just the domain of Ontario’s premier. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently exhibited a lapse in judgement when he allowed his justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to be the guest of honor at a $500 per person reception in the offices of a major Toronto law firm. Trudeau tried wiggling out of the controversy by stating that the Liberal Party has strict rules concerning fundraising. However, his plea for understanding fell on deaf ears as criticism mounted, including from a former Liberal cabinet minister. (Photo: Wynne and Trudeau.)

Trudeau, as one political commentator has noted, has lashed himself to the mast of transparency. Yet the novice prime minister is raising questions on his moral flexibility. Another instance of this is his government’s refusal to allow the Parliamentary Budget Office (a toothless oversight body) to share budget 2016 background data with the public. The irony behind this was the PBO’s ongoing fight with the former secretive Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

However, Trudeau has inexplicably ramped up the secrecy of budget information, all in the name of his perception of “transparency.” At the time of posting this piece, Trudeau finally relented by allowing the Finance Department to release the budget information. The surprise with the data are questions over the future of such programs as the Child Benefit, given the absence of their costing in 2020.

Trudeau: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?


Back to Ontario. Citizens are once again witnessing the fast and loose actions of a premier. Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, served three terms over a decade. His government fell into disrepute with Ontarians near the end of his tenure. McGuinty exited before completing his third term, leaving a successor to clean up the mess. (He now teaches at Harvard.) However, an Ontario Provincial Police investigation into what became known as the Gas Plant Scandal in the Toronto area saw his former chief of staff and deputy chief of staff charged with destroying thousands of emails, considered to be evidence.

And then there’s shameful treatment of rural Ontarians and the wasteful spending of billions of taxpayer dollars on wind power. Dalton McGuinty naively barged ahead with the installation of wind turbines around the province, creating huge problems for rural residents who suddenly saw their homes and/or farms tumble in value. Most perniciously has been the negative health effects on many people who’ve been placed in untenable positions with wind turbines adjacent to their homes. Upon assuming the position of premier, Kathleen Wynne has continued with the government’s push for green energy via wind turbines. Take a moment to watch this fascinating documentary Big Wind.

An earlier auditor general report found that the wind turbine initiative and the gas plant scandal would cost Ontarians well over $1 billion. As a consequence, Ontario taxpayers are locked into a 20 year contract of inflated prices for an energy source that needs to be supported by fossil fuels, namely natural gas.


There’s something insidious about the nature of politicians. Just when it seems that a good, honest, competent person has been elected to office, a dark cloud appears bringing all what is wrong with political leadership. Every politician states that they will introduce ethical, moral and responsible government. They claim to represent change for the better for constituents. And then what occurs is the same template of graft, favoritism and fiscal irresponsibility. As bimbo politician Sarah Palin said during President Obama’s second run for office: “How’s that change thingy going for ya?”

Well, in Ontario the “change thingy” isn’t going terribly well–indeed, it’s nothing short of a disaster for the country’s largest province. Unfortunately for Ontarians, we have a few years left before the next election is held. And that will, in all likelihood, produce another leader of another political party who will practice his or her version of moral flexibility. Jimmy McGill would be impressed (photo).

Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.
– Mahatma Gandhi

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2016 12:35 pm

    This is such an important question. What I have discovered in life is that whenever we are flexible with OURSELVES regarding our own moral position, meaning if we make a compromise in our own integrity, those small compromises can disturb us for years.

    While it is never a good thing to tolerate corruption in public officials, I think we all need to practice being less judgmental of others, particularly in their private lives. It is so EASY to judge others, yet most honest people struggle daily with maintaining their integrity in small daily issues. An example of this might be Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. While no one respects what happened there, I have no doubt that Bill could not have been in a happy time in his life or marriage to even be susceptible to making such decisions. Instead of concentrating on other people’s private failures, we need to concentrate on our own integrity.

    When public officials cross the line of course they need to be removed from office. When white collar corporate criminals cross the line, they need to go to jail.

    However, I have come to the conclusion that problems of morals in business are never going to be solved by ethics classes. The problem runs much deeper. The problem is that these people have not developed a conscience in childhood and may, in fact, have a mild or severe personality disorder. These people are actually PREDATORS;

    So the solution is two-fold; we must concentrate on our own personal integrity, and be ever-vigilant for personality-disordered predators in our midst (of which there seem to be quite a few).

    • April 15, 2016 4:18 pm

      Very good observations, Lynne. I especially like your concluding statement. And indeed, “teaching” ethics, whether in university or in the workplace, is a bit illogical when considering the importance of one’s upbringing. I recall being involved in an ethics initiative in the Government of Canada several years before I retired. Nothing has changed of course in government.

  2. AkaMotr permalink
    April 13, 2016 1:02 am

    “In search of moral…?” “The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”

    • April 13, 2016 1:24 am

      It’s probably easier to find that cat, given the circumstances, in contrast to attempting to successfully locate any substantive sense of ethics and moral behavior among our illustrious politicians.

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