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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should hire a director of ethics and oversight to vet potential conflicts of interest, according to pollsters Greg Lyle and Frank Graves, who were quoted in the Hill Times .
I cannot see why not. After all, there must be a few dollars still floating around now that the Kielburger brothers will not be getting their multi-million dollar commission and all the ducats that were to be sprinkled out to eager young (paid) volunteers now float free for other purposes. There should at least be enough to supply a salary for a personalized ethics minder and the staff for what will be — if past behaviours are anything to go by — a demanding, and possibly even full time, position.
It hearkens to the story, apocryphal or not, from the ancient days of the Roman Empire, when the ruler of what was then “all the world” had even in his processions of triumph one whispering in his ear: “Remember, thou too art mortal.” (They were fond of stilted locutions in those days. As am I in these.)
Now, I do not think a Canadian prime minister needs some pinstriped spoilsport running around after him day after day whispering, “Remember, too, that thou art subject to the polls.” That would be undignified. But an occasional cautionary, “Beware the Ides of Kielburger,” wouldn’t be a complete waste of lip movement.
Yet given the prime minister’s apparently acute inability to spot them on his own behalf, perhaps a dedicated oculist to see when he’s putting his foot in it, at least when it comes to potential conflicts of interest, isn’t as fanciful an idea as many seem to believe it is.
Think of such an appointment as a kind of personalized human tripwire, a sort of ethics scout sent ahead to probe unfamiliar (or too familiar) “good cause” terrain. Someone who can give the prime minister a sense of the ruts and bumps ahead. It’s a gem of an idea.
A really on-the-ball adviser could offer him some tips of the trade, such as: steer clear of billionaires who buy their own islands; and be wary of those who run very fancy international charities and also have giant real estate holdings. This is, for the most part, beginners stuff, but our prime minister is very much an innocent in these matters.
(As a side note, could there not be a sub-director of ethics and oversight for Finance Minister Bill Morneau? I do not see a requirement for full-time employment here, as Morneau’s few lapses are less a matter of a lack of foresight, and certainly not inattention, as mere forgetfulness — a vacation bill here, a villa there. As the old Bay Street saying goes: the larger the inventory, the easier to forget a bit.)
But how, I hear you collectively mummer, would this work in real terms? Would a dedicated director of ethics and oversight have spared our prime minister the tedious embarrassments and backtracking over this dreadful WE affair?
I suggest it might. Such a director might have suggested to Trudeau, perhaps on a flight to Tofino, B.C., that rather too many of the prime minister’s actual and immediate family (mother, wife, brother — everyone except the butler and the family pet) were, in one way or the other, paid or otherwise, wound too tight with the Kielburger empire.
He could continue: “Mr. Trudeau, these are not your second cousins. Second cousins we could deal with. And on top of it all, apart from Craig and Marc Kielburger, you’re their main draw. Image-wise, we’ve got to lower the blinds on this one. Word to the wise: no sole-source grants to WE Charity, as it’ll be a downer for us Liberals.”
No more would need to have been said. A thoughtful “hmm” from a now-alerted prime minister would be the signal that the hint had been received. A further whisper into the skilled ear of his chief communications advisor and the Kielburger brothers would be relegated to a faded name on the Rolodex of “people we used to know.”
A really good director of ethics and oversight would have added, “And while you’re at it, have a chat with Morneau.” But perfection is always more a goal than a reality.
The one question is where this would leave the ethics commissioner. The answer comes down to this nearly intractable question: is it possible to have too many ethics commissioners when a Liberal government is in power?
That’s much too deep for this columnist. I think this is why we have such eminent philosophy departments in all our major universities: to wrestle with questions of such endless subtlety and depth.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020