We hear the words, “honest” and “transparent” coming constantly from the lips of our elected representatives. Almost as consistently as support for “small business” and working hard for “the middle class” as the backbone of Canadian and American society. Unfortunately, these words have lost all meaning when our politicians continually lie, spread fake news through social media abuse, and engage in illegal activities.
The other sad trend is the partisan bickering that takes place with each side throwing charges of illegal or unethical behaviour at the other. In American politics recently, one camp was accused of illegal and unethical behavior for engaging in research on the other side during the presidential primaries. It turns out that his kind of research is done by both sides and is neither unethical nor illegal.
On the other hand, when Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 with the express purpose of getting information the Russian government had supposedly acquired on candidate Hillary Clinton, that was both unethical and illegal.
This can also happen right in our own backyards. For example, if an elected member of a local government holds a public meeting and deliberately spreads misinformation that incites the rabid minority into a “burn the witch frenzy” and has them flooding social media with this same misinformation, that is unethical. If an elected representative of a local government reveals information at a public meeting that was discussed at closed in-Camera meetings, that is definitely unethical and should be illegal.
Here is how one Municipality’s Code of Conduct views the sanctity of private Closed/in -Camera discussions:
7. Use of Information and public Communications
- 7.1 In their decision making process, Members of Council or a Committee are sometimes privy to information which may be confidential or controversial such as, but not limited to, “Closed/In-Camera” meetings, and may include e-mails and correspondence from staff, Members of Council or a Committee or third parties.
- 7.2 Members of Council or a Committee have a duty to hold in strict confidence all information concerning matters dealt with at a “Closed/In-Camera” meeting or that is determined to be confidential by the Clerk/CAO or specifically declared by Council. It is expected that Members of Council or a Committee will:
- 7.3 Use confidential information appropriately so as not to benefit themselves or others or cause detriment to the Corporation, Council or themselves or others.
- 7.4 Respect the status of confidential information (ex.: personal, legal, property acquisition, labour relations) until after the matter ceases to be confidential as determined by the Clerk /CAO or Council.
If other elected members of local government are in attendance at a public meeting when such an unethical breech occurs, and say nothing to correct the misinformation or stop the disclosure of confidential information, they are equally guilty of violations of their Municipal Code of Conduct and subject to censure by their Integrity Commissioner.
If this kind of behaviour crawls out from under a rock in your Municipality or Province or Country, the only thing you can do is to make sure those local politicians never get into the win column in your next municipal, provincial or federal elections. And it’s time to send their rabid followers off on a nice long meditation retreat wearing sackcloth and ashes.
If we want good governance, we have to elect intelligent, articulate, well-informed and well-prepared candidates who can follow the rules of their Code of Conduct, be respectful of the rule of law, and grow in their positions. We don’t expect them to be perfect. We do expect them to be ethical and honest. The transparent ones we can see right through.