All of us have confronted the question “Does the end justify the means?”
As an eight-year-old, that might include relieving a colleague who is smaller than you from their lunch if you are feeling a little peckish. How “The Donald” does his business.
At 15, it might be a matter of confiscating a denim jacket you have coveted from a major department store without benefit of a commercial transaction. Not unlike how Chinese President Xi Jinping feels about intellectual property.
At 20, as happened with Edward Kennedy, it might mean cheating on your Harvard written exams to more efficiently get on with the family business of politics.
Now, let's quickly distinguish between being unwise (say, texting pictures of your penis to someone you don't know while serving on the top secret Canadian National Security and Intelligence Committee) and being dishonest. Yes, true. A former Tory cabinet minister not far from here.
Some people are immoral and do bad things. They care only about ends. Their ends. Others want to be moral but have trouble living up to their values. We all know people who, no matter what the circumstances, seem to do the right thing. This means they recycle their garbage even when they are in a hurry and no one is watching. They are impossible, but inspirational. Finally, and this is a growing category, there are those who don't even know what we are talking about (say, Doug Ford trying to hire his buddy to be commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police).
For more in-depth analysis of these weighty matters, I recommend the TV show “The Good Place,” available on Netflix. There you will find our spiritual leader, Eleanor Shellstrop.
Canada aspires to be “The Good Place.” Often we are not.
Justin Trudeau wants to be in “The Good Place,” but it is hard for him. As I write, he is on the ropes again. This time about pressuring or not pressuring the justice minister to give a massive Québec company (SNC-Lavalin) a break by not charging the company criminally for various acts of deceit (bribery) in Canada and around the world.
It's complicated. Fun facts.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of Canada is charged with deciding how this company should be treated. So far, it is proceeding with criminal charges. If successfully prosecuted, it may destroy the company, or more likely have it sold off cheaply to an international company losing those high-paying jobs associated with the head office in Montréal. The Québec premier is catatonic about such an eventuality.
The justice minister can overrule the PPS if she does so publicly and in writing.
The prime minister cannot pressure the justice minister to make such a decision or it endangers the pre-eminence of the rule of law (as opposed to the rule of politics).
On the other hand, nothing stops the cabinet from discussing the pros and cons of this decision with the justice minister.
The justice minister decided to let the criminal charges stand. Not long after, she found herself the minister of veterans affairs. She wrote a cautionary letter on her departure about the importance of speaking truth to power, which is odd given she was the justice minister. She seems to be one of those impossibly ethical people we all want to emulate, or sometimes strangle.
The UK and the United States do not generally charge their corporations criminally. Companies don't go to jail. They make them pay gobs of money for their misdemeanors and admit guilt. This allows those jurisdictions to go after companies administratively without the complexity of a criminal action. As a result, they actually have some wins. Arguably more effective oversight.
Canadians prefer to hear no evil and see no evil. We talk a good game but we are one of the top money-laundering jurisdictions in the world. You can own a private company in this country and not be identified. Many of the high-end houses in West Vancouver are owned by private companies and no one knows who owns them or where the money came from.
Canadians are suffering from cognitive dissonance. So is our prime minister.
Michael Atkins is the president and owner of the Laurentian Media Group, a diversified media company, which includes Northern Life, Sudbury.com, Sudbury Living Magazine and Northern Ontario Business.