Canadians are disappointed in the ethics of their political leaders

A new survey finds that Canadians don’t have a lot of confidence in the ethical conduct of politicans

Left to right: Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper at the Maclean’s national leaders’ debate on August 6, 2015.

Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper at the Maclean’s national leaders’ debate on August 6, 2015. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Canadians are not very satisfied with the ethical behaviour of their political leaders.

That’s according to new data from a national survey* sponsored by The Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Program (of which I’m director) at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

On average, only about 1/3 of Canadians say they are “Satisfied” with the ethical behaviour of the leaders of our federal parties. Prime Minister Stephen Harper scores lowest of the federal leaders—a mere 22% of Canadians are “Satisfied” with the prime minister’s ethical behaviour (compared with 36% satisfied with Justin Trudeau and 28% satisfied with Tom Mulcair, and 27% with Elizabeth May).

Interestingly, Canadians’ dissatisfaction with Harper’s ethics has remained stable since last fall. A previous survey, conducted last November, likewise found that just over 1 in 5 Canadians were satisfied with Harper’s ethical behaviour. (See: Public Perceptions of the Ethics of Political Leadership). Interestingly, the number who “don’t know” has grown substantially, from 4% to 15%.

With an election coming up, these sorts of numbers have to matter. More than half of respondents to our survey said that if they were disappointed in a leader or party’s ethics, they would vote for another party — even if that party didn’t otherwise reflect their own values.

The business community has plenty of reason to be concerned about this. Business depends in many ways on government, and effective government action requires democratic legitimacy — requires that citizens believe in their government, and in the commitment of politicians to act with integrity.

As we head to the polls on Monday, it will be interesting to see whether disillusioned Canadians opt to stay home, or instead rush to the polls to vote in a way that reflects their ethics.

Chris MacDonald is director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Program at the Ted Rogers School of Management, and founding co-editor of the Business Ethics Journal Review.

*Methodology: A representative sample of 1,513 English-speaking adult Canadians were surveyed between September 14th and October 6, 2015. The resulting statistics have a credibility interval of 2.52 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The survey was part of a larger survey conducted as part of the The Local Parliament Project.