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Ethics the biggest problem in politics

The bad behaviour we see from Saskatchewan politicians at the legislature is obviously unacceptable.

The bad behaviour we see from Saskatchewan politicians at the legislature is obviously unacceptable.

We need to get past the notion that the shouting, name-calling and general boorish behaviour is a case of people who just happen to be passionate about their beliefs. The truth be told, the worst moments during question period seldom have anything to do with passionate political discourse on a heartfelt issue. Mostly, it's people acting like jerks because they either think that's acceptable or think they can get away with it.

Ironically, though, people getting away with they think they can get away with is also often what's behind unethical behaviour. And unethical behaviour is a far bigger turnoff to the electorate than the boorish nastiness.

So maybe now is time for our politicians to take a long, hard and all-encompassing look at their code of conduct.

The motivation for this right now is clearly Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner Ron Barclay's devastating report on former Saskatoon Northwest MLA Serge LeClerc that concluded: "Mr. LeClerc engaged in conduct that was both unethical and unlawful during the time he was an MLA."

Before we delve too deeply into LeClerc's situation, however, perhaps we need to re-examine the political atmosphere in this province that may even be contributing to this unethical behaviour.

If one accepts that politicians' boorish behaviour is, due to what they think is permissible, it's not much of a stretch to assume that unethical behaviour is also somewhat of a product of the legislature and its atmosphere. After all, if politicians can scream at each other and call each other liars in the political forum just because they can get away with it, isn't it just as possible that they also think lying is permissible?

That said, let's acknowledge that the more boorish behaviour we've see from some (let's stress some and not all) politicians has a lot to do with a need to be noticed. This was clearly a big element in the short-lived political career of Serge LeClerc who revelled in attention, regardless of whether it was positive or negative.

He retold with great glee his shady past as a drug-pusher who turned his life around as a Christian addictions councillor. It was this story of redemption that made him at one point a favoured character in Premier Brad Wall's government. And it was also this story that made LeClerc the darling of private talk radio hosts who lauded him with praise and the Christian lecture circuit.

But it also might have contributed to LeClerc engaging in some of the worst behaviour we've seen at the legislature in recent memory, including physically threatening NDP members during committee meetings and in the rotunda.

Of course, it would be unfair to then suggest that it was any willingness by Wall and other Sask. Party colleagues to overlook LeClerc's indiscretions led to Barclay's conclusion.

LeClerc, who is said to be battling a serious bout of cancer in an Ontario hospital right now, made choices that were clearly his own. There is reason to believe that no in the Sask. Party was even aware of his lifestyle which, according to Barclay's report, included smoking "marijuana during the time period that he was and MLA" and having "an unidentified person bring cocaine to his residence during the period that he was MLA.'

But at the very least, LeClerc's unfortunate political demise should remind all politicians that how you carry yourself is important.

In that vein, it should even suggest to them that we need updated, clearer, less ambiguous ethical guidelines that might help discourage politician from engaging in unethical behaviour because they think they can get away with it. And while they're at it, maybe our politicians might want to look at how bad and ethical behaviour sometimes go hand in hand.