Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Code of Conduct

A while ago, I wrote about the idea of implementing a code of conduct for the Liberal party, in much the same way that companies have been implementing them in the last few years to demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens, and will not tolerate any improper conduct.

The more I think about it, the more I think it's a good idea for the party, and worth taking a closer look at. Politicians as a rule tend not to rate to highly in the publics estimation, and that perception is probably not going to be altered for the better anytime soon; however, the Liberal party has an opportunity to take a step, a "confidence building measure" if you will.

Is this really necessary? Well, yes and no.... Most corporations that have moved to implement such codes weren't experiencing anywhere near the kind of corruption that brought down Enron; however, when they looked closely at some of the practices that were commonly accepted as being part of doing business, they found 'grey areas' that were not covered by law or even internal policy, and realized that things had to change, even if just to be safe.

For example, one 'grey area' that has changed in many companies has to do with people in charge of purchasing decisions that no longer receive the kind of perks they once may have, like free samples/products for their personal use, or tickets to sporting events; or, if these kinds of incentives are still being shared, then they are being distributed within the corporations in a more open and fair process. The point is that people in those positions that used to benefit from them weren't necessarily doing anything wrong, because that's how things used to operate.

The corporate world have since realized though that by not having a policy in place to prevent abuse, then such 'grey areas' could lead to claims of impropriety, if not outright abuse of position. To add insult to injury, when abuses would occur, were caught, and then brought to light, they do extra damage to the image and morale of the organization. An insidious corollary, a code of secrecy could appear as the safer way to deal with misdeeds that are caught, if only to protect the group, but this magnifies the scope of the crime to include the larger organization; by trying to protect the organization, they are made complicit.

Obviously,the policy can't necessarily prevent any wrongdoing, but what it does do is protect the organization and the other innocent members from being associated in a negative manner.

The code of conduct would provide a clear and explicit penalty and process for handling any such activity that is caught. No allegations or cover-up, or protecting the guilty (or if there is an attempt at cover-up, it becomes a punishable offence as well).

Yes, it may sound harsh, or be perceived as a bit of a 'hair-shirting' exercise, but it isn't. The key is that all members of the organization have the responsibility to read, understand and accept the code; after that point, there is no excuse and there is no doubt as to what is expected, allowed or tolerated, period.

In the last couple years, the other parties have had gleefully tarred the Liberal party as "corrupt," and it's a refrain that the Conservatives won't let go of anytime soon because it works for them. The Liberal party has to start framing the publics perception of the party in positive terms again, and that means actively and concretely dispelling any notions that there is any level of impropriety in the party.

It hasn't helped that certain phrases and miscues have slipped out and become entrenched in the public consciousness; "entitled to my entitlements" and "beer and popcorn" are the two that stand out the most. Along with the Sponsorship scandal, they have become nationally known negative terms that are associated with the party.

Putting in place a code of conduct in order to build a "Culture of Integrity" would be a good start to reversing that trend.

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