“A university is a microcosm of the country,” writes academic Daniele Struppa. As someone who spent most of her life at universities, I have always felt that they reflect the very best of society’s aspirations. I was fortunate to hold the role of professor, program director and dean over the course of more than 30 years in academia. It was always assumed that I would perform in an ethical manner, as would my colleagues.

If the university is such a microcosm of society, how do we explain our willingness to support leaders outside of universities who appear not to be driven by the same ideals?

For the first time in history, a former American president and today’s most powerful candidate in the Republican Party faces 91 felony charges across criminal indictments. Less dramatically, though not insignificantly, a Canadian prime minister is formally found to have broken ethics rules with nothing more than a bit of public embarrassment — also a historical first. An Ontario premier is forced to apologize and backpedal in releasing Greenbelt lands to developers, prompting the RCMP to investigate allegations of corruption and breach of trust.

Elsewhere, Brazil’s Senate accuses former president Jair Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity for his handling of the pandemic. Instead of leading the way to a more sustainable world, former Australian PM Tony Abbott — a non-scientist— challenges the findings of 97 per cent of climate scientists worldwide to arrogantly declare that anthropogenically caused climate change is “implausible.” In the worst wars of recent times, leaders seem to need persistent reminders that innocent civilians on all sides are being affected by military acts of vengeance.

Pick up any newspaper today and it is clear how internationally, the list of unethical and potentially illegal behaviour among our leaders goes on and on.

In a different era, Dwight D. Eisenhower suggested: “The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” Winston Churchill argued, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” I am quite certain that had I faced criminal indictments as a former program director or university dean, even my tenure would not have protected me from relinquishing my leadership position. What makes our political leaders entitled to a different outcome?

It may be a matter of despondency. It is no secret that in an age of social media, voters are increasingly losing faith in their governments. Consider how in 1958, fully 73 per cent of American voters said they had trust in the federal government. By 2021, it shrank to 24 per cent. More and more people are dissatisfied with democracy, concluding that our leaders are simply out of touch with our basic needs and values.

Perhaps it is time to rethink how we engage in public dialogue. Rather than resorting to extremist positions and attacking those with whom we disagree, maybe we should stop and re-evaluate leadership ideals. Could it be that the biggest problems these days are the huge rift and growing distrust and intolerance that is developing between countries, political parties and competing value systems?

Canadians may not have spent enough time focusing on a historic moment that occurred recently in the House of Commons. The new Speaker took an initiative that squarely addressed the question of leadership ideals. “As a keen follower of parliamentary proceedings,” said Greg Fergus, “I have noticed a deterioration in the collective decorum in this place.” And, he added, “it is important to note that this deterioration was not inevitable. It is not a natural outgrowth of the advent of social media. We can choose to conduct ourselves differently.”

Now more than ever, our leaders need to stop bipartisan posturing and privilege collaborative, morally sound discourse, writes Ingrid Leman Stefanovic. #cdnpoli

It was no small irony that he was persistently, aggressively interrupted in his opening statement.

But still — good for him! Those who have ever witnessed the raucous, abusive brawls that regularly grace the House of Commons will not need much convincing that our leaders are neglecting to set a fine example of respectful debate or meaningful dialogue. It is no wonder that a recent Angus Reid Institute poll finds that Canadians describe House of Commons debates as simply “posturing” (54.6 per cent), “useless” (46 per cent), and “dishonest” (38 per cent).

So, in this climate, I find that the Speaker’s statement was a hugely significant one and it deserves to be highlighted here and elsewhere for its courage and insight.

My father used to say that we could disagree without being disrespectful. In fact, the best arguments were those that were well-reasoned rather than emotionally charged and abusive.

In that spirit, I suggest it is about time for a different style of leadership — one that is driven by reason and evidence, not shock and entertainment; by genuine dialogue, not obstinate shouting matches; by decency, not personal attacks and simplistic ad hominem fallacies.

And if law enforcement is coming after our leaders, perhaps, as voters, we might want to rethink our priorities at the ballot box.

I am reminded of the great humanitarian Jane Goodall, who recently mused: “I’m curious as to why we still go to war. We’re the most intellectual creatures to ever walk the planet, and yet we’re destroying our only home. We’re killing each other. We can’t co-operate.”

Now more than ever, our leaders need to stop bipartisan posturing and privilege collaborative, morally sound discourse. I am not alone in suggesting this course of action: 13 American presidential centres have called for civility and respect in political discourse as polarization surges across the nation.

A recent study reminds us that “being a moral person, an ethical political leader, sets good examples of behaviour, sets the tone at the top and challenges those who do not behave ethically, as well as encourages, supports and rewards those who perform and conduct themselves well.” When did our leaders forget such a basic principle, and why should we continue to support them? If I expect moral behaviour at work, I should expect it in the political arena. It’s time for us to realign our priorities and seek ethical leadership at all levels of government. For me, the alternative is too frightening to contemplate.

Ingrid Leman Stefanovic is professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University. She is editor of Conversations on Ethical Leadership: Lessons Learned from University Governance, published in 2023 by the University of Toronto Press.

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Here's looking at you Mr. Poilievre and your ever unruly, rude CPC party (talking over Liberal (especially J.T.'s) responses to your "gotcha" comments, since Ingrid Stefanovic tip-toed around mentioning your name, when addressing Parliament's "...deterioration in the collective decorum in this place.”

Dwight D Eisenhower also said
"Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

Then Ronald Reagan came along and with Milton Friedman and James Buchanan changed our whole economic and social systems to neoliberalism in which Eisenhower's quote has now been implemented. Reagan's partial quote! “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Now there's a quote to restore faith in our institutions. And what has happened? Deterioration of ethics, reason, of discussing , of respect and especially of compromise. You can't have a functioning society without compromise. And I see and hear little of that in 2023.

Lobbyists and Big Business control our politicians! Money and donations. And most Big Business do not have ethics, their objective is profits. Look at the Doug Ford fiasco. Look at the polls about dissatisfaction and rising inequality. The middle class is collapsing in Canada as the political elite continues to create a have and have not society. Our think tanks, mostly right leaning still promote lower taxes for business, less regulation and lower costs for businesses. 40 years years of free market capitalism is what has created Canada’s problems which are worldwide as well. An increasing amount of wealth created goes to the top 10% and the top 1%. Like 90%. So you and I are left with 90% of our population trying to keep up with only 10% of the productivity increases. Doesn’t work, does it?
Look at the energy transition in Uruguay where they have a burgeoning middle class created by a transition to clean energy 98% over a decade and with 50,000 new jobs. Everyone seems to have benefitted and the extreme poor have all but disappeared.
Compromise, strong working together leadership and less dependence of fossil fuels for our increasing energy consumption which is a main driver of reducing poverty.
We don't see that any longer in Canada. If their isn't conflict certain Premiers try to create it. Us vs them. Doesn’t work.

No it doesn't work as we can all see, but eschewing that distasteful reality certainly does nothing to address it either.
The "bad boys" have taken over and need to be "schooled."
And it turns out nearly half of us are unthinking and wholly malleable and totally content to remain so.
So we "thinkers" have to storm THEIR gates now by joining forces on the left because we're officially in a cultural war to end all cultural wars.

Agreed, but I am doubtful that university administrators are generally more ethical than other people. I know of three Presidents of B.C. universities who have had to resign for their ethical lapses.

There is a wonderful video of Christy Clark, while B.C. Premier, being questioned by NDP MLA David Eby; she started off all smiles, so grateful for the question, yet never answered it despite being questioned repeatedly. There is another video of Bill Morneau, while federal Minister of Finance, being repeatedly questioned by Pierre Poilievre, but never answering the question. We need to reward such behaviour with banishment from politics.

Wars should also be banished. As a start, the leaders of both Israel and Hamas should be charged for their crimes in the International Criminal Court; it will take people with guts to lay the charges; getting these criminals to the court may take years, but as we have already seen it can be done, and meanwhile the criminals will be severely restricted in their movements and may find they have to go into hiding.

Professor Emeritus,
Physics, SFU.

When the "questions" no longer qualify as bona fide though you can't expect the "answers" to be either. Posturing will remain the norm as long as cameras remain in the House of Commons.
But it's like severely limiting social media or removing kids' phones from classrooms during class, or even from the kids themselves. Because we all continue to labour under the illusion that blanket openness and accountability are as essential or achieveable as "freedumb" itself, particularly freedom of speech.
What's happening now is proof positive that people simply are not meant to have this much to DO with each other; critical thinking isn't that common and the dream of a "world-wide-web" will always remain in that realm.

Laudable sentiment, but I might have expected more than sentiment from an academic. This fails to rise above "Things were better in my day!" nostalgia. Where is the analysis?

Nowhere in the article does professor Stefanovic so much as ask the question of why behaviour has changed, much less suggest any reasons or mechanisms. I think there is little chance of improving the situation if you have no idea why or how it is happening. Pious platitudes about people choosing to do better certainly aren't going to make a difference.

I would suggest that all this traces ultimately to the collective decision by the wealthiest in around the beginning of the 70s, exemplified in the Powell memo of 1971 (infamous in some circles) advocating a muscular and well financed effort to influence society in a more right wing direction. The growth of ideological "think tanks" and various other political PR machinery dates from this time. This in time resulted in the election of right wing leaders in the 80s, who in turn pulled the teeth from antitrust powers and "deregulated" various industries, notably the media. In turn, this enabled very deliberate efforts to build media empires with strong ideological slants--for instance, it was in the wake of Reagan's "reforms" that radio was able to conglomerate into just a few huge radio stations, allowing the rise of hard right wing "talk radio" figures such as Rush Limbaugh. Newspapers and other media also became far more concentrated, seeing the rise of figures like Rupert Murdoch. Modern right wing social media echo chambers are really just continuations of these well financed PR operations, with a right wing ideologue's takeover of Twitter similar to the rise of Clear Channel in radio (now called iHeartMedia, ugh). From the beginning, this right wing propaganda tended to skew towards anger and simplistic ideas.

The neoliberal political/economic model that these right wingers pushed was described as involving growth that would ultimately be for all, a "rising tide lifting all boats". But it was always more of a zero sum game, with more for the wealthy and less for everybody else. As the rise of inequality inevitably created more tensions and anger, the mass right wing propaganda system shifted to channel this anger and even arouse more of it, to be pointed at enemies of the propagandists. And it rewarded politicians who followed the right wing PR playbook, encouraging demagoguery and discouraging civility . . . although only on the right.

Given this analysis, it is clear that calling for civility is worthless. The only way civility can be increased is by breaking up media oligopolies, reining in right wing propaganda efforts, and decreasing inequality.

"Comes the revolution, brother ..."
And it will take a revolution for the 90% to take back the wealth from the 10%. Last two times around it took a world war to generate the public support needed to significantly shift the balance (1917, 1947).
Let's hope we can do it before climate change disasters provide the needed impetus third time time around.
If you want something concrete to do, send money to the NDP. And then vote.

Yeah, except don't bother sending money, at least not to the federal NDP.
We haven't got any more time for pipe dreams. Their current agreement with the Liberals (which please recall has also been signed by THEM, and was probably THEIR idea) is the best possible thing they can do, and demonstrably the most effective for their declared aims of helping people first and foremost. Right? Or is it actually mainly wanting to WIN?
So if you want to do something, support that coalition continuing, and better yet, push for formalizing it by uniting the left.
It's math, and the only surefire way to keep political power AWAY from our common nemesis.

My sentiments exactly Rufus. "Pious platitudes" for sure; a priest comes to mind here, preaching "morality" while the blatant "bothsidesism" totally reflects the "ivory tower" of academia.
It's also a reminder of how universities best exemplify the "silos" we now talk about. Maybe if this was a political science prof there would be more awareness? Not even sure of that though because I follow two such people from two universities here and both tiptoe around the stark political reality that now exists. Smith's sheer outrageousness has loosened one's tongue enough to use some humour but she still leads with the classic academic style of objective analysis.
As I keep saying, clearly no one knows what to do with the unprecedented, including when that thin veil of our common civility is breached, based as it is on at least showing nominal respect for each other and our institutions. The universities have held out though with their "academic integrity" largely intact, maybe because a central premise comes from an intellectual taboo against "ad hominem attacks" above all else. But their gates are being stormed now too in the right wing charge for "free speech."
The bottom line is that we all know what ALL the so-called "ideas" on the right are now, enough to know that NOT ONE is worthy of even a minute of further "discussion."

There really is a problem in western society when a blatantly corrupt politician like Trump still attracts enough supporters to possibly win the presidency. It's a race against time and it remains to be seen if he will face his many charges, and the evidence presented, before trump isngiven the chance to end democracy in his country. It's obvious that some people are incapable of sensing reality when trump's increasingly pointless and deranged rants aren't turning people away. Any politician so possessed by hatred and anger that he ends his Christmas message with, "I hope they all burn in hell," isn't capable of respecting or listening to anyone who disagrees with his perverted worldview. We are in dangerous times and history has shown us that we never truly address a problem until disaster has struck. There will come a day when billionaire owned media organizations once again reflect a real diversity of opinion and return to a focus on investigative journalism and reporting the news. The era of the media baron will end. The demise of the post-truth era is inevitable because lies can't change physics and biology. Lies will result in a climate that the average person can't survive, totalitarianism that takes away the freedoms that the populists are so afraid of losing, and war that murders the children who we need to rebuild our society. Sorry, that got a bit dark, but if you look around... those seeds are already sprouting. We have to act before the worst happens and if we do I think that will be a first.