Coursework: corruption, scandal and political ethics

Political scandals have been around for as long as politics have been around. That might explain the popularity of “Corruption, Scandal and Political Ethics,” a distance education course for credit towards certificates in leadership and in public policy and administration. It’s the second most popular online course offered at U of G. So, what’s the first? A course on serial murders.

“How can I possibly top serial murders?” asks Prof. Geoff Stevens, who has taught “Corruption, Scandal and Political Ethics” for the past 10 years. The course draws about 200 students per term.

Topics include sex scandals and political privacy, the politics of lying, and patronage and conflict of interest, among others.

Stevens says the course looks at “the dark side of politics” but it also sheds light on how governments deal with scandals. “There’s lots of lessons to learn about ethical standards and the way governments try to keep politics and politicians honest, and the extent to which they succeed or fail,” he says.

He says the vast majority of politicians follow the rules, but scandals tend to arise when “there’s too much money floating around and too little control over it.”

Canadian examples he covers in the course include the Pacific Scandal scandal under John A. Macdonald and the sponsorship scandal under Jean Chrétien, both of which brought down their respective governments. Despite these and other examples, Canada ranks among the top 12 countries in the world for political honesty, he adds.

Politicians who behave badly lose the public’s trust, but Stevens wants students to remember that not all of them are corrupt. “Most people are very well-intentioned and do their jobs honourably and honestly and are good stewards of the public trust and public tax funds,” he says. “There are always exceptions to this, and the exceptions are quite often instructive.” – SUSAN BUBAK