Public Trust, Power and Corruption
A fundamental theme of democracy is the concept of the public trust which asserts that within the public there lies the true power and future of a society and therefore the trust that the public invests in its officials must be respected.
A young person was speaking with me about the seeds of cynicism that have germinated and developed into full grown pessimism. At first one surmises this is cynicism about government but closer inspection reveals it is cynicism about persons, people, humanity. So few people come to power without becoming tainted or even derailed. The reality was captured in a phrase. “Power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
There is more to this adage which derives from a quotation by Lord Acton, who was actually John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, in fact Baron Acton (1834–1902). As an historian and moralist he summed his thought in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 with these words: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." What chance had public trust if that revelation becomes our starting point? Another ancient, William Pitt, the Elder, The Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778 is recorded as having made an equally profound and disturbing statement in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770. "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."
If the Liberal caucus is comprised of many who have already compromised their respect and the opposition NDP has nothing better to show, where are we to look for leadership and guileless aid when we want something as simple as mercy or compassion?
Employees within the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development are not elected officers yet to them has been invested a responsibility that in some circumstances has not unlimited power but immense power which when employed can shroud its actions under a legislatively sewn cover of confidentiality and privacy. That without question has generated a pattern of conduct and job performance that has not been in the best interests of children and families for countless thousands of British Columbians. Public trust has been lost for all of these in their elected officials and others employed within governmental ministries. I mentioned to that young person with whom I spoke that he had articulated his eroded trust issues much sooner than I have. I have waited until my senior years to realize how awful things are. Now, I am almost overcome by the avalanche of disappointments. The few untainted MCFD employees whom I earlier mentioned must be as much or more discomfited by what they see around them each day.
Will the true champions please stand up? Will the honourable call for accountability? Will the untarnished stand out as attractive leaders?