A long time ago, leaders had what we call "skin in the game." They would feel the consequences of their own decisions.
For example, leaders often led their armies into battle, meaning that a leader risked losing their life if they declared a war. That kind of skin in the game created a level of credibility for leaders that far surpasses what we see today.
After all, how could you be mad at a leader who paid the personal price for their decisions?
And leaders knew this, they knew they would face the same reality as those they led.
Now of course, things are far different.
It’s no coincidence that the continued change in warfare—which brought the frontline farther and farther away from the leader, meaning the leader was insulated from the brutal suffering of those who actually fought—coincided with the most brutal wars history has ever seen.
And it’s also no coincidence that we see politicians who feel they can act with total impunity. Just consider what we have watched in Canada in the past few days.
First, we learned that legally-ordered documents surrounding speaking fees for Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau—related to the WE Scandal—had been destroyed, rather than provided.
Then, it turns out that Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi had been violating the rules, and hired her own sister—with public funds—while having her sister go under a fake name to try and hide it.
And that’s on top of the many ethics scandals we have already seen under this government.
So, what is the underlying thread here? Lack of punishment.
The fines doled out by the Ethics Commissioner are laughable, with people being "punished" with just $500 fines for violating ethics laws.
For Ratansi, there is now an ongoing debate over whether she should pay back the money, when her paying it back and rising should have been the baseline scenario.
It’s a simple risk/reward equation.
For many politicians, the reward of violating ethics guidelines are large, while the punishments are small. They have no skin in the game, and they feel they can get away with almost anything.
Therefore, the solution is quite simple: Far stronger punishments for ethics violations. Even aside from the question of criminal penalties, the punishment for ethics violations should be much higher.
The decision of whether someone gets re-elected is up to the people, but on the money side of things, why don’t we take 25% or 50% of a politician’s yearly salary away when they’re caught violating ethics laws?
Why not put that money into a fund to help Canadians in need, like Veterans, ensuring that politicians who violate the rules at least do some good – inadvertently – by contributing to Canadians who need help?
Politicians would surely think twice if they risked losing tens of thousands of dollars, rather than the laughably weak finds that are applied today.
In short, until politicians feel they have real skin in the game, the corruption will continue.