Comparative Politics

B18 - Ethics,Trust and Political Leadership

Date: Jun 14 | Time: 12:00pm to 01:30pm | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Alex Marland (Acadia University)

Co-Chair/Président/Présidente : Neil Thomlinson (Toronto Metropolitan University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Valere Gaspard (University of Ottawa)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Kenny Ie (University of British Columbia)

Modern democracies are imbued with many formal and informal conceptualizations about the ethical rules and norms that govern individual leaders and groups of leaders. Ethical leadership is thought to be important for fostering public trust. Trust is a foundational element of modern governance. However, ethical norms are often violated in practice or conflict with other “rules” of governance. Securing public trust, in practice, is quite elusive and in Canada (as in many places) key indicators suggest trust is on the decline. Scholars disagree as to how and why public trust may be solidified or eroded, and also debate the causative role of leadership in creating such trust. Some key questions include: What are the necessary and essential ethical parameters that ought to inform how democratic leadership is exercised? Does populism enhance or erode ethics and public trust in democracies? Does a leader’s rhetoric about ethical government help to increase trust in a democratic government? How is democratization informed by the practice of ethical leadership? Governments often pursue trust-building policies without much reassurance or firm empirical evidence these efforts will succeed. For example, the Open Government initiative, which spans OECD countries, aims to increase governmental transparency for the benefit of citizens. Yet, open government has the potential to both increase and decrease public trust in a democracy. In short, there is much need for deeper research from both the empirical and theoretical perspectives into the connections between and among the interplay of ethics, trust and political leadership. This panel brings together four authors who are undertaking new research for a special peer reviewed journal issue devoted to "Ethics, Trust and Leadership," which will be published in 2025. This panel's purpose is to allow the authors the chance to present an early draft of their work, and for other authors and interested colleagues and students to offer feedback and suggestions. The panel's content contains comparative, theoretical and empirical analyses. Three of the four authors are holders of new, endowed Jarislowsky Chairs in Trust and Leadership while the fourth is a senior federal government policy analyst. The panel ought to benefit academic specialists, graduate students working on related topics, and government partners who are currently engaged in studying the state of trust in Canada and elsewhere.

Populism, Leader Character and Trust: Cristine de Clercy (Trent University)
Abstract: The unique context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath provided an unusual opportunity to explore the relationships among character, identification-based trust, and perceptions of leadership effectiveness alongside a rise in populism. As in many other states, levels of trust seem to be in decline in Canada while distrust is on the rise. How does the valuation of leader character influence public trust in leaders, and is populism a salient context? Focusing on the leadership of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and using custom cross-national survey data collected in 2020, 2021 and 2022 I first explore whether citizens believe character is important during efforts to exercise political leadership. Then, I examine voter perceptions of the importance of the leader character using dimensions identified by Crossan et al. (2017) and to what extent Trudeau was perceived to demonstrate behaviors associated with these dimensions across the pandemic. Third, using time series data for the Canadian case as well as several other developed countries, I investigate whether populist citizens are less likely to be concerned about the importance of character in their political leaders when compared to non-populist voters. Finally, because the extent literature largely ignores the role of gender (Mudde, 2021), I investigate the effect of gender on populist attitudes toward leader character and public trust. This work build on findings reported in some earlier co-authored studies (Seijts, de Clercy and Miller 2022, Seijts and de Clercy, 2020) and it concludes that while most citizens value character in the exercise of leadership during the pandemic and its aftermath, populist voters hold markedly different attitudes than non-populists, valuing character much less and holding much less trust for political institutions. Moreover, gender is an important factor when considering the effects of populism on support for positive leader character: respondents who identified as women were much less oriented toward positive leader character than their male populist counterparts. This is a surprising finding that merits more study of the gendered aspects of populist support towards understanding the deep effects of populism on leadership, trust and democracy during times of crisis.

Open Government, Strategies and Public Trust: Peter Ferguson (Government of Canada)
Abstract: This paper examines efforts by governments to increase public trust through an examination of open government initiatives. The public service in Canada and throughout the OECD has become increasingly focused on finding means to increase public trust and bolster democratic institutions. The evidence indicates these concerns are well-founded. According to the OECD Trust Survey, only 40% of those surveyed in OECD countries have high or moderate trust in their national governments. This was the case despite the fact that more than 60% indicated satisfaction with service delivery. And levels of trust are even lower among disadvantaged groups and young people. There is broad agreement across OECD countries that declining public trust must be addressed in order to bolster vulnerable democratic institutions. For example, the 2022 Global Forum and Ministerial on Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy resulted in the launch of the OECD’s Reinforcing Democracy Initiative. Two of the five action pillars underlie the Initiative’s effort to improve trust in public institutions (combating mis-and dis-information, and strengthening representation, participation and openness in public life) directly involve open government. Open government is a broad umbrella of actions are aimed at increasing transparency, accountability and public participation. Data indicates OECD countries have been making strides toward increasing government transparency and accountability over the last decade, the same does not appear to be the case when it comes to public participation. The OECD Trust Survey points to widespread feelings, felt uniformly across country contexts, that there are few opportunities for the public to participate in policy making, and that even when such opportunities exist, governments are unresponsive to public feedback. Recent efforts to mature open government within OECD (and non-OECD) countries have focused on advancing whole-of-government, open government strategies. For example, the OECD’s Open Government Scan of Canada: Designing and Implementing an Open Government Strategy calls on Canada to undertake a concerted effort to bolster public participation as a means of maturing open government in order to increase public trust and bolster democratic institutions. This paper explores examines recent open government strategies to determine how they purport to increase public participation and whether such efforts can be expected to increase trust. Cases include Canada, Finland, and Italy. In addition, Brazil will be examined as a non-member with which the OECD has a working relationship, specifically as it pertains to their open government activities.

Democratic Leadership Revisited: Michael MacKenzie (Vancouver Island University)
Abstract: Abstract: Democratic theorists often assume that democracy and leadership do not mix. Democracies are supposed to be egalitarian, collective, and participatory. Leadership, by contrast, must be hierarchical, at least to some extent. This idea — that democracy and leadership do not mix — has been challenged by scholars such as J. Ronald Pennock (1979) and Eric Beerbohm (2015). These theorists argue that democratic leaders have three essential functions: 1) they aid the thinking of others; 2) they forge joint commitments with others to act; and 3) they help solve collective action problems so that shared objectives can be achieved. In this paper, I argue that these theories of democratic leadership do not address some of the practical challenges that leaders must face. For example, democratic leaders are often required to “step out ahead” of their followers if they want to “get stuff done,” thus acting before joint commitments with potential followers have been made. Indeed, this may be one of the most valuable — and necessarily — functions of leadership more generally. I argue that “stepping out ahead” of potential followers does not necessarily violate democratic norms if certain conditions are fulfilled. These conditions include: 1) existing reservoirs of warranted trust between leaders and their potential followers; 2) institutions and practices that require leaders to provide post-hoc justifications for the actions they have taken without joint commitments; and 3) real opportunities for followers to reject the justifications that leaders provide, and thus the leadership claims that they make.