Public respect for politicians is at an all-time low. If this trend persists, public engagement and voters' turnout will continue to slide while cynicism towards our governmental institutions will continue to grow.
I have a proposal that will help restore faith in the profession of politics.
For a variety of real and perceived reasons, people feel that politicians have very little credibility. There is a belief that politicians at all levels of governments have no accountability and lack a moral compass.
It is not a new phenomenon that people in positions of power are viewed with skepticism whether in politics, at work, or in school. However, the magnitude of distrust that the public has towards politicians is reaching unprecedented levels. This trend should alarm politicians and the public alike.
The job of a politician is supposed to be one of the most noble in our society where candidates compete to gain our permission to make decisions on our behalf to govern and protect our interests.
We need to find creative ways to rebuild confidence in our politicians, and by "we" I mean both the general public and the political class.
Most professionals like doctors, accountants and engineers belong to self-regulating associations that govern their members and define professional standards. I believe that creating a similar association for politicians could go a long way in helping rehabilitate their reputation.
Here is how it could work.
An independent, non-partisan, non-governmental association -- let's call it the Canadian Association of Accountable Politicians (CAAP) -- is established for all politicians to join. The association would require members to sign on to a code of conduct that includes commitments to always tell the truth, avoid inappropriate language, reject personal insults, pledge honest public service and to always behave according to highest ethical standards. The association would also have an independent Ombudsman where alleged violation of the code of conduct and other complaints would be investigated.
CAAP could also offer its members professional development courses on campaigning, policy development, human resources management, communication, public speaking, campaign financing and provide legal advice.
Politicians, which include political candidates and workers, would be eligible to join CAAP. The only membership requirements would be to sign the pledge and to accept the Ombudsman jurisdiction. If a member is found to have contravened the pledge, they can be censured, suspended or have their membership revoked.
A political candidate will not be required to join the association in order to run for office. Membership is optional. The public, however, will have the right to ask why a candidate is refusing to join the association and take up the pledge.
Candidates who are members in good-standing of CAAP would be allowed to use its logo announcing to their voters that this candidate has pledged to honour its code of conduct and subject themselves to its standards.
The proposed CAAP has to be and be seen independent and non-partisan. Its board of directors can be comprised of individuals elected by the membership and respected former politicians and/or retired judges. The association would have a credible Ombudsman to examine alleged infractions. Annual reports would publish trends and incidents in the political landscape.
This association could become financially sustainable through membership and professional courses fees. Thousands of politicians across the country would benefit professionally and politically by joining.
The first few years would require financial assistance until CAAP reaches a sustainable momentum. Non-governmental organizations and/or civil society foundations could incubate the start-up phase and provide it with the initial credibility and resources it needs to succeed.
The creation of a professional political association would inspire its members to do better and enhance the public confidence in one of the most important profession in our society.
This model would generate a win-win situation. It would be a win for politicians to have a resource centre offering support and it would allow them to campaign on their commitment to conduct themselves honourably and responsibly. It would also be a win for the public knowing that politicians would be held to a high standard with measures of accountability.