Trudeau and his lack of ethics… Canadians have seen this movie before


Are WE there yet?  Nope, Trudeau will skate away from scandal again

It doesn’t matter.  As far as government chicanery goes, the WE debacle doesn’t really matter.

On the scandal scale (where 1 is a $16 glass or orange juice and 10 is SNC-Lavalin) this whole WE thing rates about a 3.  For comparison sake, that time Trudeau vacationed on the Aga Khan’s island was a 5, so this is slightly below that.

Despite being the focus of the Conservative smear-machine and your uncle’s bad Facebook posts, the ongoing drama about the WE charity won’t rise to the level where it becomes a threat to Trudeau or the Liberal party.

At this point, to the party faithful there is ostensibly no scandal scandalous enough to outweigh the fanatical support they hold for Trudeau.  We’re talking about the same people who stood by Trudeau during the SNC-Lavalin debauchery, the blackface embarrassment, and the weird costume party across India. 

Trudeau has managed to raise the bar for scandal to such absurdist heights that WE won’t even leave a scratch on Trudeau.  The WE scandal is a genuinely troubling government transgression, but it won’t move the needle because of the sunk cost fallacy.

In a nutshell, the sunk cost fallacy is a result of people thinking they make good decisions, when in reality, those decisions are being tainted by an unseen emotional investment.

The fabled movie ticket thought experiment is an often cited example to demonstrate how bad people are at making decisions when the sunk cost fallacy rears its head.

Alright, so you’re headed to a movie, and the ticket is $10.  You get to the theatre only to find the $10 bill you had for the ticket has fallen out of your wallet.  When asked if they would still purchase a ticket and see the movie, 88 per cent of people said would buy the ticket.

Alright, but in scenario two, you do purchase the ticket for $10 but then right before you go into the theatre, you realize you’ve lost the ticket.  Do you buy another ticket?  Only 46 per cent of people say they would buy another ticket in this situation.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, there is no difference at all between these two situations.  In both instances, you’re out $20 to see a $10 movie.  The difference, and what accounts for the sudden change of heart for many people, is the sunk cost fallacy. 

And that’s what I think accounts for people refusing to see scandals, like WE and SNC and whatever the inevitable next uppercase scandal letters happen to be, and take them seriously when it comes to Trudeau.

After so many repeated ethics lapses, people have reached a point where they feel invested enough in Trudeau that they can’t turn back now.  Their political capital has been invested in Trudeau, and that represents a sunk cost which they are unwilling to forego.

Dumping Trudeau in favour of a new leader who doesn’t live in a bubble of privilege and largesse is almost certainly the sane thing to do at this point, but having sunk so much into standing by him during all the previous scandals, it would seem weird for something like WE to be the thing that pushes people over the edge.

The other thing that seems to make the WE scandal unable to stick is the fact that it’s not all that surprising.  Rich people cronyism is the kinda thing we all sorta assume happens at the upper levels of government already.  Bill Morneau is one of those rich-dummy guys who just fell backwards into the job of Minister of Finance because he happens to be wealthy.  When that’s the starting point for your government, it’s not going to shock people when they find out the government is getting cozy with other rich-dummy types and doing rich-dummy type things.

It’s disheartening that the current state of federal politics is in such rough shape in part because repeated ethics violations at the highest office have left us all dulled to the more minor ethical breaches.  All these shenanigans will catch up with Trudeau.  Eventually.  Just not today.

The sunk cost fallacy can only hinder people’s rationale thinking for so long.  The WE scandal certainly won’t topple the Liberals, and it won’t put much of a dent in Trudeau’s political career.  But it will plant the seed of another scandal tree, and over a long enough time, people will start to see the forest from the trees.

Photo Credit: National Post

More from James Culic.    @JamesCulic

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