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Employment & Labour

Trust, integrity go a long way in work relationships

The ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair could have been stopped in its tracks with a swift and genuine apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto employment lawyer Kevin Marshall tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Marshall, principal of Kevin Marshall Personal Injury and Employment Law, says the case should also serve as a warning to employers, suggesting it may be too late now to repair the working relationships within the federal government.  

“The importance of trust and integrity can’t be over-emphasized in the context of workplaces,” he says. “If there exists some level of trust and integrity between employees and employers, then workers will be more willing to let certain things slide. But if the trust is gone, the relationship can’t survive.”

Although Trudeau was not, strictly speaking, the employer of former cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould or Jane Philpott, Marshall explains that the evolution of Canada’s political system over the years puts him in an analogous position due to the amount of power centralized in the prime minister's office.

Marshall says the story could have followed a different and less-damaging path had Trudeau quickly apologized for the behaviour of government officials, who are alleged to have inappropriately pressured Raybould, the former justice minister, to intervene in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec-based engineering giant.

“We’re all human, and if an error has been committed, people are usually open to forgiveness in the face of an apology,” he says. “But it needs to come sooner rather than later, and it needs to be sincere. The ‘sorry-if-you-were-offended’ type of quasi-apology, without a true expression of remorse or regret, will not cut it if you want to maintain an ongoing relationship."

Instead, he says Trudeau has appeared unwilling to accept full responsibility for transgressions within his government, exacerbating his position with a framing of the scandal as an episode of miscommunication and a continually evolving story that changes to match fresh revelations.

“There have been a number of instances where the story has changed,” Marshall says. “Integrity, in general, is binary. You either act in an integrous manner, or you don’t, and there is ultimately a reality on the ground that speaks louder than words.”

Most recently, he says the manner of the expulsion of both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus has added to Trudeau’s problems after Philpott suggested in the Commons that it was done without “due process.”

“Again, it seems the rules aren’t being regarded, which is another integrity-related issue,” Marshall says. “When dealing with employees in workplaces, it’s best to act in an honest and principled manner.

“Most people will be very tolerant about many things, but when that trust breaks down, it’s hard to regain,” he adds.

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