I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments, and I expect all ministers to do their part – individually and collectively – to improve economic opportunity and security for Canadians.
We have committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards, and applies the utmost care and prudence in the handling of public funds. I expect you to embody these values in your work and observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do. When dealing with our Cabinet colleagues, Parliament, stakeholders, or the public, it is important that your behaviour and decisions meet Canadians’ well-founded expectations of our government. I want Canadians to look on their own government with pride and trust.
As Minister, you must ensure that you are aware of and fully compliant with the Conflict of Interest Act and Treasury Board policies and guidelines. You will be provided with a copy of Open and Accountable Government to assist you as you undertake your responsibilities. I ask that you carefully read it and ensure that your staff does so as well. I draw your attention in particular to the Ethical Guidelines set out in Annex A of that document, which apply to you and your staff. As noted in the Guidelines, you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law. Please also review the areas of Open and Accountable Government that we have expanded or strengthened, including the guidance on non-partisan use of departmental communications resources and the new code of conduct for exempt staff. – Excerpt from Trudeau Government Mandate
- Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.
- There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.
- There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments. – Excerpt from Trudeau Open and Accountable Government Guidelines
Justin Trudeau is a certain type of individual. The breadth of his appeal is easy to understand: he has youth, looks, charm, supreme confidence, and intelligence. He has won the hearts, if not necessarily the minds, with many and great promises. With swaggering sureness and grating fanfare, he strode on the stage vowing his would be the transformative federal government, bringing new and better to all Canadians. Not only would his government be one of openness, transparency and change, immediately visible in the House during question period not only with a government responding to questions put to it but with the introduction of a new era of civility and accountability. As well, Trudeau promised, there would be more public consultation, more listening and less top down governance, which would, in turn, result in increased public confidence in the government voters had elected. Canadians would not only have a say, they would be heard. It was wonderful, easy, the dazzling, glib Prince Charming taking on the staid, buttoned-down, dour, ungainly bean counter ogre. Canadians lapped it up. What’s not to love?
THE HUCKSTER PRINCE
Of course, we have seen this kind before everywhere, those convincing messianic pitchmen on TV selling religion or the newest miracle cure-all or the everything-in-one kitchen gadget, the one-and-only real-deal gottahaveit answer-to-our prayers solution to all ails, aches and pains. And yes, we may have heard it all before but this time, this time, folks, I’m telling you and ready to guarantee it with my personal smile on the line that, yessiree Bob, this time, this time will really be different. And, we listened, spellbound, mouths open and minds numbed by the slickness and the grandiosity of the claims as we forked over our votes and trust, doing as we always have, believing, sucking it in because we want to, we have to, believe: This time it will be different it will be better.
And, for a time it seemed that it was so.
There was the Prince doing exactly as he said. Not only were his words and message inspirational, unbelievably hopeful and promising, but we were also provided evidence of getting something special. There he was, the day after the votes were in, the new prime minister shaking hands with Montrealers in the subway and thereafter allowing well-wishers and adoring fans and curiosity seekers to drag him aside, not with any difficulty, to have selfies taken with him. Available? He was and is everywhere. And, of course, we also have plenty of evidence of his sincerity. There are countless images of him looking intently into the face of someone as he patiently hears him out, his expressive brow furrowing, his lips trembling and an occasional tear trickling down his cheek while his fingers lightly tap over his heart, his whole bearing one of sympathy and oooozing, oooozing sincerity. This is a man who cares we told ourselves, the real deal. Even some of the sceptical reluctantly came around albeit prepared for an overdose of sugar.
Well, that was the promise and the hope. Oh, yes, over a year later there’s still plenty of sugar, but for some there’s something off, a bitter aftertaste of something not quite right.
The Hero has kept a few of the promises some of them even good if not particularly difficult or likely to upset too many. He has consulted, god how he has consulted and, when it comes to holding media scrums, he is likely among the most accessible leaders in recent Canadian history. Now that would seem good and it is when he’s just talking to Canadians and journalists.
But is Trudeau and those on his team all that different from those they replaced?
In some ways, yes.
But where it really should count, in the promises kept and broken and in the area of ethics, not at all. Trudeau succeeded as prime minister because he was an excellent pitchman, Snake Oil salesman, and pied piper of gloss, glamour and gossamer for his party. Ethically, he is challenged, mostly slight, insubstantial, and empty.
Oh, he was grand at making promises, wasn’t he? Yet, even as he appeared to give in fulfilling some of the promises, he also appeared to take at the same time, an illusionist distracting with one hand while pricking the balloon with the other.
On April 20th, for example, health minister Jane Philpott announced at the UN that her government would legalize marijuana early next year. However, until they did, there would be no steps to decriminalize its use. That’s an odd stance to take and is unduly punitive because it makes criminals of users of a product that will be legal a few months from now. Go figure.
He promised to reopen the nine veterans offices closed by the Harper gang and he also promised to reinstate the life long disability pension that Harper replaced with a one lump sum payment. Trudeau has thus far kept to the first while sticking it to vets by merely increasing the amount of the one lump sum payment. That was a nasty betrayal worthy of Harper and gang.
He promised to make Human Rights a priority as he sought to regain Canada’s seat on the UN Security Council lost by Harper. Instead, against an international embargo and Canada’s own rules regarding international trade, he signed off on a Light Armoured Vehicle deal with Saudi Arabia one of the world’s most repressive regimes. He has kept to his promises to unmuzzle government scientists, to bring back the long form census and to withdraw fighter jets from Syria and Iraq. He had promised to restore home mail delivery. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen. He promised to increase expenditure for infrastructure spending and has done so threefold. He has created an infrastructure bank to lure foreign investors to do work on infrastructure projects. This will not only lead to the privatization of roads, bridges and other construction projects, but also almost certainly lead to tolls and, as it always does when the government is paying, to costly overruns, padded bills, bribery and corruption as every contractor fights to get into the game of greed and greased palms. Contractors will do well, those working for them will do well, the Liberals will do well and Canadians? Well, they just get screwed five ways to Sunday. As NDP interim leader Thomas Mulcair pointed out, Trudeau is a Conservative passing himself off as a Liberal who stole ideas from the NDP during his election campaign.
THE DARK KNIGHT
It is not just the broken promises that are cause for concern. It is also the method by which they are broken that should worry us. There are many, myself included, who believe electoral reform is long overdo but not as practiced by Harper which was, with C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, an exercise designed to rig the vote by disenfranchising large segments of society. I was hopeful when Trudeau announced he would go ahead with electoral reform and appointed Maryam Monsef as democratic institutions minister. She set up a committee to look into electoral reform but it quickly became clear by the makeup of the committee that if there were to be reform it would be one favoured by the Liberals and likely to offer little if any real improvement towards making it truly representative. Later, responding to public rage, the committee was rejigged to be more representative by allowing the seating representatives of the Green and Bloc Québécois parties a voting role.
The Liberals prefer the ranked or Alternative Vote (AV) system, which favours parties in the centre. By itself, AV is not proportional and has the same effect as FPTP benefitting the same two parties that have benefitted since confederation. With proportional representation (PR), every vote counts and some systems work well with AV mixed in (for an excellent overview of proportional representation and of the ranked ballot go to Fair Vote Canada http://www.fairvote.ca/. As time passed, Monsef and Trudeau gave every indication of being less eager about reform than they were before the election Trudeau, not long ago, making the observation that electoral reform was not on the minds of many Canadians. You knew where this was going.
Sure enough, when the committee finally tabled its report and recommendation of holding a referendum, a recommendation not supported by Liberal committee members, and that the system be a form of proportional representation, the Minister of Democratic Reform stood up in the House and excoriated the committee members for not coming up with a specific recommendation of PR (that was not their mandate) accusing them of not doing the hard work and of taking “a pass”. Of course it was not true. Even before the report was delivered, the government had already signalled its intent to find ways to quash, crush, and make disappear the promise to rid us forever of first-past-the-post elections. They sent out postcards just days after the report was tabled (which seems to lend credence they had already made a decision) urging Canadians to participate in an online survey which asked questions that appear to demand a certain outcome but fails to even address the issue to which we were to respond: do we support electoral reform and, if so, what kind. The Liberals have rigged the game just as surely as the Harper gang attempted with the so-called Fair Elections Act.
Trudeau wants this behind him and may let it simply die. If not, having outsmarted himself, he may go through with the reform but a reform of his choosing. His was the work of the shyster, appearing to do one thing while at the same time working to undermine it. People and political parties do and can change their minds. People of integrity feel no shame in doing such provided they can offer reasonable justification. For Trudeau, there is almost certainly no risk in doing so because this public appears to still be entranced by him. For them, thus far, the Prince can do no wrong. The Liberal’s unnecessary poking of a stick into the collective eye of the committee who had worked so hard and with real, if mistaken, belief that their effort would bring the promised change of making every vote count is unconscionable and it was dishonestly applied. This is an improvement?
The Liberals, thrashing about on this issue, then received an unexpected but doubtless welcomed gift from the Conservatives who had all along opposed electoral reform or at the very least demanded that reforms only be approved by referendum. Rona Ambrose suggested that Trudeau simply “park” the whole notion.
Well, what a surprise, the Conservative beneficiary of FPTP rescuing the other beneficiary. Ain’t life sweet.
So, yes, another promise likely done away with but Canada’s best-dressed phony still oozes, simply oozes, and the people still don’t seem to notice the little whiff of Liberal rot. Or they just don’t care.
Oh, yes, Trudeau and gang were going to do better, be better.
He promised to end sole source contracting and yet, given the opportunity, did exactly what he vowed not to with the purchase of 18 Boeing Super Hornets on an “interim basis”. Too, the Liberals announced plans to go ahead with the Harper sole source procurement process of war ships. However, instead of seeking custom design ships and systems, as was the Harper initiative, the Liberals would modify already designed ships in hopes of saving costs and time. This leads, however, to the possibility of shutting out Canadian businesses and security risks. Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax would continue to be the primary contractor and a key player in determining who wins the bids for sub-contracts in the $26 billion effort (other sources say the costs could be as high as $40 billion). But, because Irving, the primary contractor, has partnered with BAE, a British firm bidding for the contract to maintain the new arctic patrol and supply ships, there are real concerns of conflict of interest. To allay fears of such, Irving and BAE will create separate work teams (for the maintenance contract and warship design competitions” (The Canadian Press, Nov. 16, 2016) to avoid appearances of conflict of interest. Yeah, right. Irving wins big, building the ships and getting fees from the sub-contractors. And so will the east coast, which gave Trudeau a sweep last election. And so will the Liberals who have paid back big with jobs for Irving. A nice, cozy circle. Trudeau and his gang are different all right. And we’ll just wear silly grins knowing that it’s all on the up and up. Right?
Of course it is. The Liberals have told us so. They’ve done all the vetting; they’ve taken every precaution. No problem. We have to take them at their word.
But this is not a completely hopeless or hapless government though one has to wonder why they have gone for the Christmas break leaving such an unpleasant feeling behind. They have been active on the climate change front and appear determined to meet their Paris Climate Change Summit agreement. However, for better or worse, they have approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion through Vancouver and Enbridge’s proposal to replace the Line 3 pipeline from Alberta to the US which will double the capacity of oil and greatly increase the level of carbon emissions. How that will square with the Liberal commitment to meet its own climate goals by 2030 is difficult to foresee. They have also passed the doctor assisted dying legislation with agreement from all sides and, until Monsef’s damning of the electoral reform committee, demonstrated itself willing and able to work with all parties.
That said, however, this government fails big in the question of ethics and fundraising and real and perceived conflicts of interests.
Trudeau’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, comes from the world of business. His human resources firm has done business with the government. He has created an economic advisory group made up of business managers from various sectors. Friends helping friends. In my April 8 post, I noted that Sharan Kaur, a former TransCanada communications expert works for Morneau as a Senior Special Assistant. Our natural resources minister, Jim Carr, hired a former executive of Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. I wrote then, “The plutocrats are going to do very well with Trudeau at the helm.” In light of recent events one wonders how well and how far the benefits extend. I keep thinking pipeline.
In April, Jody Wilson-Raybould, justice minister, tipped the hand as to how things would be with the Liberal gang when she attended a $500 a plate fundraiser hosted by attorneys. Neither the minster nor her boss could see anything wrong in attending the event she asserting she had attended as an MP not as the minister of justice. Are we missing something here? Were those hosting the events made aware of that distinction? My name’s Tucker, not sucker, thank you, minister.
Jody Wilson-Raybould again piques one’s curiosity not only because she is the first First Nations member appointed justice minister but also because her husband registered as a lobbyist for two First Nations organizations. Again questions of conflict of interest, lapses of judgement and ethics must be raised. What is happening here?
Robert Fife & Steven Chase (The Globe and Mail, Nov. 29, 2016) have reported that Bill Blair, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s parliamentary secretary and former Toronto police chief, had attended a Liberal Party fundraiser last spring at a Toronto law office that advises clients in the cannabis business. Blair is responsible for seeing to the legalization of recreational marijuana. A group of marijuana lobbyists, members of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, were also in attendance. Although the Liberals claim, as they always do, no breaches of ethics occurred and no laws were broken, the party would refund the money. Now why would they do that if everything was on the up and up? One would think that a justice minister and one-time top cop would be on top of any concerns regarding conflict of interests real or perceived. One would think.
And then we have Bill Morneau again, who, when not hiring members from lobbying groups, frequently attends Liberal Party fundraisers as he did in Halifax at the private home of a land developer in October of this year. According to Robert Fife and Steven Chase (Globe & Mail, Oct. 19, 2016), there were about 15 in attendance at the home of Fred George who is a business partner of Jim Spatz, Chairman and chief executive of SouthWest Properties, a Liberal appointee to the Halifax Port Authority board of directors on the advice of prominent Liberal MP and Treasury Board president, Scott Brison. The cost to attend: $1500 a plate ($22.5K total). When pressed on the issue, the Liberals have again determined no laws were broken (legalese) and, as Trudeau keeps reminding us every time the issue comes up, Canada has one of the strictest limits on fundraising. While it may be true no laws were broken, what about Trudeau’s own rules regarding conflict of interest and appearances of such (see above). But Morneau does not stint in offering himself for Liberal fundraisers. Unfortunately, one executive from Apotex, a manufacturer of generic drugs, had pulled out from one such event evidently frightened off by media attention. Now Apotex was the company that had played a big role in hosting the BC Liberal Party convention. Christy Clark, the Liberal premier of BC, is herself a shameless believer in cash-for-access, charging, in some instances thousands for the privilege of later boasting of having tea with the Great Lady premier and admiring the landscape through the window. Because she raises so much money for the provincial Liberal party, she is rewarded with yearly bonuses ranging from $30K to $50K to top up her salary of $192K. Got to love those Liberals. Charm and smarm, they always seem to have a very good working relationship with those who can pay. It is doubtful that the withdrawal of Apotex from the fundraiser damaged either Morneau or the Liberal Party financially. If everything was on the up and up, why did the Apotex executive pull out? Curious that.
And while I could go over the same ground regarding excessive and egregious expense claims by Liberal ministers Jane Philpott, Catherine McKenna (three efforts at padding the tab) and Chrystia Freeland, I wish to turn to the Prince himself.
THE PRINCE OF THE BALL
Now, while it is true that the Liberals do post fundraising events, Canadians must rely on news sources when it comes to knowing those attending. Of the 100 plus fundraisers, Trudeau attended over 20; well, he is the main attraction.
In May of this year, Trudeau attended an event at the private home of a Chinese-Canadian executive. In attendance were 32 millionaires and billionaires and a few other of the well heeled. The cost per plate was $1500, the maximum allowed under the elections act. In attendance was “one insurance tycoon, Shenglin Xian,…who was seeking final approval from federal bank regulators to operate a domestic bank here” (the Star, Tonda MacCharles, Alex Boutilier, Nov. 22, 2016). Two months after that, the bank received a final approval. Further, just weeks after the event, two of the attendees, Mr. Zang and Niu Gensheng offered to donate $200K to the Pierre Eliot Trudeau Foundation, $50K towards the statue of Pierre Trudeau and $750K to the University of Montreal Faculty of Law for scholarships. They were honouring the legacy of China’s great friends, it appears. But, if such an admirer of Trudeau, why not donate when the Conservatives were in power. Oh, well, not to look a gift horse in the mouth…
When questioned on all these, especially with regards to clear conflict of interest breaches, Trudeau remained steadfast in stating, “We have the strongest rules in the country regarding fundraising.” He further stated that he never talked business. He never, ever touches on the ethical aspects or on his own mandate letters requirements.
When pressed, his staffers made the claim that he never knows before hand who attends these affairs. That seems hardly credible since security would not allow him to go anywhere without first vetting the guests to ensure there was no risk for him. They also state that when approached by someone wishing to do business with the government, Trudeau firmly urges them to go through the proper channels. Well, that was the line for weeks until, suddenly on Dec. 12, Trudeau admitted in the House that he does talk to all Canadians, even those who lobby him at these affairs. But what about those foreign lobbyists? Further, he stated that these discussions never effect his decisions because his only concern is doing what is best for Canada. So now the story had changed slightly. The questions must be asked. Was he lying then when he said he never discussed business at these events? Or was his staff lying?
On December 13, during Question Period in the House, Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose asked Trudeau about his fundraising efforts. This was his response: “Canadians know that wherever I am and whomever I am speaking to I talk about our challenges to bring economic growth to the middle class and about the fact that we increased taxes to the 1% of the wealthiest so that we can lower them for the middle class. I also talk about the fact that we stop child benefits to the wealthiest so that we can give more to the families that really need it. We talk about creating growth for the middle class and that’s what animates us every day.”
Nowhere in that statement does he address the issue directly. When asked by Ambrose and Thomas Mulair, interim NDP leader, the same question in various forms, Trudeau’s response for those nine minutes and forty seconds was the same almost word-for-word.
The next day, Trudeau was absent but the finance minister, Bill Morneau, was there to answer questions in his stead. Both the Conservative and NDP opposition posed the same questions in various as the previous day. Morneau’s response was almost verbatim to Trudeau’s from the day before.
This is the man who promised to clean up the House and question period, who berated the Conservatives for scripted responses now doing exactly what he condemned. Harper was notorious for missing Question Period. Trudeau appears to be competing with the Conservative record. It is clear that, as did Harper, Trudeau has contempt for the House, Question Period, his opposition colleagues and for the public at large. His behaviour in the House regarding questions raised about clear conflict of interest breaches is disgraceful. But it is his attitude towards fundraising that should most shock and dismay those who have placed their trust in him. He has betrayed them. Trudeau is a phony. We must take him and his kind at their word when they say they have broken no laws. That is legalese. Weasel words. It is also an assault on our intelligence. The Liberals have broken their own ethical guidelines. That’s the rub; they are guidelines, not law. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson wants to talk to Justin Trudeau. She also wishes to speak with Bill Blair. It appears she has already decided that there is insufficient evidence Trudeau has breached any conflict of interest laws. Ethics evidently are of no concern except to those who do care about such things.
Yes, as promised, Trudeau has made himself accessible. But how many of those taking selfies with this charming prince could image that he would sell himself so readily for cash? He reminds me of the girl who gets the nice young man to pay her way to the dance and then ditches the fellow for the charmer buying all the drinks. Well, he’s just another type of whore but also the worst kind.
Harper must be smiling. How about you?
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin