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Monthly Archives: April 2017

THE PEACOCK PRINCE AND THE HOPE THAT NEVER WAS: JUST ANOTHER SLIMY POLITICO

Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise. – G.K. Chesterton

Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. – Eric Hoffer

Frank Pelaschuk

For diehard Liberal supporters, Justin Trudeau was the swaggering handsome young prince who would sweep the party back into office where they belonged with his charm and many loud grand promises of real change, of newer, better and brighter in the way of honesty, consultation, openness and transparency. The diehard Liberals likely didn’t believe that part, they know the party and its people too well but they did believe in Trudeau, he was a winner and that’s what matters in the end. For the young voters, they saw in Trudeau not only the son of a one-time political star but also a star in his own right; he was young, confident, he had the words and god he was handsome, graceful, with a beautiful wife and kids and there was no doubt, no doubt at all, he was a winner and that’s all that matters in the end.

THE PEACOCK STRIKES

Oh the promises were many and grand. In all, there were over 200 promises (according to the non-partisan TrudeauMetre.ca website); among them he would: make 2015 the last first-past-the-post election (dead); make Human Rights a priority (only when convenient and when it doesn’t conflict with trade deals); amend the Access of Information Act so that all government date was made “open by default” (pending, likely will not happen); unmuzzle government scientists (done); gender parity in cabinet (done); restore the long-form census (done); ban partisan ads (pending, likely will not happen); provide resources for Elections Canada to investigate electoral fraud and other abuses (pending, likely will not happen); eliminate omnibus bills (doubtful, some claim recent Budget is an omnibus bill); restore the right of the Commissioner of Elections Canada to report and be accountable to Parliament and not to the government (removed by the Harper Conservatives, may happen but doubtful); review spending limits of political parties during and between elections (will not happen); restore home mail delivery (dead); introduce pay equity (will happen just in time for next election); restore life long disability pensions for veterans (did not happen though he did increase one-time lump sum payment); reopen nine Veterans Affairs offices closed by Liberals (done and/or pending); bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees in timely fashion (done if delayed by a few months); run deficit of $10 billion (done, but tripled to $30 billion); legalize marijuana (done); restore age of OAS eligibility to 65 (done); amend Harper’s anti-terrorism bill C-51 (dead, powers to spy on Canadians and share information with foreign security agencies increased); reduce taxes for those earning between $45K and $90K (done, cut by 1.5 percent; Trudeau was all about the middle class but never heard him talk much, if at all, about homelessness, education, the plight of the young and elderly).

To voters hearing them for the first time, many of the promises were appealing particularly pot for the young, pay equity for women, and electoral reform for those who believe democracy is less about outcomes of votes than the fairness of the outcomes; in this, our present system fails. On the surface, just with the few examples above, Trudeau seems to have done not too badly. Unfortunately, those promises kept were relatively easy because largely supported by the public as with the Syrian refugees, reopened Veterans Affairs Offices and legalization of pot. It’s where he fails that is significant. If anything, Trudeau is mostly surface, candy for the eyes and ears that appeal to the easily distracted and those who want only to hear what appeals and conforms to their worldview; challenges, a different point of view, hearing the other out rather than shouting them down, embracing new contrary ideas, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone are too difficult requiring the ability to empathize and exert the energy of actually having to think. Beneath the surface, under all that Trudeau charm, that dazzling, smirking smile, and that cloying, oozing, simply oozing sincerity, lies something much darker, a calculator, a schemer willing to demonstrate, when it suits his purpose and promises gain, a ruthless edge with the occasional bloody gesture meant to burnish his image as one not shy of revealing his mettle. He did that when, in January 2016, as one of his first acts, he publicly, and loudly, expelled Liberal senators from the Liberal caucus. As far as he was concerned, the Liberal senators would now sit as independents. As if declaring a thing makes it so. It was a clever exhibition, a bold, unexpected, and public show that stunned senators and observers alike and informed the world that Trudeau was more than a pretty face with hair. It was a gesture that played well but didn’t mean much except to his fans who became legion following his 2012 whupping of Senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match and the photo-op of him performing the yoga Peacock Pose. The expulsion of the senators provided further affirmation of Trudeau as an action figure super hero.

If he was capable of surprising with ruthless efficiency, he was also, that January, able to surprise again with his appointment of neophyte MP Maryam Monsef, as minister of democratic institutions and placing in her hands the matter of electoral reform which he had affirmed would go ahead. But, it was in May of 2016, there occurred two troubling events that may have alerted some to the darker side of Trudeau as a sneak and plotter less interested in the power of democracy than of the power of victory. What happened then did not and does not bode well for Canadians or for Canadian democracy.

Motion 6, introduced by then Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc without fanfare and limited, if any, real consultation was a Liberal attempt to seize control of the House, as if his majority wasn’t enough, by weakening the tools of opposition members to debate, filibuster or force a surprise vote to catch governments flatfooted as the NDP had days before when they put forward an amendment to another bill which left the Liberals scrambling to find enough members to defeat the amendment. Motion 6 was eventually dropped but not after a raucous fracas on the floor of the House which led Trudeau to swagger across the floor and inadvertently elbow a female NDP member in the chest as he manhandled opposition whip Gord Brown by grabbing him by the arm to drag him to his seat in hopes, Trudeau said, of speeding up the vote on Bill-14, the physician-assisted dying legislation being delayed by MPs milling about the House floor. For that incident, Trudeau rightly apologized…twice…but the apologies had less, I suspect, to do with the bill or the manhandling of the two MPs than with seeking to restore the public’s perception of him as a fine, extremely likeable young man rather than the impatient, strutting, bullying peacock to which the world was treated. He may have lost that power grab but it gave Canadians, if they were paying attention or even interested, the first real hint of what governance and democracy meant to Trudeau and his gang and it was not all that dissimilar from Stephen Harper’s and the Conservatives: control, fulfilling the agenda, power, and the keeping of that power.

Rigging the game has nothing to do with democracy. Trudeau was just getting started.

The second occurrence that May was the announcement by Monsef regarding the formation of the Electoral Reform Committee. It began simply enough but not so innocently with disclosure of the committee makeup: 6 Liberals, 3 Conservatives, 1 NDP member and 1 each from the Green and Bloc parties with non-voting rights. The opposition and public outcry was instant and loud for it appeared to confirm what the sceptics had been saying for some time: electoral reform would not happen or happen only if the outcome supported Trudeau’s preferred choice: the formation of a Liberal dominated committee was his effort to make that outcome happen.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, public fury proved too much, they retreated rejigging the committee in June 2016 to more closely reflect the popular vote granting the Green and Bloc parties a vote each, increasing the NDP vote by 1, keeping the Conservative votes at three and reducing the Liberal vote from 6 to 5. As the committee travelled the country hearing from citizens, Trudeau began to show a restive and distant attitude towards reform admitting to his preferred choice of ranked or preferential balloting. During an interview with Le Devoir, he mused that Canadians had no appetite for electoral reform. You could see where this was heading. With the release of the committee’s report December 1, 2016 recommending some form of proportional representation, Monsef mocked and lectured the members derisive of their efforts for failing “to complete the hard work we expected them to”. On Dec. 5, the Liberals announced the creation of an online survey that would accept Canadian input for six weeks. The survey was widely derided because designed to achieve a desired outcome.

Monsef had faltered from the first with the formation of the committee and, with plenty of help from Trudeau, had bungled the portfolio throughout. In January of this year, Karina Gould, another neophyte MP, who replaced Monsef as democratic institutions minister during a cabinet shuffle, would make the official announcement February 1, 2017 that electoral reform was dead as Dickens’s Marley. It had been a test by fire for Monsef who failed and Gould who passed admirably but left some wondering why Trudeau, who had made electoral reform a key element of his platform, had left the dirty task of killing it to a relatively inexperienced and untested member of his caucus. It was the little sister fighting the battle that was her big brother’s. If there were to be a public backlash, she would bear the brunt. There was no backlash for this; Trudeau and the public had other things to fret about and it had everything to do with Trudeau’s Christmas vacation and another rap to his image.

As for electoral reform? It had been shot dead and stomped into the earth. The party that had garnered 54% of the seats with just 39% of the popular vote, the same percentage that gave Harper his majority, had opted for the status quo. Disappointing yes, but no surprise unless you were among those that really, really, really believed Trudeau said what he meant and meant what he said. Poor innocents.

THE PEACOCK RUFFLED

Even as electoral reform played out, not dead yet, but soon to utter its last gasp, Trudeau and his family, with friends Tom Pitfield, of Data Sciences Ltd., and his wife, Anna Gainey, were spending Christmas with long time family friend, the Aga Khan, generously paying for the helicopter ride from the Bahamian mainland to his private island. Now no one, no one begrudges the Trudeaus taking time off for the holiday season. But there are several issues here. Firstly, while rules regarding gifts can and should be tightened, members of parliament, including the prime minister, are not allowed to accept gifts above $200 without publicly declaring them “unless they are routine expressions of hospitality or protocol” (The Canadian Press, June 11, 2015) while those above $1000 must be forfeited to the Crown. By way of explanation, Trudeau had claimed the helicopter ride was the only method possible of accessing the island. Not true. The Privy Council Office technician who usually accompanies the PM for audio and visual technical services had hired a chartered seaplane for $6,695 (National Post in Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 2017). When challenged as to why he accepted the helicopter ride, Trudeau then claimed that the RCMP made decisions regarding the safest way for the PM to travel. Not content with breaking conflict of interest rules and his own mandate regarding openness, transparency and conflict of interest, Trudeau fudged, again. Know a person who lies on the small things, don’t trust him with the big. Canadians picked up the tab for security and the Challenger jet on standby and for “per diems” for the tour technician. Including the cost of the chartered plane, the trip cost $133,882 mostly for security, lodging and overtime and the Challenger jet on standby. That’s fine, part of the package necessary when one is prime minister. Still, one wonders why, apart from the questionable helicopter ride, there were reimbursements of funds to the Aga Khan as reported by CBC news for the cost of meals for “at least one government employee” (Elizabeth Thompson, CBC News, April 4, 2017) to the tune of $1602 USD for the 12 days especially if the technician was doing government business. Was the government trying to hide something? Accepting gifts, even in the way of food and accommodation from a personal friend and head of a foundation that has, since 2004, received government grants of $310 million with another $55 million pledged by Trudeau for the next five years, and failing to report them, is a clear conflict and is presently under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson.

It was this that likely precipitated Trudeau’s cross country tour, called by some the cowbell tour, doubtless to draw attention away from this serious ethical lapse along with numerous other distractions including Trudeau’s cash-for-access grabs. There was probably no need for these photo-op affairs and that’s what they were, Trudeau talking to Canadians, doing well with some tough questions thrown his way but none raising the holiday debacle and one or two expressing concern over his killing of electoral reform. On that Trudeau, clearly unrepentant, even close to boastful, responded: “It is because I felt it was not in the best interests of our country and our future that I turned my back on that promise.” He then went on to say, “If we were to make a change or risk a change that would augment individual voices, that would augment extremist voices and activist voices…I think we’d be entering an era of instability and uncertainty” (Kristy Kirkup, the Canadian Press, Feb. 10, 2017). The suggestion of course was that proportional representation would lead to extremism and extremist, unstable governments. It was ridiculous and unworthy of someone in that position and that intelligent. It’s a lie, it’s untrue, it’s a gross misrepresentation of proportional representation. Trudeau did not get his way regarding preferential voting so he presents a storyline that is incredibly vile as well as stupid. Most nations in the Western world have a form of PR and most have proven stable and effective. That moronic utterance was just another sign that Trudeau is a schemer, untruthful, and a phony. If Kellie Leitch is the hysteric on the Conservative side with her outrageous racial and religious intolerance, what can one say of these comments by Trudeau? The words were not just nonsense they were revelatory.

The java tour accomplished little for the public really engaged in such issues as electoral reform, in honesty in government and in our politicians but it did allow Trudeau to lard on, and I mean lard on, that smarmy charm and oozing, simply oozing sincerity.

At the time, little attention was paid to the friends who accompanied Trudeau on that Christmas jaunt. And Trudeau wasn’t talking. Tom Pitfield’s company has been awarded contract work for the Liberal party offering digital and support services to enhance its voter contact database capabilities. Trudeau and the Liberal party refuse to discuss how much is being paid for the services. This is important because, the other member in that party of happy holidayers, Pitfield’s wife, Anna Gainey, is president of the Liberal party. Further, two members of Pitfield’s company, one a sister to Trudeau’s press secretary, also sit on the Liberal party’s board of directors. Pitfield’s wife will recuse herself from any party decisions made regarding Data Sciences Ltd. Yeah, right. For the president of the party, that might be difficult.

Does anyone smell cronyism yet? Does anyone recall Adscam or sponsorgate?

Can Trudeau or his cabinet be trusted? Depends who’s trusting it seems.

THE PEACOCK’S CONFLICT

This man came into office promising real change, more openness, transparency, and honesty. Neither he nor many of his MPs have delivered.

Early on we saw minister of health Jane Philpott reimbursing taxpayers for expense claims, minister of environment and climate change claim thousands for a photographer to follow her in Paris during a climate change summit and we had then minister of international trade Chrystia Freeland, cancel a government plane flight home at the conclusion of a business trip to the Philippines to attend a TV talk show with Bill Maher at a cost between $17K and $20K for Canadian taxpayers according to the Conservatives but which her office pegs at close to $14K. The Global Affairs website lists several meetings that day with the L. A. Chamber of Commerce and California’s Office of Business and Economic development which likely explains why she did not feel the need to reimburse the public. What do you think?

In April 2016, MP Kamal Khera, parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, accepted a free trip to Tanzania by lobbyist World Vision that, since 2015, has received $50 million from Canadian taxpayers.

Another Liberal MP, Arif Virani, took a free trip to England paid for by the Pierre Eliot Trudeau Foundation. Not troubled yet?

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould attended a fundraiser sponsored by lawyers. Conflict of interest? You bet. But neither she nor Trudeau see it that way. She claimed that she attended as MP not as justice minister! Go figure. She and Trudeau must have laughed at all us dummies who swallowed that. What a bunch of simps.

No doubt she laughs at this, as well. Her husband registered as a lobbyist immediately after the election victory. He was partner with her in a business, which she left to campaign as a Liberal candidate. He continues on as consultant for two clients, one of which is a wealthy First Nations band in Kelowna and the other the not-for profit First Nations Finance Authority that offers financial and advisory assistance to First Nations members. Her husband, as a lobbyist, could conceivably do business with the justice department on behalf of his clients, which places his wife in a real conflict of interest position. It is not enough she recuses herself. Her husband must quit as lobbyist or the minister resign. Again no movement by the justice minister who continues to hold the confidence of Trudeau and still hasn’t a clue about conflict of interest.

But if the justice minister appeared naïve at best or disingenuous at worse, what can one say of finance minister Bill Morneau’s secretive meeting at a private home with developers in Halifax one of whom had been appointed to the board of the Halifax Port Authority by the Liberals? Again conflict of interest rears its ugly head.

And of course, we mustn’t forget Justin Trudeau’s many, many forays into the fundraising field many at private homes and unadvertised. In one event at a private home attended by about 30 Chinese millionaires and billionaires, there were two who donated $50K towards a stature of Justin’s father, $200K towards the Pierre Eliot Trudeau Foundation and $750K for the University of Montreal law faculty scholarships. About a month later, one of the attendees won government approval from regulators to operate Wealth One Bank of Canada. Coincidence?

With Trudeau, ethics, transparency, and truth are rather a loosey-goosey mishmash. When questioned about these meetings, Trudeau and his gang made clear they could not be influenced, that no business was ever discussed, that whenever any attendee attempted to raise business they were directed to go through the proper government channels. Trudeau and his staff would also claim that Trudeau often just happened to drop by at these events and often did not know who were in attendance. Really? When he has security glued to him 24/7? Later, Trudeau would admit that business was discussed at some of these meetings.

Can Trudeau really be trusted?

Why, even when given the opportunity more than once by reporters to actually demonstrate his oft self-proclaimed feminism, he stood mum, mute, unable to bring himself to condemn Trump’s vicious misogyny, And when Trudeau was presented with the opportunity to demonstrate that his campaign pledge of making Human Rights a priority was more than mere words after Trump laid out his travel ban on Muslims, he again fell short demonstrating that there was no there there.

Motion 6 gave us the first real taste of Trudeau as a plotter and sneak just as capable of slimy politics as the worst of politicos. The cash-for-access manoeuvring, the cronyism, the treatment of the ballyhooed electoral reform and sundry other displays have cemented my opinion of him as surface only. There is little to respect because, of the things he has accomplished that are good, sometimes even very good, there have been a diminishment because they seem more illusory than substantive, meant more to enhance his image and stature than as concrete, meaningful acts to fully commit to the openness, transparency, and integrity he had promised. His lack of candour bespeaks deceit, calculation, and contempt.

Last month, with Bardish Chagger leading the charge for Trudeau and gang, the Liberals resumed their efforts begun with Motion 6. They have released a discussion paper that Liberal Scott Sims proposed be adopted by June 2, 2017 outlining their desire to make wide-ranging change to the rules of Parliament quickly and with real possibility of going against custom by doing so unilaterally. That opposition response was immediate and hostile should surprise no one except for the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Conservatives who, should any need reminding, sought to disenfranchise voters and remove the ability of Elections Canada Commissioner to investigate election fraud with the so-called Fair Elections Act.

The Liberals wish to reduce the number of sitting days to four, leaving Fridays open for members for “Constituency” days. Yeah, right. As it is, most members leave for their ridings on Thursday evenings taking turns to sit on Fridays. They also want to allow one day a week, based on the British model, where only the PM responds to questions during Question Period. He will not be expected to show in the House other days. Too, as with Motion 6, the move is clearly designed to limit debate. Both the NDP and Conservatives believe that changes as extensive as these must require all party agreement. The Conservatives, now official opposition, believe this with absolute sincerity…today. Next time they form a majority they’ll be doing what they have in the past and what the Liberals are doing today. It’s a dirty power grab played in a dirty game.

Those who voted for Harper mostly knew what to expect and what they were getting. Harper was ruthless, petty and vindictive. His was a narrow vision: tax cuts, tiny, shiny baubles in the way of promises, Alberta oil and Keystone, fear and security, the free market, aligning with business to suppress wages, more prisons, more jail time, and treating welfare recipients as fraudsters and bums.

In many ways, Trudeau’s betrayal is more significant than anything pulled by the Harper gang because Trudeau played on the hopes, decency, innocence, and generosity of those he relied upon for votes by making grand, grand promises that at times seemed too good to be true. Well, they were. He offered a vision that was grander than the Liberal party, which promised more than they intended to give, and that was largely stolen from the NDP playbook. He offered the Big Rock Candy Mountain and, in doing so, confirmed our image of ourselves as good people, generous people, welcoming people.

Oh, yes, he delivered some. But he lied with more. Sunny days, sunny ways was all a crock. There is nothing beneath the surface of that oozing, simply oozing sincerity.

Trudeau is not a bad man; he is just not a good enough man. He is like many of us, easily corrupted when offered too much and wanting and expecting more. Apparently, for such as he loved by all and with a majority government, love is not enough; what good is power if not wielded for benefit? For others, it is bitterness that corrupts, the belief we are unrecognized, have been denied, and that the world is unfair. Both camps should give it a rest.

What is so difficult about keeping one’s word and doing one’s best, about owning up to mistakes or admitting failure? What is so important about you that you would throw away your honour, tarnish your name, betray those who place trust in you, you, for the sake of power and glory?

And you, what do you see in that peacock? What is there about him that has numbed your brain and disabled your senses? What is there about you that paralyses you, forces you to sit back, to do nothing, to accept no responsibility?

In the end, we are all dust. In the meantime, we are all accountable and complicit.

***

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

 

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