Conservative, n. a statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. – Ambrose Bierce
A man’s reputation is the opinion people have of him; his character is what he really is. – Jack Miner
Frank A. Pelaschuk
If anyone wishes to look upon the faces of practiced liars and hypocrites, one has only to look at those sitting in Parliament Hill. The Liars and Hypocrites far outnumber the Truthful and the Forthright and, of those, the preponderance from the only two parties that have ever formed governments of Canada. In recent years, those elected to represent us have proven themselves particularly untrustworthy, petty, mean-spirited, and vindictive, more representative of sewer rats than those who append the word Honourable as part of their title as MPs. The Trudeau Liberals, from whom I expected little, who replaced the stale, bitter, spiteful Harper gang, from whom I expected even less, may be even more offensive. More offensive because they demonstrated little hesitation in appealing to and milking the best in us while campaigning only to betray, very early in their mandate, the highs hopes, the grand promises and extremely high expectations that lured the truly hopeful as well as those mistrustful of politicians and those fair-weather types who, with the least amount of effort and thought and holding to no conviction but the tenet of “what’s in it for me”, vote for those who promise most in the way of shiny trinkets. The Liberals and Conservatives have been immensely successful for 150 years with the same formula the voters acting as if the bargain promises and sparkly trinkets singular. The past election is just another nail of proof, and a mirror of the election before, that it only takes 39% of the vote to form majority governments, with two different parties, the same as always, with over 50% of the seats the public apparently content to cede absolute control to likeminded groups whose only real concern appears to be planning for the next election victory with the same old lies, same empty promises and voters of the same stunning parochialism. The NDP may well have its share of liars and hypocrites but having never formed a federal government it has been denied the same opportunity granted the other two parties to abuse its privileges and all that that entails including the tyranny of the majority.
I have said more than once politics is a dirty game. I was wrong; it’s not a game and it’s the people who are dirty.
THE SWEETNESS OF SCHADENFREUDE
Recently, Canadians have been treated, if that’s the word, to the sad spectacle of salivating opposition members happily savaging a government member of Parliament and cabinet minister with a stellar record in the military who, for whatever reason, sought to enhance his image by embellishing his role during three tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer. In doing so, Liberal Harjit Sajjan, defence minster, stained his reputation and set loose the dogs of opposition baying for his resignation with accusations that his behaviour was tantamount to an act of “stolen valour”, i.e., claiming experiences and honours not earned. That charge is too much and, I believe, unfair. It was not enough to simply witness his humiliation; the Conservatives in particular wanted blood the thirst seemingly fuelled by his own inept apology if that was what he had offered.
A few weeks before, while giving a speech in New Delhi, the defence minister spoke of his role in Afghanistan as “the architect” of Operation Medusa, a major 2006 battle, which resulted in Canadian and British casualties and led to a severe setback for the Taliban. He had made a similar claim during the 2015 election campaign. It just wasn’t so. When the matter became public, Sajjan said he had made a “mistake”. His boss, Justin Trudeau, and fellow Liberals have loyally defended him, for how long who knows, repeating that line as if it were defence enough: Sajjan had made a “mistake”.
Well, no, it was not a mistake. It was a lie, a foolish, very damaging lie and, on the surface, completely inexplicable because apparently so out of character; there seemed no reason for Harjit Sajjan to pad his CV. Yet he had and because he had, the frenzied dogs of hypocrisy are after him bared teeth dripping saliva. But, even as I write this, there appears to be signs government support is waning.
There may be good reason, after all.
In light of his lie, the NDP had asked the Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to reopen an investigation into another matter although her first look into that issue hardly warrants the decorous label of “investigation”. In 2016, defeated NDP MP Craig Scott put forth an e-petition to investigate Canada’s role in transferring suspected Taliban detainees to Afghan authorities while aware of the likelihood they would be tortured. This happened while Sajjan was in the region; should an investigation take place there was a strong possibility he would be called upon to testify. To no one’s surprise, defence minister Sajjan turned down the petition with the explanation that Canada had obeyed international law and that the Military Police Complaints Commission had already investigated and found no wrongdoing. Scott, not satisfied, wrote Mary Dawson suggesting that in turning down his petition, Sajjan was in conflict of interest because of his role as liaison officer with the Afghan police at the time this happened. Dawson looked into the matter speaking to the defence minister and appeared confident he had no knowledge of the allege abuses of detainees. She had not called for any other witnesses apparently satisfied that Sajjan’s word was enough and the matter was dropped. The Liberals were relieved. Remember, this was the same party who had as opposition members repeatedly, loudly and fiercely supported NDP calls for such investigations since 2009 following former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin’s testimony (for which he endured a smear job by the Conservative government) to the torture of Afghan prisoners. That should have been it but, in light of Sajjan’s “whopper” as Thomas Mulcair called it, the NDP is seeking to have the matter reopened. The Liberal government, however, has made it amply clear that it is no longer interested in the detainee affair. Funny, isn’t it, how a shift in the balance of power changes one’s perspective and diminishes one’s outrage leading parties and politicos to easily swap and adopt positions with the same sincerity as they proposed or opposed them. Hypocrisy has many faces and all of them shameless.
There is no question Sajjan had lied and that his apology, a mumbled iteration of “I made a mistake” without explanation as to why, is clearly inadequate. Yet, watching him squirm day after day during Question Period should provide no pleasure to anyone but a sadist especially as some of the loudest apparently most offended had themselves, as members of the Harper gang, demonstrated a clear capacity for disgraceful conduct. That is not to absolve the defence minister but to remind others we all carry baggage and, as sinners, often all too eager to demand from others what we will not of ourselves. Over ten years ago, the Liberals were booted out of office for corruption. They were replaced by a government that was mean, spiteful, punitive, and secretive, many members of whom proved unethical, deceitful, and dishonest, more interested in the health and welfare of special interest groups and clinging to power than in playing the role of actual governance for the well-being and interests of all Canadians. The players have merely changed ends.
UGLY FACES OF HYPOCRISY
We have had Conservatives Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, Conservative leadership contenders, playing the racial and religious intolerance card on behalf of the Conservative party during the last election with the vile Barbaric Cultural Practices snitch line, Stephen Harper, prime minister, and Peter MacKay, justice minister, seeking to smear a Supreme Court Justice for daring to comment on their preferred, and failed, candidate to Canada’s Highest Court. And we had those two again engaging in smear jobs taking particular delight in targeting and seeking to tarnish the reputation of the previous Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page simply for doing his job in attempting to hold the Harper regime accountable for the management (and mismanagement) of public funds. When Page challenged the government’s cost estimates for the purchase of new fighter jets, the F-35’s, to replace aging and out-dated equipment, Stephen Harper and then defence minister Peter MacKay attacked Page by questioning his credentials and refusing to hand over documents supporting their figures. And, of course, we cannot forget Peter Mackay’s commandeering of a search and rescue helicopter while on vacation with lobbyists. We have had the Conservatives seeking to rig elections with the so-called Fair Elections Act. We have the Trudeau Liberals undermining and killing their own platform promise of electoral reform and betraying in fact and spirit Trudeau’s own mandate to his ministers of a government “…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.”
Nice words but empty demanded by a prime minister who is interested only in surface, in what looks or sounds good for the eye or ear to a man more interested in grandstanding than grand stands. When the leader gives up on his own high-toned words, why should his colleagues not do the same? Little rings as hollow as the hollow promises of a shallow showboat looking and posing for the cameras.
We have witnessed the embarrassment of Harjit Sajjan and I am convinced he is truly embarrassed. Shortly after the 2015 election, in April of 2016, Kellie Leitch shed tears on CBC’s Power and Politics for her role in the snitch line debacle, but they were not tears of atonement, nor tears of admission to wrongdoing. They were just tears of self-pity. Today she is running for the leadership talking of interviewing immigrants and refugees for “Canadian values”. Hers was the values of racial and religious intolerance that targeted Muslims and cost the Conservatives last election. So, think she’s changed?
That Sajjan continues to insist on calling his embellishment a mere “mistake”, however, diminishes one’s desire for empathy. It isn’t easy to witness the downfall of anyone who, from all accounts, has served his nation well. But what is so difficult about owning up to stupidity, to the folly of vanity, to seeking to burnish an image already bright enough? We all exaggerate and when caught simply feel foolish as we ought if we are able to experience shame; if wise, we admit it and move on bruised but not too badly damaged for the public seems to suffer from a quick forgettery. It’s the failure to recognize ourselves as foolish, prone to mistakes and often ordinary that hurts. Watching Sajjan twisting while his opposition members call for his head is difficult because I believe his embarrassment. But I also believe he should resign not because Conservatives and New Democrats are calling for his head but because it is the right thing to do. His was a foolish, unnecessary lie, but it was not insignificant; from his stricken expression, it is evident Harjit Sajjan knows it.
Now, I have little patience for liars and even less for hypocrites and preening peacocks who are all talk and strut but little else. Some of the Conservatives calling for Sajjan’s head were major players during Harper regime’s reign of error lasting almost a decade. It was a regime that lied about almost everything, abused its majority with numerous attempts to slip legislation into omnibus bills, limit debate and failing to consult with the opposition Liberals and NDP members. The Harper gang routinely undermined the electoral process engaging in the so-called “in-out” scams to divert monies from one riding to another, employing robocalls to divert voters to non-existent polls, and seeking to limit the powers of Elections Canada to investigate electoral fraud by making the agency accountable to the government rather than parliament. Conservative Rona Ambrose slammed Sajjan and the Liberals for disrespecting our military men and women the same charge the opposition Liberals levelled against the Conservatives for closing nine Veterans Affairs offices and replacing the life long disability pensions of veterans to one-time lump sum payments. Of course, now in power, having reopened many of the veterans’ offices, the Liberals nevertheless failed to follow through with their promise to restore the life long disability pensions; instead, they offered a lump of coal by only increasing the amount of the one-time lump. Conservatives such as Cheryl Gallant and James Bezan, eyes red and mouths spitting fury, went after Sajjan with a vengeance. There was Bezan questioning Sajjan’s integrity, opining, “…the minister knows there are consequences for being dishonest and untrustworthy under the military’s code of conduct and ethics…” In politics as well, Mr. Bezan. This is the MP who, along with then member Shelly Glover, had been recommended for suspension by Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer of Elections Canada for failing to submit a full report of campaign expenses. Andrew Scheer, then Speaker of the House and now Conservative leadership contender, had sat on the recommendation for a couple of weeks failing to inform members of parliament, as was his duty. Scheer refused to suspend both Conservative members even though the Elections Act calls for such measures when election rules are broken by those running for office saying he would wait for a decision by the courts to the appeals made by Glover and Bezan. By then, it didn’t matter, Harper, as was his wont, had prorogued Parliament for the fourth time. But there was Scheer and the rest in the House now demanding the defence minister resign. Glover, who decided not to run in 2015, would go on to other troubles appearing at secret fundraising events attended by those who stood to gain from decisions made by her department one of which was caught on camera leading her to refund those who donated.
Cheryl Gallant, another Conservative calling for Sajjan’s head, is another type of fish and, to my mind, a more offensive type, a venomous mean-mouthed MP who suffers from a history of histrionics, intolerance, pettiness and just plain meanness. In 2002 she displayed her anti-gay biases when she repeatedly attacked then minister of foreign affairs Bill Graham during Question Period with such witticisms as “Ask your boyfriend” and “How’s your boyfriend?” In 2004, Gallant again opposed an amendment to Bill C-250 in the criminal code meant to protect sexual orientation against gay bashers saying that such an amendment would limit freedom of expression and make the Bible “hate literature”. But, this being a stupid person, Gallant wasn’t done; the same year, while campaigning, she compared abortion to the brutal murder of Iraqi hostage Nick Berg by beheading and then suggested at another time the Liberals were persecuting “Christians”. During the 2011 campaign, she once called then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff “Ignaffi”, a clear reference to Libyan dictator Mommar Khadaffi. In 2016, seeing an opportunity to be exploited, she shamelessly used the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, murdered in the attack on Parliament Hill, to raise money for her campaign. She has claimed that PTSD is fake and that the Rideau Institute, a foreign policy think tank of having links to Russia, Iran, and North Korea “because a drop-down menu on the institute’s donation page allows users to select those countries as a place of origin” (Amanda Connolly, iPolitics, May 14, 2016). During Question Period she had said Sajjan was only “sorry after he was caught”. This is risible coming from one called upon to apologize in the House numerous times. While she may be forgiven her incredible stupidity, she cannot be her bigotry, meanness and hypocrisy. After recently slamming the defence minster, Gallant forcefully and theatrically plumped herself into her seat with an expression of great moral indignation and rolling of eyes that not only had me laughing but also suspecting she had practiced that look before a mirror many times in hopes of being offered the opportunity to showcase her acting skills. She’s just a bad actor. Period.
But not just Gallant or the Conservatives. The Liberals have demonstrated that they are equally adept at embracing diametrically opposing beliefs with the same sincerity and/or outrage.
When Trudeau and gang failed in their attempt to rig the electoral reform committee and eventually realized Trudeau’s preferred choice of ranked balloting would not be recommended, the Liberals worked towards undermining the committee’s work and the reform itself by claiming their was no great demand from the public for electoral reform and by directly attacking the efforts of the committee members. When Trudeau made that particular promise, he did so in bad faith. When the committee finally submitted its final report and recommendation for a form of proportional representation, Trudeau killed electoral reform offering several reasons, none of which were valid and one inexcusably vile. First, he claimed there was no “consensus”. That wasn’t true. The committee had made a recommendation. He also suggested that moving towards a proportional representative system would lead to “extremists” becoming members of parliament and, possibly, forming extremist governments. This from a man of putative intelligence! A vast majority of Western nations successfully employ a form of proportional representation. Trudeau’s statement was that of a liar or a buffoon and an ignoramus from the school of Donald Trump. Not achieving from the committee his preferred choice of election system, he was too cowardly to follow through with a commitment that, if accepted and the recommendation adopted, would have almost certainly fulfilled his avowed commitment to fair, open, and transparent governance in the future. But Trudeau is a phony, all show and glitz, and he did as phonies do; he had two junior ministers work the department, undermining the first, letting the second announce the killing of electoral reform and then, himself, offered excuses and outright lies for the demise of mock effort.
But wearing two or more faces, all false, are not unique in politics and certainly not for Justin Trudeau.
When the Harper gang rammed through the so-called Fair Elections Act, the opposition were quick to protest none screaming louder than Trudeau’s Liberals. And that was the right thing to do because Harper and gang were seeking to rig future elections.
However, last year, perhaps suffering from some form of fugue state, the Liberals introduced Motion-6, which was simply a power grab worthy of Harper to limit opposition debate. On Sunday, April 30, 2017, Trudeau’s gang put forth sweeping rule changes regarding how the House was to run claiming the move necessary for purposes of efficiency. Utter rot. The move, opposed by all opposition members and even some Liberal backbenchers was to fulfill commitments to promises made during the last election. Well, that was the line put forth by Trudeau and Bardish Chagger, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and of small businesses and tourism. Again, utter rot.
As Power and Politics host Rosemary Barton pointed out, the government seems willing to honour some promises (the reopening of Veterans Affairs Offices) and yet let others die (electoral reform, re-instatement of life-long disability pensions for veterans, honesty, transparency, etc. etc.). Chagger ignored that question saying that the government was open to the opposition and willing to meet with them only to immediately negate that avowal by stating the reforms were going ahead regardless. Which begs the question Barton posed: What is the point of meeting with the opposition if the decision has been made?
The reforms, some of which are even acceptable, appear primarily concerned with weakening the ability of opposition to do its job of holding accountable the Liberal government with its massive majority. The tactics employed by the Liberals is much the same as Harper’s and with the same goal, to silence and squelch opposition voices and to undermine democracy. It was Harper who routinely, without opposition input, rammed through legislation by hiding them in omnibus bills, invoked debate time limits, closure, and prorogation of parliament. The Liberals seem determined to follow Harper’s lead.
The changes proposed have been loudly condemned by the opposition not only as an unseemly power grab, which it is, but also for the government’s failure to consult and seek consensus, as has been the norm. Trudeau’s avowal of openness and transparency, his promises of consultation and disclosure, were showy bagatelles nothing, absolutely nothing, more.
For now, it is true, the Liberals have dropped advance time allotments to debate and committee studies of bills, set aside a limit of comments by MPs during committee hearings to 10 minutes (leading Chagger to warn that government will be “forced” to impose time limits. Different from Harper? How?), dropping the proposal to test electronic voting in the Commons thus forcing MPs to continue standing — heaven forefend! — as they vote, and deferring the move to end Friday sittings. What stays is the following: Wednesday Question Periods will be allocated to Trudeau who will answer all questions for all his ministers (shades of Stephen Harper). He may or may not appear in the House other days. When he does show up (last year, according to the Huffington Post, he missed 69 of 118 sessions) Trudeau has continued with the tradition perfected by Harper, answering questions with non-answers repeatedly with almost the same words regardless of how the question is posed. The Speaker will be allowed to give more time for questions and answers (a good move) and he will be able to challenge questions put forth by MPs (how about challenging the non-answers from government members?). Perhaps the speaker will bring an end to MPs reading from scripts and all members, including the PM compelled to actually answer the question posed. The Liberals who had used an omnibus bill for its last budget, proposes to curtail the improper uses of such bills. Right. The rules would also require the government upon returning to the House after the imposition of prorogation to explain its reasons for the move with the report to be subject to study and Commons debate (Harper used prorogation several times to avoid tough questions and close scrutiny). The Liberal move is good if honoured but I suspect it will be mere window dressing and of no more value than that. Liberals also propose better oversight of taxpayers’ dollars but that is one proposal that is highly dubious and likely to feed public cynicism. As noted above, the Harper gang did not hesitate to go after the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page simply for doing his job. Both the Liberals and NDP were incensed at the time by Harpers continued efforts to undermine the integrity of the individual and the office. Well, the worm, and I do mean worm, has turned, Harper’s gone and there’s Trudeau seeking to do exactly what the Liberals condemned by Harper, i.e., restrict scrutiny of public finances and to hold government accountable. One way of doing that is by making the reports public. Last month, the Trudeau Liberals introduced measures to limit the PBO’s power to initiate reports and of MPs (presumably opposition members) to request estimates. As reported by Andy Blatchford, for the National Post (Ottawa Citizen, May 4, 2017), the government would impose controls on the PBO by the House of Commons and Senate Speakers. As well, the PBO would be required to cost election promises by political parties thereby diverting its resources and undermining its perceived independence. As well, it would be required to submit it’s plans for the year for approval to the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate thereby allowing these bodies to engage in efforts to forestall future investigations that may prove embarrassing and to restrict the ability of the PBO to investigate any new questionable behaviour that could derail government initiatives. Too, the PBO would not be allowed to make any reports public until a day after they were submitted to the Speakers of both Houses or to the parliamentary committee requesting the research.
Are these really the actions of a fair, open and transparent government?
Trudeau and Chagger have demonstrated that when it comes to saying and doing, they will lie and do as any unethical politico will. They have employed omnibus bills to slip in legislation; they have flouted conflict of interest rules, engaged routinely in secretive access-for-cash fundraisers, lied routinely, accepted gifts from millionaires, and padded expense claims. Just this week Trudeau has resumed his cash-for-access meetings with a few changes but not enough to convince me that everything is on the up-and-up. The fundraisers will be open to any member of the public able to pay $250 to the maximum allowable, $1500. They will be held in public places when Trudeau or ministers are in attendance, they will be announced in advance and the media will be allowed to attend and disclose the guest list within 45 days after the event. Sounds good and seems to have convinced Rosemary Barton of CBC’s Power and Politics that $250 cannot buy a vote. I don’t know if that’s true. If 300 widget salesmen attended for $250, that would bring $75K to the fundraiser. If 50 bankers attended the same meeting for $1500, that would bring in the same dollars. But imagine 300 lobbyists with similar interests at $1500. Anyone favour can be bought and I suspect from politicians more easily than some.
If politics is a dirty game its because of those who run for office for parties who have governed this nation far too long. They have become lazy and complacent more self-interest than nation-interested; their primary concern appears to be the getting of power and then clinging to it. And when they do form governments, particularly when they form majority governments, they make and changes laws that work best for them and those to whom they are beholden. They care absolutely nothing about you or me and all they want from us is our vote. They do not want reminders of their hypocrisy, of their dishonesty, of their dipping into the public trough; they want even less to hear from us that we expect honesty, decency, fairness, justice, and the ability to experience shame or that they work for the interests of all Canadians. They will not say so, but it is not for the interests of Canadians they work but themselves and those to whom they owe. They do not want our thoughts, our wisdom or our abilities except in how well they can best serve their needs. They will gladly accept our donations and our labour but not our opinions. We are ancillary to their needs.
Yes, Trudeau is a different man from Stephen Harper and, seeing him operate and knowing that he still rides high in the polls, a much more dangerous man. He is surface, with a brilliant smile and a killer’s heart. He is all too willing to appeal to those enamoured with the gloss and glitz and with short attention spans and little depth and seems to have little interest in standing up, truly standing up, for what he claims to believe. So, in what does he believe? He believes in enriching the Liberal party fortunes and in secret back room meetings and the privatization of infrastructure works projects that will cost Canadians even more as free enterprisers freely milk the public cash cow, perhaps some of them recipients of one of the 600 Broadway tickets for “Come From Away” paid for by Canadian taxpayers.
When he campaigned, he talked loudly and grandly and promised so much. It was chimera, smoke and mirrors. Poof! Nothing there.
But he’s not alone. There is a sewer full of those just like him.
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