I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.– Leonardo da Vinci
The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell. – Confucius
Frank A. Pelaschuk
While we might believe or hope it otherwise, politics is not a career for grownups with character. Character requires integrity and the ability to experience shame. We see little of that from members of the two major federal parties and their leaders, Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer. Jagmeet Singh, of the NDP, and Elizabeth May, of the Green Party, have not had the opportunity to prove themselves before the voters as members and leaders of a governing party. Maxime Bernier, one-time Harper conservative and so-called libertarian and leader of the portentously and somehow ominously named Peoples’ Party is a panderer of the worse sort, appealing mostly to the simplistic laissez faire mindset of the extreme right who often draw support, as do most conservative groupings, from the racist and religious bigots in the brutish white supremacist movement.
It is not just that folly, farce, pride, greed, ambition, pettiness, hypocrisy, vice, and venality all too often come into play in the service of special neo-liberal interests, it is that whole governments all too frequently can be bought to heel in the service of those special interests placing in jeopardy the very institutions meant to safeguard the nation and its citizens. Trust in a politician or a party is almost always misplaced and inevitably ends in betrayal. It happens because, while a very few provinces appear more open to change, federally we limit ourselves to inviting into our house and handing the keys to the only two parties we have since Canada became a nation. Others knock at the door pleading just to be acknowledged, listened to and heard; to them, NDP and Greens, thus far, we remain deaf, dumb and blind at the time we should be most receptive unable to adjust our thinking or break the stranglehold of the liberals or conservatives. It is foolish, if not insane, that we play along with the game of hope and betrayal in the full knowledge that the parties to whom we pass the keys can be trusted only to betray us and yet refuse to even consider the possibility of the NDP, my preference, or the Greens, proving more capable, more trustworthy, more reliable. Until that happens, and though I do believe it mostly true of the liberal and conservative parties, I cannot side with the cynics who insist of politicians: They are all the same.
They may be, I’m just not certain.
Still, when I look at those conservative leaders, Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford, Scott Moe, Brian Pallister, Jason Kenney, Blaine Higgs, I cannot help but despair. These folks, with their parochialism, their closed mindsets regarding the environment and social responsibility, their willingness to appeal to the worst of us with messages of racial and religious intolerance are representatives of the truly ugly underbelly of Canadian society. They are spiteful, petty, amoral, ideologically partisan, and dangerously blindly angry people preoccupied with achieving power and tearing down the accomplishments of their opponents regardless of how good, intelligent, successful, popular, and sanesimply because these fail to mesh with their blighted philosophy of angry, bitter, victimhood. Further evidence, if any is needed, that it is not just cream that rises to the top.
So, sometimes even doing so sick at heart, we vote for conservatives and liberals, occasionally vaguely aware that there are other parties out there but dissuaded from considering them with messages that voting for one of them will split the vote and lead to the victory of the party and leader you dislike most. Is that really how we should vote? For conservatives, federally and provincially, governance is simply opposing every progressive idea out there, especially those ideas coming from the federal liberals. That’s the mindless hysteria of the truly desperately stupid.
This tactic works well with the soft voters of no deeply held ideological bent and no fixed loyalty to either conservative or liberal and who have, perhaps, even boldly in the past, voted for the NDP or Green Party. We vote as we do often because we buy the message of fear and tell ourselves: Maybe it will be different this time.Of course, in our heart-of-hearts, we know it won’t be. It’s silly, stupid, destructive, this wistful faith. Only sometimes it does work out, the voter is rewarded. It doesn’t happen often; the rigged slot machine that wins; the player gets the noise and flashing lights and a few coins but it’s the house that walks away with the purse. If there is any real public benefit, it is likely accidental, very little and always crafted in such a manner to assure the beneficiary gaining most is the governing party and those special interest lobbyists to whom those conservatives and liberals are so closely wedded.
GOOD COMPANY MEN (AND WOMEN)
Politicians are cons. Every word they utter must be taken with a grain of salt for they can lie as easily and smoothly as any huckster defrauding Aunt Nelly of her life savings. Every promise made must be greeted with skepticism. Voters are pawns, props for politicians and fodder for special interests. Politicians are users, manipulative, liars, evasive, hypocritical, dull, stupid, dishonest, and always, always, shameless gasbags. Watch Question Period in Parliament. They seldom if ever answer a question directly put to them in many iterations by members of the opposition. When they do so, the response is a circuitous and lengthy non-response or, when read from a script, repeated so often the benumbed viewer is able to offer the response as fluently and as cleverly as that ignoramus blowhard he is looking at.
Politicians will portray themselves as different from those of other parties. That’s true but the differences are often too slight their tastes, loyalties and ideas making it almost impossible to differentiate one from the other.
Stephen Harper’s governance was heavily criticized by opposition members for its reliance on and use of omnibus bills in which legislation having nothing to do with the bill was quietly slipped in with the hopes they would escape notice of the opposition and the public. Harper’s conservatives, with Pierre Poilievre leading the charge as Minister of Democratic Reform, introduced the Fair Elections Act (George Orwell?) which not only sought to erode the power of the Commissioner of Elections to investigate campaign irregularities and, even more egregiously, to disenfranchise thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of transient voters, including students away from home, members of the First Nations, and the very poor unable to secure fixed, safe, affordable accommodation. The theory was that these people did not vote conservative. Harper and crew, you see, were not content with just using robocalls to misdirect people to vote at non-existent polling stations but also to divert funds between ridings to hide illegal expenses. Now that Justin Trudeau’s liberals are in power, omnibus bills seem a good idea. For politicians, especially the knuckle and dime variety like Scheer and Trudeau and the provincial princelings mentioned earlier, a good idea is a good idea even if it’s probably not good for democracy and benefits no one but the governing party and special interests to whom so much is owed. But that’s likely true of most of us without character.
It was Harper who initiated the Light-Armoured Vehicle deal with murderous Human Rights abusing Saudi Arabia even though it contravenes UN and our own Canadian laws regarding international dealings with such nations. While the NDP vehemently opposed the deal, opposition liberal leader Trudeau, while declaring reservations, could not bring himself to state he would cancel the contract worth $15 billion and 3,000 Canadian jobs. Just as well he did not, his supporters would then have had another reason to be disappointed in him. In spite of Trudeau’s tepid views and the harsh criticisms from the NDP and Human Rights activists and our own laws, Harper remained undeterred. This was business after all and he’s nothing if not a good company man.
But, out of office and replaced by liberal Trudeau, there was solace for Harper and the conservatives if not validation for their stand on corporate interests versus Human Rights. Trudeau was on the same page. It’s easier to talk about principles than having to live them. His government signed off on the LAV deal with Trudeau falsely claiming he had no choice, it was a done deal, his hands were tied and, even if he could intervene, Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner would lie in ruins. These were excuses, not reasons and none of them were valid. Trudeau, too, could be a good company man. Which goes to show that self-interest is a greater incentive than lofty ideals.
While it is true many had doubts about Trudeau, they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t take long to be tested again and again. He was not above accepting free, illegal gifts or flouting his own conflict of interest mandate edicts in letters to his ministers. Over the 2016 Christmas holiday with family and friends, he accepted a free helicopter ride from the Aga Khan. Coincidentally, it was announced that Canada, a major contributor to the Aga Khan Foundation since 1981 to the tune of $330 million, would donate another $55 million over the next five years.
More egregious were the many lies, denials, justifications, and final admissions of his many secret fundraising events attended by the well-heeled with claims that business matters were never discussed, that those doing or wishing to do business with the government were instructed to go through the proper channels, and that he, Trudeau, seldom knew beforehand who attended those events because he would often drop by at these private events without notice. That last is not credible if only because of security concerns. At one of these events, as reported by Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase, April 7, 2017, 32 Chinese business men, a few of them billionaires, were in attendance. One of them was insurance mogul Shenglin Xian, founder of Wealth One Bank of Canada and president of the Shenglin Financial Group Inc. Shortly after that fundraiser, Wealth One Bank was given the final okay to open up a federally chartered bank in Canada.Too, weeks later, Mr. Zhang and another businessman, Niu Gensheng donated money parceled out to the university of Montreal and the Trudeau Foundation to the tune of $1 million. Coincidence? Questionable. But it was not just Trudeau but also his cabinet members holding such events with the well-heeled sponsored by drug and other companies, cronies and acquaintances in the business world not only enriching the liberal coffers but also rewarding those benefactors. Good company men are not only rewarded, they also give back.
On May 8, 2019, the case of breach of trust against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, charged with leaking information regarding the procurement of a supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy, was stayed after two-and-a-half years, his reputation and career apparently in tatters. This was a case involving political interference, not only in the procurement process pitting the Davie Shipbuilding company based in Quebec which had won the sole-sourced contract under Stephen Harper effectively shutting out other bidders including the Irving Shipbuilding company in the east coast, and favoured by the liberals, but also in the judicial process, the government refusing to release documents to prosecution and defence. The charges came about because someone had leaked at least 12 times, the majority during the Harper years, that the Davie contract would be placed on hold and reviewed by the PMO, evidently at the insistence of Scott Brison, then President of the Treasury Board, with close ties to the Irving family. The liberals were not happy at the revelation and, embarrassed, quickly approved the original Davie deal to forestall accusations of political interference. Too late. The damage was done and someone would pay and it would be Norman even though it was determined by the Privy Council Office that at least 73 others were aware of the outcome of the November 2015 liberal cabinet meeting regarding the matter. It was a letter written sent to the House defence committee by three conservative and one NDP MPs accusing the PMO of political interference, that may have precipitated the stay when Norman’s defence raised questions about what they knew. Shortly after this, the prosecutor determined there was not reasonable expectation of conviction and, following that decision, former cabinet minister, Peter MacKay, stated that Norman had been authorized by the government to speak to Davie Shipbuilding and therefore could not be guilty of leaking to the company. The curious thing is the RCMP investigating did not interview any of the 73 witnesses. That is an astounding investigative lapse and needs to be looked into but begs the question: Why had conservatives, knowing this, waited this long before stepping forward on their own to clear Norman whose only crime, apparently, was a desire for the Royal Canadian Navy to get its much-needed ship? The behaviour of the liberals seems purely political but what of the delay by the conservatives who might have spared Norman many months of hanging in the wind? It seems to me they were making political capital from the very victim they were purportedly and loudly defending! (For the list of names, refer to the David Pugliese Dec. 4th, 2018 piece for the Ottawa Citizen (https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/the-mark-norman-files-the-official-list-of-those-who-knew-about-cabinet-discussions-on-supply-ship-project).
There are many questions remaining regarding this issue, not only with the role Trudeau’s liberals played but also by the role Stephen Harper’s conservatives played in changing the procurement rules from open bidding to sole source a fact that opposition conservative critics curiously gloss over. Harper was clearly playing for the Quebec vote just as Trudeau was the east coast vote. For Vice-Admiral Norman, whose only crime seems to be concern for the welfare of the Canadian navy, Trudeau’s role would prove itself to be as brutal, vindictive and, ultimately, inept as the Harper regime in its heyday.
But there is another matter that is equally troubling could prove fatal to Trudeau’s reign. Again, Scott Brison was to play a pivotal role and that was with his resignation who, according to reports, wanted to be with family. The departure of Brison triggered a cabinet shuffle leading to a surprising move of one MP to another cabinet post who, clearly disgruntled, tendered her resignation in a public forum setting off a scandal with suggestions of political and judicial interference by the PMO. This, of course, is the matter of Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based construction giant facing charges of corruption and bribery which has had Trudeau and gang behaving in ways resembling that of cheap politicos owing favours which is exactly what they were and are. Not only did the liberals bow to the lobbying efforts of SNC-Lavalin by inserting a DPA (Deferred Prosecution Agreement) clause in the omnibus 2018 Budget, they sought to undermine the independence of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) by pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould, at the time Attorney General and Justice Minister, to lean on Kathleen Roussel, the DPP, to stop the proceedings against the company that faced the possibility of a criminal conviction that would bar it from bidding on lucrative government contracts for ten years. While claiming his primary concern was preserving 9,000 (mostly Quebec) jobs, the PMO denied judicial interference: no one, they claimed, had “directed” her to intervene in the trial. For days Trudeau and cabinet members would use that word. She was never “directed” to intervene in the matter. That’s legalese or, as some might say, legalese for weasels. What we are to infer from that is that Jody Wilson-Raybould, as independent Attorney General, could independently conclude Canadian interests might best be served through the use of the DPA. While I may believe he was concerned about possible job losses, Trudeau and his liberals were likely more focused on last year’s Quebec election and this year’s federal election. The liberals would not want a Quebec-based company to be negatively impacted especially during an election year particularly if there were threats by the company to move its headquarters elsewhere. Clearly unhappy with the letter of resignation after her move to Veterans Affairs, the PMO engaged in a smear campaign against the former AG seeming to question her loyalty, her role as minister, as leader, and as boss. The public did not buy the unseemly and unfair attempt to smear her any more than they bought the charge against Vice-Admiral Norman apparently under the apprehension that bullies playing the role of good company people were working to protect Big Business and the PMO with claims that DPAs are used in other jurisdictions and that it is legal (even though, in this instance, lobbied for by the very company under investigation).
With the DPA in place, all the company had to do was admit wrongdoing, pay a hefty fine, reorganize the company structure and reimburse any illegal benefits. Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to play along saying the DPP as an independent body had made its decision. That was the right, decent, required move. The fallout of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation resulted in the resignation in solidarity of the very capable Jane Philpott. She had recently been shuffled to the position occupied by Brison, that of President of the Treasury Board. Fallout from this debacle resulted in the early retirement of Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, and resignation of Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s lifelong friend and Principle Secretary so as not to be a “distraction”. While it’s difficult to accept that it may happen with all the attendant negative publicity, it’s very possible that SNC-Lavalin, a company with a dark and checkered history, might still benefit from the DPA it fought so hard to pass into law. Further to this story, it recently came to light that SNC-Lavalin, hoping to influence the outcome of elections between 2004 and 2011, made illegal contributions to the liberal and conservative parties by having employees make donations as if their own and then reimbursing them. Canada’s election commissioner at that time, Yves Côté, offered no punishment for the criminal acts by the company executives eliciting from them only the promise to sin no more, an option denied conservative Dean Del Mastro charged with breaching the Canada Elections Act during the 2011 elections for which he spent a month in jail, four months of house arrest, and eighteen months of probation for doing the very same. Now I have no sympathy with Del Mastro for whom I have no liking, firmly of the belief he deserved even more time in jail. But he is right when he whines that SNC-Lavalin, a serial offender, got off scot free. The company, protected by politicos, has not only been given too many breaks only to reoffend rather than reform, it apparently does so without any show of repentance or in change of behaviour.
Justin Trudeau knows the company’s history as do all other members in the Canadian political and business landscape. David Lametti has replaced Jody Wilson-Raybould as Attorney General and Justice Minister. We can only wait and see how good a company man he is. We all know what Trudeau wants for SNC-Lavalin. I’m sure Lametti does as well.
So, how good a company man is Trudeau?
During the Harper era, Peter MacKay, at that time Defence Minister, with Stephen Harper leading the charge, had set about to purchase fighter jets setting their sights on the F-35s made by American Lockheed Martin, the most expensive and best flying machines in the market. Unfortunately, Harper and MacKay bungled the procurement process never able to satisfactorily settle on what the costs would be for the purchase of the 65 jets except to guesstimate anywhere from $9 billion to $19 billion though critics were doubtful saying the costs were likely in the $25 to as high as $125 billion range. The liberals were outraged, Trudeau loudly declaring, as is his wont, he would “never” as prime minister, do the deal. Well, in early May, he was reconsidering, planning to hold an open bid to replace the creaky CF-18s. The move however left US officials warning Canada that as one of the F-35 partner signatories of 2006, there was no requirement committing signatory nations to reinvest in Canada using Canadian suppliers for parts which, at present, is the standard for most military procurements. Trudeau, admitting Canada could not consider an open bid with one bidder (Lockheed Martin) effectively shut out, has hinted he is prepared to make changes to the procurement requirements. It seems that even this good Canadian company man has fallen under the spell of the Cadillac of jets in the same way as did the Harper gang and may be prepared to throw Canadian parts suppliers under the bus. It should surprise no one.
When it comes to the neo-liberal agenda, conservative and liberal politicians really are the same.
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