Public office is the last refuge of the incompetent. – Boies Penrose
They are proud in humility, proud in that they are not proud. – Robert Burton
Frank A. Pelaschuk
Justin Trudeau had it made. He became prime minister largely on his good looks, youth, charm, and oozing, simply oozing, sincerity. He was going to make a change with huge, loudly declared glorious promises, one of which, if followed through, might have changed Canada, parliament and the political landscape for the better forever. For those who wanted to believe in fairy tales, he was Prince Charming, the real deal, the man of vision, the man one could trust to accomplish great things.
Not surprisingly, that was will-o’-the-wisp wishful thinking, the chimerical promise of the snake oil salesman. The big promises, one in particular, Electoral Reform, did not materialize, being lure to the braggadocio’s strut, the blowhard’s false promise of a hope so many yearned for believing it a remote possibility only to be left with the bitter aftertaste of betrayal upon having it proved true yet again. The pain of disappointment must surely have been acute for those who trusted him perhaps because they really believed in him and in the promise, believed in his claims of feminism and support of human rights, of finally healing the rift between First Nations peoples and Canada. He would help make Canada a better home for all. If so, how much sharper the ache when, put to the test, he walked away from promise after promise again and again beginning with his triumphant declaration that 2015 would be the last first past-the-post election ever and then, upon realizing the keeping of that promise would not allow him the outcome he so desperately wanted, he himself set about to undermine and kill the dream none had called for but fervently wanted saying of its death, “the public had lost interest”. It wasn’t true but we all knew then, or should have, what kind of man he was.
He’s a feminist. He’s told us that often enough so why didn’t I believe him? Perhaps it’s because of the revelation of his groping a female reporter at a music festival when he was twenty-eight. Or it could be his failure to respond on two separate occasions when asked by reporters to comment on the taped recording of Trump trumpeting his misogyny saying only, “Everyone knows I’m a feminist”. Well, I don’t know that. Saying so doesn’t make it so. We know he is tolerant, anti-racist, and yet has attended events on more than one occasion in black face. No, I don’t believe Trudeau is a racist, but I do believe him very, very foolish.
Too, his stand on human rights is of great concern. He believes in them as sincerely as Stephen Harper when Harper initiated the Saudi Arabia LAV (light armoured vehicle) deal. Just as did Harper, Trudeau ignored such concerns in spite of UN sanctions and Canada’s own laws regarding international trade with errant nations abusing human rights and Saudi Arabia is one such abuser and in a major way. When taking the moral high road is perceived as imperiling Canadian business interests and Canadian jobs, the moral high-road rarely merits more than lip service by such as Harper and Trudeau. With Harper, there was no surprise in this; he made no pretense of interest or concern in human rights while Trudeau campaigned on the promise of human rights being in the forefront. And then he got elected. If hypocrisy and shamelessness are requisites for a successful career in politics, Trudeau appears particularly adept in the practice of both.
While no liberal and certainly contemptuous of conservatives, particularly those from the Harper era still infecting the political pool, I nevertheless had hoped for the best from Trudeau without believing we would get it. I could understand his draw and why so many fell for it; I just could not trust what I heard and saw. Sadly, upon taking office as Prime Minister, Trudeau very quickly confirmed my suspicions of him. Straw and empty charm. He believes his own press: he is loved by all and can do anything. Even so, the trail of broken promises in the wake of his first term did have a negative impact on his re-election bid allowing him a narrow victory with with a minority government.
With all his baggage, I do believe Trudeau wishes to be the man we want him to be: caring, empathetic, sincere, decent, decisive, competent, and successful both as individual and as PM, one who actually will make meaningful contributions to Canada. But, for him, I believe, such traits, which he appears to confidently possess, are merely intellectual adornments, masks to be donned for whatever the occasion accompanied, as always, by the indicators of sincerity, furrowed brows and pursed lips; caring, empathy, and even sincerity cannot be learned but are characteristics bred to the bone. I don’t believe they are intrinsic to Trudeau. There is about him a coldness and calculation that should make those around him wary. He will throw them to the wolves as ruthlessly and as easily as he discarded liberal senators within weeks of taking office when he declared them no longer liberals. It was the loud, grand, even bold, gesture but meaningless and offensive in the publicness of the dismissals. Of his character, it was revealing; not only did it appear to me a particularly cruel way to do what he did, but the exultation he displayed following that was unseemly, his declaration to the world: I can be tough and ruthless as any man! He must have been thinking of Harper. But the move was blind achieving nothing. As easy to have a stranger declaring one cannot love whom one does.
For Trudeau, there is more interest in the public perception of his image than the fact of it. He is not a bad man, I believe, at least not wholly, but he is too absorbed in the imagining and the work of convincing the pubic of himself as a good person than in the practicing of it. He will pander to all the touchstones that he perceives the public supports as good: feminism, anti-racism, human rights, etc. If it catches the public’s attention as worthwhile and supportable, Trudeau is certain to be there. He is a politician, after all, with the unerring instincts of the predator honing in on the prey.
So, all the more puzzling his behaviour and involvement in the three breaches of conflict of interests that we know of. How could a man so smart be so stupid? Or am I giving him too much credit?
There was his acceptance of the free helicopter ride for family and friends from the Aga Khan while on a Christmas vacation. For years the Aga Khan’s charitable foundation has received millions from Canada and, following that trip, was promised even more from Canada.
Then we have the SNC-Lavalin scandal when Trudeau, a true believer in the “rule of law”, sought to subvert it to save SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based company, from a possible conviction for various criminal acts including bribery and obstruction of justice. Because of that interference, the Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous woman to achieve this post, was forced to step down because she would not help the company avoid prosecution. This led to the resignation of another extremely competent MP, Jane Philpott, in solidarity of her colleague. So much for his support of First Nations individuals, of feminism, and of the “rule of law”. For that imbroglio, he “refused to apologize for fighting to save Canadian jobs” because that was his job. Yes, it is, but, more importantly, his job is also to ensure the integrity of the courts and uphold “the rule of law” which he clearly sought to undermine and yet always references when it suits his needs.
But the liberal government’s decision to sole source $900K to the WE charity to which Trudeau, his wife, mother and brother have close ties, may be the one straw too many as the Ethics Commissioner launches yet another investigation into Trudeau’s shaky ethical world. Worse, for the liberals, the scandal has ensnared yet another high-profile candidate, the finance minister, Bill Morneau, whose two daughters have worked for the same organization. For both men, issues of ethics seem to be particularly irksome. When questioned whether he or any member of his family had financially benefitted from the ties, Trudeau, as did the charity, founded by Marc and Craig Kielburger, initially denied any such benefit only to recant that a day later claiming there had been an accounting error. Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre, Justin’s mother and brother received close to $300K from the charity.
That there was no public bid for the contract, Trudeau claiming the WE organization was the only charity capable of distributing the money to student volunteer workers for up to $5K beggars belief. The United Way, for one, has been around for a lot longer than the organization founded by Trudeau friends. That Trudeau did not recuse himself from the selection process by civil servants also forces one to ask: What was Trudeau thinking? Did he really believe no one would question this? Said Alex Wellstead, spokesperson for the PMO, “What is important to remember is that this is about a charity supporting students.” No. What is important to remember is that Trudeau and Morneau did not recuse themselves from that selection decision which liberals claim was the recommendation of public servants. What is important to remember is that Trudeau, Morneau and members of their family have close, at times paid, ties to the charity. What is important to remember is that the selection process was neither open to public bidding nor transparent. And, while it is true that the WE charity refused to accept the funds, that decision was made only following the loud public outcry of disbelief and fury.
I cannot say I believe Trudeau to be a man of integrity. He may wish to be and he may wish us to believe he is but I have witnessed little evidence that convinces. From the first as Prime Minister, he and his colleagues have been plagued by issues of integrity often ignoring and skirting around questions regarding their many numerous and secretive fundraising endeavours at private homes or suggestive of conflicts of interest. Trudeau is flawed but not in the way that induces sympathy or even understanding. He seems to have been made drunk by the adoration of others who have fallen under a spell without understanding there appears to be no real there there. A straw man, he appears to need to be loved and yet would have, as he has demonstrated, little difficulty in throwing those very people who adore him, to the wolves if need be. In that way, he has much in common with Stephen Harper. But I believe Harper understands and accepts exactly who and what he is. Trudeau’s halo has long been tarnished and bent, yet he carries on convinced he is the one who has the attention of the public. He does. Covid-19 has allowed him to shine simply by throwing out billions of taxpayer dollars to the public, to businesses and to charities. Too, with the public preoccupied by the pandemic and all the attendant problems, he might have believed no one was paying attention. He tossed the coin and took his chance. This may be his undoing.
Maybe the career choice of politician requires risk-taking. That’s a good thing when not foolhardy. Maybe the career choice also requires fluidity in matters of integrity, decency, and the ability to experience shame. If not the case, why have so few in recent years possessed so little of any of these traits? Is it truly all about the main chance?
While I do not share Anne Frank’s generous view of mankind (“In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart”), I don’t accept that entry into politics requires a propensity for dishonesty and/or self-enrichment. No one can be perfect but they can strive for it in the choices they make. One can talk of being ethical and of possessing integrity; that is Trudeau. Or one can be ethical and act with integrity. I prefer this camp. Unfortunately, those folks are long gone or no longer hold office. Deeds matter more than words. Ethics and integrity, honesty and decency, pride and humility are not cards to be called up or discarded to suit one’s time or needs. They should flow in the character of the individual as smoothly, as easily and as comfortably as blood through the veins. That is an ideal but that is what we should all strive for and demand of our politicians.
There is too much venality in politics. Trudeau is just another example of the poor choices we make again and again. Politicians and voters do make mistakes. But when they repeat the mistake again and again, it is a habit and cannot be tolerated. Instead, we must take stock, look more closely at ourselves and our motives as well as at those running for office; we must vote with our minds questioning all the promises and challenging all the appeals to our biases keeping in mind those who, at the very least, have done their best not for themselves but for those who have placed trust in them.
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