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Election 2019
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The SNC-Lavalin Scandal Is a Sideshow Distracting from the Real Issue: Corporate Control

Conservatives and Liberals can both breathe easier as media fixate on the story as if it was an aberration. It’s not.

Tristan Hughes 20 Aug 2019TheTyee.ca

Tristan Hughes is an occasional social commentator and future PhD student at Princeton University.

The SNC-Lavalin frenzy is a distraction.

The media fixation on the scandal keeps the election debate within status quo-friendly parameters, which benefits the Canadian elite and their two main parliamentary representatives: the Conservatives and — with important caveats — the Liberals as well.

The mainstream media version of events involves a seductively simple cast of characters: the apolitical justice system and ethics commissioner, a “stubborn and wilful” prime minister who crossed the line, and a noble Antigone-like figure — Jody Wilson-Raybould — who defied state power.

The dominant media narrative puts the spotlight on individual personalities and an arcane bureaucratic dispute — how many people are prepared to study the Shawcross Doctrine governing prosecutorial independence? And it largely ignores the broader social or economic context.

This packaging of the scandal fits the Conservatives’ agenda perfectly. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer likes to maintain an anti-establishment aura. But as a party of big business, the Conservatives can’t be “radical” in any substantive manner.

With the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Conservatives can have their cake and eat it too. They and their media allies get their chance to bash the Liberals as an entitled elite.

“Justin Trudeau,” Scheer said after the release of the ethics commissioner’s report, “is using his office to help a very select group of his very rich and powerful friends.”

And because of the scandal’s narrow focus on legal issues, the Conservatives can fixate on Trudeau’s alleged moral depravity, or make vague (and therefore meaningless) proclamations about a Liberal oligarchy.

This puts the election debate exactly where the Conservatives want it. Obsessing over the SNC-Lavalin affair means more urgent questions about the entirely legal ways that the federal government is at the beck and call of business are ignored.

For example, what about the climate crisis that’s threatening the existence of humanity? Both federal and provincial governments are waging an insane war to preserve the fossil fuel industry and protect corporate interests. (And Scheer has made it clear he would do the same.)

But instead of the climate emergency, the hot election issue at the moment remains whether or not Trudeau stood up for jobs in the SNC-Lavalin affair — a triviality compared to what could be up for discussion.

That’s why, in a somewhat backhanded way, the Liberal party benefits from the SNC-Lavalin shenanigans too (although to be sure, scandals are obviously best avoided).

The idea that the SNC-Lavalin affair represents a scandalous aberration is based on the false premise that the federal government doesn’t always act at the behest of big business.

But let’s be clear: for the past four years, the Liberals have continued the Harper-era consolidation of corporate power, largely without discussion or debate. The Trudeau government uses free trade agreements to lock future governments into free market policies, limits union bargaining rights with back-to-work legislation, purchases the occasional pipeline and keeps the exploitative temporary foreign worker program running.

“Because it’s 2019,” I guess.

By channeling all its outrage towards a few unruly bureaucrats and an engineering firm, the mainstream media has implicitly condoned the federal government’s shrewder and fully legal instances of business favouritism.

The discussion leading up to the election shouldn’t be focused on whether the Trudeau government has transgressed the rules of the game, but rather the game itself.

Conforming to both the law and bureaucratic decorum, the Trudeau government has facilitated the destruction of the planet and strengthened the free market consensus. How has that been possible?

That’s what the election debate should be about. Instead, we’ll hear a never-ending drone about how Pierre Trudeau should have given his son a less generous allowance, which is exactly what Scheer and the Liberals want.

The Tyee’s federal election coverage is made possible by readers who pitched in to our election reporting fund. Read more about how The Tyee developed our reader-powered election reporting plan and see all of our stories here.  [Tyee]

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