Federal Politics

Please Advise! This Looks Bad, Will Trudeau Choke?

Omnibus bills are like boxes of chocolates, which can lodge in PM’s craw.

By Steve Burgess 14 Feb 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

The SNC-Lavalin controversy and the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould have emerged as the biggest scandal of the Trudeau administration so far — and in an election year, too. How much political damage will this do to the Liberal government?



Dear Intrigued,

It’s been pointed out by several pundits that the SNC-Lavalin affair really began with last year’s C-74 omnibus bill, passed by the Liberals and including, oh, lots of different stuff. As political philosopher Forrest Gump once said, an omnibus bill is like a box of chocolates. And this one certainly was full of surprises.

It had some cannabis-flavoured treats (Duty on Cannabis Products), some satisfying nutty clusters (Canada Pension Plan, Post-Retirement Disability Benefits), some blah nougat options (Department of Employment and Social Development Act), and way down near the end of its 150 pages, a clause about DPAs (Deferred Prosecution Agreements), which allow companies like SNC-Lavalin to settle cases without criminal charges. Like chocolate-covered crickets, DPAs are not to everyone’s taste, but those who like them like them a lot.

But omnibus bills are one of the things Justin Trudeau campaigned against. Terrible, cynical bundles of subterfuge, Gummi Bears full of Harper government poison, that’s what they are. Still, a person can develop a taste for anything. Maybe when you were a kid you considered the coconut chocolates to be deadly landmines scattered throughout the box, only to seek them out in later years. A few years off the campaign trail, the Liberals seem to have discovered a liking for those icky coconut ones.

Could it be that Trudeau now has his very own Trump wall? I mean that only in the sense that Trump campaigned on his wall-building plan in 2016 and, the way things are going, could very well run on a “Build the wall” theme again in 2020: “Trump: This time for sure!” Likewise, Trudeau could once again run against omnibus bills, and with greater conviction now that he has seen firsthand the damage they can do. How about: “Trudeau vs. Omnibus: This time it’s personal!”

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to use this handy new tool to deal with charges against SNC-Lavalin and was subsequently shuffled off the portfolio. Opposition members are demanding an ethics investigation. Then what? Will “Sunny Ways” Trudeau fall over this tawdry and too-familiar spectacle of backroom corporate influence? That question brings us back to another box of chocolates. This one, alas, has less variety to offer.

Very often voters who dream of surveying a deluxe assortment are left scanning a sketchy bargain box for the least-worst option. Pity the poor voters of Britain who seek a halt to the unfolding Brexit disaster and yet must watch helplessly as feckless Jeremy Corbyn refuses to be their champion. The apparent options for British voters: The Hindenburg, or the Hindenburg with a few more fire extinguishers.

So what are the options Canadian voters face this year? Will Liberal voters dismayed by L’Affaire SNC-Lavalin decide that they are tired of political parties who are too cozy with big business and turn to… Andrew Scheer?

Jagmeet Singh and the NDP are another option for disgruntled Liberals. A scandal like this seems tailor-made for an NDP campaign. But let’s be honest, Singh has thus far not exactly been the smooth delight that the Canadian sweet tooth craves. Singh could still turn it around but so far, four out of five dentists are skeptical.

Then there’s the fact that vote-rich Quebec seems to have a very different perspective on this whole fuss. Sympathy there does not lie with Wilson-Raybould but with SNC-Lavalin and its workforce. Rumour has it Quebec can be rather an important region for Canadian politicians. Trudeau and his team might just feel that, notwithstanding some embarrassment and scores of disillusioned supporters, they are currently on the right side of this issue, politically.

There is always the possibility that a tainted Trudeau will lose his general appeal on a wide range of issues once he is no longer able to sell himself as the delectable ganache confection of your dreams, Intrigued. But I doubt it. Politics may indeed look like a box of chocolates, but be careful. Those little brown lumps frequently hide things far more disgusting than maraschino cherries.  [Tyee]

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