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Federal Politics

An Early Voter’s Guide to Trudeau (Bad) and Scheer (Worse)

Don’t let negative partisanship trick you into backing Harper lite.

Michael Harris 23 May

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly-awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

If Andrew Scheer had a sense of gallows humour, he would thank Justin Trudeau for his “donation” — the way the PM infamously thanked First Nations protesters for theirs at one of his recent fundraisers.

Donation to what, you ask? The campaign to elect a Conservative federal government this October.


Nothing the Conservatives have done so far has been remotely as effective in that cause as Trudeau’s remarkable, and mystifying, blundering.


Take the environment. Everyone wants to claim this baby, but no one wants to raise it. Trudeau began as the champion of the blazing issue of our times. But these days, the prime minister looks less like the climate guy from Paris than he does a Texas oil man with gushers on his mind. When he gives the green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline in June, that impression will only deepen.

Apart from his much-ballyhooed carbon tax, there is not much to celebrate on this file, despite all the right words and excellent photo-ops. As Canada stumbles towards missing the modest emission targets of Paris, Stephen Harper’s targets, this PM acts more like Jason Kenney than David Suzuki.

Trudeau overpays for a pipeline carrying dirty oil through pristine rivers and forests in British Columbia;

He exempts certain tarsands projects from new environmental assessment rules in a crude trade-off with Alberta;

He considers loosening restrictions on the pollution of major rivers with toxic effluent from tarsands tailing ponds;

He allows the unregulated use of seismic blasting to explore for oil and gas on Canada’s east coast, right whales be damned;

And he has nothing to say about a pulp and paper mill building a 10-kilometre pipe to carry and dump hastily treated toxic effluent into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait.

Justice swerved

Mirroring his loss of personal credibility on the environment file, the PM has managed justice issues deplorably. He has acted like Donald Trump working over Robert Mueller with a rubber hose under a naked lightbulb in the basement of the White House.

First there was Jody Wilson-Raybould. Lacking the sense to leave an active criminal file to the justice department, Trudeau tried to induce his then justice minister to reverse a decision that Wilson-Raybould’s Director of Public Prosecutions had already made. For such a loudly proclaimed feminist, the PM never figured out that no meant no.

Wilson-Raybould stood firm against political meddling in SNC-Lavalin’s active criminal case. In so doing, she became one of the victims of the PM’s corporate petulance on behalf of a Quebec company with a dismal international reputation.

That serial incompetence and hubris cost the PM two star cabinet ministers, his principal secretary, and his clerk of the privy council. And it is why he stands at a miserable 27 per cent in the most recent Leger poll conducted between April 18 and 22 for the Canadian Press — 13 points behind Scheer and the Conservatives.

Wiser heads, including one senior diplomat, advised the PM to apologize to both Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. It is called cutting your losses. Or as the old proverb has it, “No matter how far down the wrong road you go, turn back.”

Instead, Trudeau booted both women out of caucus, exacerbating his problems. Although the PM has set an apology record for Canadian leaders, he refused to say sorry for his role in railroading Canada’s first aboriginal justice minister out of office. Some reconciliation.

And now there is the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, and the botched criminal investigation by the RCMP that ended in disgrace for the government.

According to published reports in the Globe and Mail, it was the PM who set in motion this half-assed, politically inspired RCMP dig into Norman that led to a single criminal charge against him for breach of trust — and two years of gratuitous agony for the accused.

The investigation was essentially a charade. None of the key witnesses from the Harper era were even interviewed by the RCMP, even though most of Norman’s alleged wrongdoings occurred under the previous government.

Just as bad from a justice perspective, the PCO and PMO did not provide requested documents to Norman’s defence team. For that, Marie Henein, who is part lawyer, part honey-badger, handed them their asses.

The criminal charge against her client was stayed, but the opposition fury is just beginning. Nor is it at all certain that Norman is finished telling his story. Like a depth charge, further developments could explode during the election campaign.

In getting the Mounties involved, Trudeau apparently acted out of frustration and anger that a cabinet document had leaked involving the planned delay of a $668-million ship contract with Davie shipyard in Quebec.

Even after the Norman criminal investigation triggered in part by Trudeau was underway, the PM publicly commented on the case, declaring that he thought it would end up in court. The PM was in essence predicting that Norman would be charged.

That is both amateur hour and the stuff of which obstruction of justice is made. Which is why the Conservatives are asking for a public inquiry into the Norman Affair. Just a few weeks back, all opposition parties were demanding a public inquiry into Jodygate. This is what happens when politicians try to politicize justice.

Dangerous liaisons

And while the economy is still Trudeau’s friend, foreign affairs are not. Mocked as Mr. Dress Up for his sartorial defection during a state visit to India, Trudeau is facing more than satire for his government’s demolition of the China relationship. The Meng Wanzhou Affair is still burning out of control.

Once seen as a key player in Canada’s wise decision to diversify its trading partners, China is now applying the boa constrictor to commerce between the two nations. We can’t sell a barrel of western oil or a soybean to Beijing these days, let alone the idea that Canada is a wonderful place to invest all that Chinese moolah.

While Meng toughs it out in her Vancouver mansion, two Canadians are in a real Chinese jail charged with espionage. Acting as Trump’s chump in this murky affair, Canada is now paying the price for doing the police work for U.S. trade politics. Good luck to that parliamentary delegation the feds just sent to China to free our citizens.

When you add in broken promises like electoral reform and government transparency, the frat-boy trip to the Aga Khan’s island, and the belly-flop on reconciliation with First Nations, the idea of Trudeau losing the government this October is entirely possible, and maybe even likely.

That is especially true thanks to a new trend in electoral politics — negative partisanship. Stanford University political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Masha Krupenkin describe it this way: with negative partisanship “it is out-group animus rather than in-group favouritism that drives political behaviour.”

That is a fancy way of saying people act out of hatred of the opponent more than agreement with their own side. That’s why, despite the fact that their town has not experienced a boom, blue-collar workers in Youngstown, Ohio are sticking with Trump.


But here’s the rub. As disappointing as Trudeau has been to many voters, the traditional alternative, the official Opposition, is far, far worse.

The government-in-waiting led by Andrew Scheer is a collection of Harper era re-treads peddling the same populist Republican policies Canadians vigorously rejected in 2015. As a group, the Conservatives’ favourite driving gear is reverse.

When the Tories had a chance to take the party in a new direction with a new leader, a step or two perhaps toward the values of the old Progressive Conservatives, they rejected someone like Michael Chong and chose Harper-clone Scheer. That was the declaration that, at least ideologically, this is still Harper’s party.

That could be why the Conservatives have never rejected the trademark policies of the Harper years that cost them government in 2015.

The Harper decade was 10 years of wedge politics and division in Canada. The Conservatives weakened Parliament, attacked the press, fought with the Supreme Court, produced budgetary deficits in seven of nine years in power, hid public information, and lied about inconvenient facts like the true cost of their doomed F-35 fighter jet project.

Far from repudiating their most egregious dalliances with racist authoritarianism, as in Bill S-7 and its zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices, the Tories have only said that the roll-out was wrong. In other words, the party was just a better comms strategy away from open season on immigrants.

Transparently hypocritical

Nor should anyone take for true-penny Scheer’s righteous call for a public inquiry into the Norman Affair. That’s because the Conservatives were nowhere to be seen when the Harper PMO set the Mounties on Sen. Mike Duffy even more egregiously than Trudeau is alleged to have done on Mark Norman.

Not a single, sitting Tory asked for a public inquiry into how the Mike Duffy/Nigel Wright Affair soiled national politics and the rule of law for two years — until a court acquitted the senator of all 31 trumped up criminal charges against him. Even after Duffy’s acquittal, and the outing by the judge of what sordid things the Harper PMO had done to Duffy, there was no call for an inquiry — or even an apology.

Not really a surprise. In power, the signature tactic of the Harper government was not to get at the truth, but to bury it. Voters who think Andrew Scheer is the answer to Justin Trudeau are dreaming with eyes wide open. Consider how the Conservatives stymied every attempt to get to the bottom of the Afghan detainee fiasco.

They refused to hand over documents on three separate occasions — in a court case brought by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, to a special parliamentary committee, and to the Military Police Complaints Commission. In the end, that’s why they were famously found to be in contempt of Parliament. Not exactly champions of the public’s right to know.

Climate blind

Scheer has changed nothing in the Conservative play book. The party continues to be the fossil-head it was under Harper, shilling for the oil industry and pretending it’s all for the little guy.

The proof of that is twofold: the persistent, even turbo-charged defence of yesterday’s energy source, fossil fuels, while the planet chokes; and the plain fact that the party still doesn’t have an environmental plan, even though a chorus of Cassandras in the scientific community says the clock has almost run out for cutting CO2 emissions. Do New Yorkers have to be snorkelling above the spire of the Empire State Building for these guys to get it?

Last October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that unless carbon emissions are cut by 50 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050, the planet would face “catastrophic climate chaos.”

This year a new UN study documented the stunning extinction of multiple species that goes hand in hand with climate change. The Conservative answer is to fight the carbon tax with provincial taxpayers’ money in the upcoming federal election, and to make war on environmental groups. WTF?

As for Scheer’s claim that he will reveal his “plan” for the environment in June, low-grade bullshit glitters by comparison. Scheer is like a suitor proposing marriage five minutes after he learns that his beloved has won the lottery. Anyone who buys in on Scheer’s eleventh hour bid to become planet-friendly is firmly in the grip of negative partisanship.

How silly is the Conservative position on climate change? Scheer has already waffled on whether or not his plan for the environment will even support emission targets adopted by Canada in the Paris Agreement.

That is a far cry from what he said on CTV last year, when he declared that “of course” his plan would meet the Paris targets. Given that Donald Trump reneged on the Paris Agreement, don’t be surprised if Scheer does too. In the world of populist “strongmen” around the planet, it is a case of monkey see, monkey do.

Secret scheming

And what were Scheer and two of his aides doing holding a secret meeting with oil-industry executives discussing strategies to defeat Trudeau?

Didn’t the government pass a law against such third-party scheming during the writ period? Oh, that’s right. It’s not quite the writ period yet. So this is acceptable scheming with the oily set.

Trudeau Environment Minister Catherine McKenna nailed it: this kind of thinking is straight out of the Harper play book. Remember what then-PM Harper said about the oil patch? It would be “crazy economics” to regulate the energy sector. Actually, with the water coming up to the kitchen table in a lot of places, regulating might be a question of life and death.

Yet Postmedia is in there “pitching” itself to the government of Alberta on how it could be involved in Jason Kenney’s so-called “war-room,” whose stated purpose is to counter “lies” about Alberta’s energy industry.

“Lies,” of course, should be read as mere criticism of the tarsands, like the inconvenient fact pointed out by Rob Wadsworth, vice-president of closure and liability at the Alberta Energy Regulator. Wadsworth recently said that it will take up to $260 billion to clean up thousands of abandoned wells and gas plants, let alone the infamous tailings pond, when the fossil fuel party is officially over. Not to worry though. Industry has already put aside a billion and a bit for the job.

My guess? The privatized profits and benefits of the tarsands will be long gone when the mountain of clean-up debt is “socialized.” And so will the politicians who are cheerleading for this shit-show.

Voters may suspect the Shiny Pony is phoney. But if they think that makes Andy dandy, they have forgotten something. Answered prayers are often a special brand of nightmare.

Could it be time for change with risk? Could it be time to elect a government committed to saving the planet, rather than four bucks on a fill-up of gas?  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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