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Election 2019

The Sad Reality of Liberal Partisans’ Response to Trudeau’s Scandal

‘Vote for us — we’ll screw you over in favour of cronies less often’ is hardly a pro-democracy campaign slogan.

Paul Willcocks 15 Aug

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

The ethics commissioner’s report into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s abuse of power is depressing on many levels, from the sordid facts to the confirmation of the government’s past dishonesty to Trudeau’s attempt to dodge guilt.

But the saddest thing was the response of Liberal partisans.

The report is a litany of serious wrongdoing. Commissioner Mario Dion found the “authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of [Jody] Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”

Trudeau and his team were working to advance SNC-Lavalin’s “significant financial interests in deferring prosecution” on bribery and corruption charges. “The evidence showed that private political interests were also put before Ms. Wilson‑Raybould, directly or indirectly, on at least four separate occasions,” the report found. (Which the government had repeatedly and falsely denied.)

And the report also found Trudeau and company continued to push Wilson-Raybould to let SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution long after she made it clear that the actions were improper.

The findings leave the Liberals’ past denials of wrongdoing in tatters.

Trudeau’s response was the kind of political slipperiness that leaves voters dispirited.

He said Wednesday he accepts the report and takes responsibility “for everything that happened.”

But at the same time he said he disagrees with many of the findings, as if the report of the independent ethics commissioner was some sort of opinion, rather than a careful finding of fact.

And in the next breath Trudeau effectively denied wrongdoing. “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs,” he said.

How many jobs? If SNC-Lavalin is convicted, it will be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years. But the work would go ahead. Other companies would bid, and would hire people to fill the jobs.

The company employs about 8,800 people in Canada. Not all of them work on federal projects. But say one-third of the jobs would be lost — that’s about 2,900 people. (Who still might be hired by the companies that do win the work.)

Some 3,900 workers have lost their jobs in the B.C. forest industry this year. Where is Trudeau’s willingness to stand up for their jobs?

And the ethics commissioner’s report noted that on Oct. 11, a day after SNC-Lavalin announced publicly that the charges were going ahead, the company “forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office a research piece entitled ‘SNC: Thanks for Nothing’… The document noted that the value of SNC‑Lavalin’s share price had dropped 14 per cent following the public disclosure the day before and included details on key financial metrics, as well as a recommendation for investors.”

The corporation’s share price was the issue at that point, not jobs.

The report capped a sordid episode, one that will have affirmed many Canadians’ views that well-connected corporations and insiders expect to be above the legal processes that govern the rest of us. And if not for Wilson-Raybould, that would have happened.

But what was most depressing was the response from Liberal partisans.

Within a couple of hours of the reports release, a four-year-old story became the second-most read piece on The Tyee website.

Liberal supporters took to Twitter and other social media to share Harper, Serial Abuser of Power, a look some 70 “assaults on democracy and the law.”

It’s an excellent piece.

But it’s sad that the reflexive response from partisans wasn’t to promise change, or to do better. It was, effectively, to say yes, our guy may be sleazy, but the other guys were worse. A campaign slogan like “Vote for Us — We’ll Screw You Over in Favour of Cronies Less Often” is not going to strengthen democracy.

It’s a grimly dispiriting approach to politics. And it shows why it’s not surprising that voter turnout, especially among younger people, is alarmingly low.

Voting for the lesser evil may be necessary (especially in our first-past-the-post system).

But having our noses rubbed in that reality within hours of learning of the betrayal of the public interest in the highest levels of our government should make us sad. And angry.

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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