Saturday, March 23, 2019

Progressives are justifiably angry with Jody Wilson-Raybould and her buddy Jane Philpott

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott in happier times
A good friend of mine who tends to vote NDP more often than not, but doesn't mind Justin Trudeau that much, came up to me the day after Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet two weeks ago.

"Is she trying to elect Andrew Scheer?" she asked angrily.  "How can she throw her colleagues under the bus like that?"

In truth, most progressives, if they were being honest, would easily prefer Justin Trudeau over Andrew Scheer's regressive Conservatives.  While many progressives may indulge in voting NDP or Green this year, they do so hoping that Justin Trudeau's Liberals will still win the election over the Cons.

Some might call that hypocritical.  But that would be unfair.  There's a myriad of reasons why someone may cast a ballot for one candidate in their local riding.  I live in Toronto Centre and feel especially repulsed by the performance both locally and nationally by my MP Bill Morneau, one of the worst communicators ever to hold the Minister of Finance portfolio.  Yet I hope the Trudeau Liberals will still best the Scheer Conservatives later this year (as I do currently consider Jagmeet Singh's NDP way out of the governing game.) 

Progressives were so traumatized by 10 long years of Stephen Harper, there's no way we're in any mood to see his baby successor Scheer take over this year.

It's true that Justin Trudeau has disappointed many progressives.  On some issues, like his promises of electoral reform, many feel he misled them.

But in truth, most progressives very much favour Trudeau policies like the carbon tax, the legalization of cannabis, the very generous Canada Child Benefit, and the Liberals' choice to invest in the Canadian economy through infrastructure spending instead of an ideological austerity plan favoured by most conservatives.  The robust growth of the Canadian economy today is proof the plan is sound.  

But on the SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau's image has taken a beating.  And it continues thanks to the ongoing public attacks from two of his own Liberal MPs, who refuse to let the story die by not speaking publicly about "the whole story".

It now seems Jody Wilson-Raybould will finally fess up and take advantage of her parliamentary privilege to finally tell us.  This should've been done immediately after she left cabinet, yet Canadians have suffered through a long, agonizing tease of information dribbling out.

In truth, we've seen a lot of smoke, which the mainstream media and the opposition have been more than happy to blow.  But at the end of the day, there appears to be no fire, or at least no fire that justifies even calling this affair a "scandal."  

I'm not going to comment on why the former Attorney-General felt so strongly that SNC-Lavalin doesn't deserve a deferred prosecution agreement.  I don't know the full details of the case against the company, although it's clear its history is checkered with corruption.

But whether or not SNC deserves a deferred prosecution agreement now seems beside the point.  Pressure for the new Attorney-General to possibly overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions will continue as long as the issue remains before the courts.  That's how it should be.

I've struggled to understand the motivations behind Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

The only reasons that would justify their actions would be exposing some truly criminal or unethical actions on the part of the government.  

But in the end, it seems rather clear now that this "scandal" is merely just a difference of opinion about what constitutes "pressure" and how governments should work.  Nothing unethical or criminal went on.  This affair is more about personality and hurt feelings rather than issues of crucial public policy.   

Wilson-Raybould didn't speak out about anything until she lost her "dream job" as Attorney-General. 

There can be no doubt that Wilson-Raybould was clearly the source of the information that led to the original Globe story in February while she was still a member of the cabinet as Veterans Affairs Minister.  If not the original source, she must've anonymously confirmed it.  That's a betrayal of her colleagues and the confidence that had been shown in her.

Yet she enjoys reverence in certain corners of the country that has nothing to do with her own character or her actions, but instead what she represents as an Indigenous woman.  That's ridiculous. 

Wilson-Raybould got her Liberal Party nomination in Vancouver Granville thanks to Justin Trudeau.  And thanks to Trudeau's performance as leader in the 2015 campaign, she got elected in a swing riding that could've easily elected another party's candidate.  Then she got elevated directly into cabinet into her "dream job", again thanks to Justin Trudeau.  Her move to Veterans Affairs (after turning down the Indigenous Affairs portfolio in the January cabinet shuffle) was the first time her upward career trajectory in politics went slightly off-course. 

There was one telling moment during her February testimony at the Justice Committee that stands out in my memory.  During questions from backbench female Liberal MP Iqra Khalid about discussions in cabinet over the SNC issue, Wilson-Raybould pointedly mentioned to Khalid that the backbencher "wouldn't know what the inside of a cabinet meeting room looks like."

It was the kind of galling comment that reminded me of similar moments I've experienced in politics.  I used to work for a Liberal MPP at Queen's Park who, despite winning re-election in 2003, was passed over for cabinet in favour of others just elected that year who possessed qualities that looked better in front of the cameras.  There was one occasion when one such cabinet minister refused my old boss a ride in her government-funded minister's limo despite them going to the same destination.  It was humiliating.  So was Wilson-Raybould's comment in the justice committee toward her elected colleague. Wilson-Raybould is no angel. 

Politics is a team sport.  If you're going to hurt and humble your own team publicly, you need to have very good reasons for doing so.  Certainly more than hurt feelings and resentment with a decision with which you don't agree. 

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are now receiving considerable backlash for their actions.  They deserve it. 

They need to put everything on the table immediately.  It's appalling it's taken this long.  It's time to shit or get off the pot. 

Sadly when Wilson-Raybould finally reveals all documents and information in an upcoming briefing to the Justice Committee, I have a feeling that there will nothing particularly damning of the government, just more accusations that keep the story alive and Trudeau's opponents happy.

It seems now these two MPs want to get rid of the person who helped them get elected in the first place.  If they don't support their leader, they should quit the caucus now. 

The only silver lining that may come of this is that Justin Trudeau may become a smarter leader and pick his cabinet colleagues more wisely in future.  I also desperately hope he hires a more competent issues management team in the PMO immediately.  

A Justin Trudeau who is more concerned about competence and effectiveness in government, as well as healthy caucus relations, would be a welcome change from the virtue-signalling idealist we've seen previously.

This non-scandal has damaged his brand though, and made it more difficult for him to beat Andrew Scheer's Conservatives.

And for that progressives are justifiably angry.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Justin Trudeau's mishandling of the SNC scandal doesn't change the fact the Cons are still led by Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone

Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone successor, Andrew Scheer
Many Canadians have been confused and disappointed these last few weeks by the ongoing controversy in Ottawa involving SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould.

For some, the scandal has confirmed that Justin Trudeau is less than progressive.

Some have even been gleeful, including some amoral Conservatives licking their lips at the sight of Liberal scandals they think entitle them to gloat like this fake news propagandist at Sun Media. 

Through this period, we've become familiar with deferred prosecution agreements (PDAs) and how Bill Morneau slipped them quietly into Canadian law in his budget bill last year.  We also learned how PDAs resemble similar arrangements in other western economies where big companies can admit guilt for their crimes, pay fines, enact needed changes but otherwise face few consequences for their malfeasance, all to protect thousands of innocent employees, pensioners, and business and contract partners who might've suffered when the shit hits the legal fan.   

We've also learned a lot about the sordid and unethical history of Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which included practices that extended well into this very decade (well, at least those of us who weren't already following that history.)  Like many international corporate giants from the first world, their business practices in the rest of the world have been less than ethical or even legal by our own standards. 

Of course, the financial successes of these corporations power many bloated Canadian salaries, savings accounts, RRSPs, pension plans, stock markets and other investments, not to mention our tax base.  They're why Canada is a G8 country.  They're why Canada can afford such wonderful domestic infrastructure and social programs.  Every Canadian is in some way complicit with this corrupt international economic reality.  

So when Justin Trudeau talks of shielding SNC-Lavalin from full responsibility for its crimes to protect "jobs" and the "economy," he's going to bat for those powerful business interests.  Those sympathetic with Trudeau will think he's just being pragmatic here, coming down on the side of the thousands of innocent Canadians caught in the crossfire of SNC-Lavalin's questionable past.  Cynics will think Trudeau is just doing what Laurentian Consensus politicians like his father have always done: side with powerful and corrupt central Canadian business interests while the rest of us struggle on the fringes

No campaign finance reform which bars corporate donations to political parties would prevent the power of private interests like SNC-Lavalin from lobbying any government to take this kind of position.   

The problem for Justin Trudeau in this affair was his decision in 2015 to symbolically appoint a qualified Indigenous woman to an important post who turned out, it seems, not to be so willing to see the world as he does. 

Today, the Liberal Party contains many genuinely progressive people who don't sympathize much with corrupt corporate interests, some of whom are willing to speak truth to power.  We saw that, it seems, in Jody Wilson-Raybould.  We also saw that yesterday in Jane Philpott.

One thing is for certain: if the Conservatives were in power, we wouldn't see this kind of internal division because when it comes to defending corrupt, unethical corporatism, the Conservatives always take the side of the elites.

If a Conservative Attorney General were asked to overrule a decision to help out a big corporate entity, that Con wouldn't respond like Jody Wilson-Raybould; that Con would say to his boss, "Where do I sign?"

Furthermore, that Con would be hoping to parlay that move into getting hired to that company's board of directors once they retire or get defeated from politics, just like Stephen Harper did after his 2015 defeat.   (Of course, some centre-right, elitist Liberals also play that gross game, a fact that continues to irritate this progressive.  Only the NDP is clean when it comes to mostly avoiding being corrupted by corporate interests, but that's mostly because they've rarely gotten near power.)  

It's gross that Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone, Andrew Scheer, stands to gain from this scandal.  Most of Scheer's public statements on this issue, like most issues, have been over-the-top and hysterical.  Like many Cons, he seems to go crazy when talking about Justin Trudeau.  That irrationality should in the end destroy Scheer's prospects.

And it may still.  No matter how much trouble Justin Trudeau gets into, it doesn't make Andrew Scheer anything more than the creepy, whiny, out-of-touch, career-Conservative partisan that he is.

When reading this awesome analysis of the ongoing scandal by previous Conservative voter Jeremy Arnold, I was delighted to read his line, "I’m fine with throwing (the Conservatives) more votes in their direction — just as soon as they stop nominating feckless lizardpeople like Andrew Scheer." 

It's still far too early to write Trudeau off.  The election is eight months away.  He's certainly down today after losing the confidence of two great women from his cabinet.   His progressive credentials and his governing competence are now in question.  His inability to manage this crisis is putting his leadership under threat.

But he may bounce back.  In truth, I have to admit that the government's position on this, like on most issues it's tackled, is quite defensible.  Yet it's bungled its issues management and communications horribly to the point they look incompetent.

Like most of her articles, I find Chantal Hebert's take here bang on:

"If Trudeau still wants to be prime minister; if he wants his Liberal party to have a fighting chance at re-election with him as leader this fall, he’s going to have to raise his game awfully fast. It is not clear from his conduct over the past three weeks that he can."

We'll see how this continues to unfold.