SNC Lavalin

Ethics, jobs, and apologies – or lack of apologies.  When I started this series of emails on the upcoming Federal Election, I didn’t envision this would be one of the topics we’d be discussing.  But due to timing, a frenzied news media, and an unapologetic Prime Minister, a new election issue came roaring to the forefront this week and it won’t likely dissipate before October 21st.

I’m sure you’re quite aware of what I’m referring to and probably have already formed your opinion.  But since the whole affair will no doubt become a huge part of the upcoming election rhetoric, let’s review where this is coming from and some of the background events.

Back in the early spring, an allegation became public that Prime Minister Trudeau and his inner circle had put undue pressure on our independent judicial system (i.e. Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould) to ensure a favorable verdict for a Quebec company (SNC Lavalin) that was being charged with fraud and corruption.  If you’re unfamiliar with the details of this story that dominated the news for several weeks, here’s a good summary.

When the news first broke, Trudeau responded quickly with complete denial - "The allegations reported in the story are false. At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney-general to make any particular decision in this matter."  But shortly thereafter, as more facts came to light, the narrative began to change with the qualifier that if indeed … perhaps … by chance … just maybe … the Attorney General had thought she was being pressured, “it was her responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me. She did not."

Then, three days later, the story changed once again when Prime Minister Trudeau admitted that his Attorney General had indeed brought the issue up with him.   “Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her or going to direct her to take a particular decision. I, of course, said ‘no,’ that it was her decision to make,”

Out of this spider web of half-truths, Mario Dion, Canada’s Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner, decided to launch his own investigation to see if any rules of conduct had been broken.

Let’s pause here.  What is an Ethics Commissioner and why do we have one?  Well, first of all, he is appointed by the Governor General in consultation with the leaders of all political parties.  As such, he is completely independent from the governing party of the day, being responsible only to Parliament itself.  His job is “to investigate any possible situations where a public official uses his or her influence to the advantage of a private interest” - most of us would simply call this corruption.  Essentially the Ethics Commissioner makes sure we have a fair and ethical government free from the abuses of corrupt public officials. 

What’s interesting, though, is this Ethics Commissioner has no authority under federal legislation to mete out any punishment for violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.  The extent of the consequence is basically “name and shame” – although in Prime Minister Trudeau’s case that alone might have serious implications come election night on October 21st.  

With that in mind, what are we to make of the fairly damning report from Mario Dion released this week?  Firstly we have to acknowledge that “ethics” is not the same as “law”.  One can be unethical without breaking the law.  For example, if I were to see a senior citizen in Richmond take a tumble on the sidewalk and seriously injure himself yet walk on by and ignore him, my inaction doesn’t constitute breaking the law.  But even though I couldn’t be punished for my lack of concern, undoubtedly you would say that what I did was unethical and I’m sure you would be angry with me, have absolutely no respect for me, and refuse to associate with me.  In fact you would probably love to put my picture in the Richmond News with a very scathing byline!  This is the role of ethics in our society.  It means doing the “right thing” even if I have the legal right to do otherwise

So Mario Dion’s report stating that Prime Minister Trudeau violated the ethics code of Parliament does not mean he will be charged under the law.  But you and I hope that Canadian society lives by a higher standard than simply defaulting to what is legal when it comes to moral decisions.  The letter of the law should never excuse a lack of ethical behaviour.  Our Prime Minister has been charged with violating the code of conduct for Parliamentarians, one he is well familiar with and has promised to uphold.  This is not good.

But putting that aside, what of Trudeau’s assertion that he doesn’t agree with the Ethics Commissioner’s findings?  Here’s what he said six months ago when it was first announced there would be an investigation.  “We welcome the ethics commissioner’s investigation. I think it’s extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our justice system.”

With the release of the report, though, our Prime Minister’s story has changed once again.  When the conclusions were not to his liking here’s what he said, "Where I disagree with the commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper."  Do you understand the full impact of this statement?  Basically he’s declaring himself the final authority on what’s right or wrong.  The ruling of the Ethics Commissioner was never going to be an objective standard for him.  It either had to agree with him or it was wrong. This is self-confidence taken to an arrogant extreme and an unabashed display of entitlement.

Going even further, faced with a guilty verdict, our Prime Minister not only maintained his innocence and refused to apologize, but he justified his actions on the basis of “protecting jobs” – the validity of which many have questioned since the SNC Lavalin story first broke last February.  There is so much weakness in this argument that I can’t begin to address it in this already lengthy email.  The more significant question may be whether he was protecting “jobs” or “his job”.

Now please hear me out.  As frustrated and upset as I am with our Prime Minister’s actions in this whole affair, he is not the embodiment of evil.  He is not Darth Vader.  Trudeau indeed has some redeeming qualities and he has done some good things for Canada these past four years.  It hasn’t been a total disaster.

However, at some point it is imperative for Canadians to carefully evaluate the character of our leaders and not just their performance.  No matter how good a politician may be at enacting positive legislation, if he has serious character flaws that indicate poor judgement, a lack of integrity, or an inflated self-worth, eventually everyone pays a great price for enabling that person to lead

Although I’m not quite ready to drop the hammer with my own personal verdict, there is mounting evidence that something is amiss with our current Prime Minister when it comes to ethics, honesty, and self-discipline.  Of course you will be able to make your own assessment on that matter come October 21st.

Holden Bowker,

Richmond Centre Conservative Association

(Photo Source: https://ipolitics.ca/2019/08/14/morning-brief-liberals-name-candidate-to-challenge-wilson-raybould/)

Alice Wong