There are countries in this world that are trying to cope with genuine, history-altering issues. Venezuela has a despised president who will not leave. The United States has the political train wreck of Donald Trump. Britain has the inept Theresa May and her self-inflicted Brexit disaster. New Zealand, that most peaceable of countries, suddenly confronts the slaughter of Muslim citizens while they are at prayer.
The SNC-Lavalin affair is a bit like Shakespeare’s “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
It has had its hour and much more. It has wreaked considerable havoc, damaging the credibility of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and knocking his Liberal Party into second place in the polls, while, ironically, making one of the Liberals’ own, Jody Wilson-Raybould, a heroine – an Indigenous woman bravely fending off a horde of male politicians who pursue power at the expense of principle.
Is the SNC-Lavalin/Jody Wilson-Raybould uproar really the silver bullet that will slay Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government?
Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
My Dear Prime Minister,
You’ve got yourself and your government into a pretty pickle, haven’t you, Sire?
Just when the universe was unfolding the way your father said it would, just when your Liberals were on a nice roll to re-election in October, this accursed SNC-Lavalin business had to rise up and bite you in the credibility.
The SNC-Lavalin affair, which is consuming all the oxygen in the capital and has ground the Liberal government to a virtual halt, is a scandal of a different sort.
There is no wealthy entrepreneur underwriting the governing party’s election campaign in anticipation of landing a contract to build a transcontinental railroad, as was the case in the Pacific scandal of the 1870s.
There is no sleazy lobbyist slipping envelopes filled with $1,000 bills to a former prime minister, as there was in the contemporary Airbus scandal.
How is this ugly SNC-Lavalin affair going to end for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals?
In a word, badly.
It is bad enough already and will only get worse before it gets better – if it does. It has already cost the prime minister a highly prized cabinet minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, his former minister of justice and attorney general. On Monday, it cost him his principal secretary, Gerald Butts, one of his closest personal friends.
Full public disclosure is a principle that politicians embrace as though it were Holy Writ when they are on the outside looking in. But when they are inside, sitting around the cabinet table and deciding how much information to share with the public, it is a different story. As little as possible becomes the mantra.
Canadians have seen this evolution occur in the last two political regimes. Justin Trudeau was an ardent advocate for open government when campaigning in 2015 to unseat the Conservatives, who had run a famously secretive regime under Stephen Harper.
Once a year, Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO, publishes a massive survey on corruption among the nations of the world.
The Corruption Perceptions Index, as it is called, gives national leaders, international businessmen, academics and journalists a tool with which to compare the honesty and integrity of the public sectors in no fewer than 180 countries world-wide.
In Canada, prime ministers do not publicly fire ambassadors.
From time to time, they are removed from their posts for reasons of job performance or policy differences, but the axe is wielded by the foreign affairs minister or, more likely, by the deputy minister or a subordinate.
And the cause, if any is given, will be obscured in a fog of bureaucratic opaqueness.
Until John McCallum, that is.
Do you get the sense that political world has gone off its rails?
In Washington, the president has shut down a good part of the federal government for a month because he is in a snit over the refusal of Congress to give him $5.7 billion for a 30-foot wall to protect the United States from its southern neighbour, friend, ally and trading partner, Mexico. It’s a wall that everyone, except Trump and his core supporters, agrees will do nothing to achieve its stated purpose of keeping illegal drugs out of the U.S.