Tale as old as time: Liberal ethics breach proves politics still about comforting the comfortable

OTTAWA—This past April, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke to the Daughters of the Vote delegation, which included Indigenous women protesting his treatment of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould following her expulsion from the Liberal party over the SNC-Lavalin debacle. He pontificated in response that “diversity only works if there’s trust.” Now, after having been found to have broken the law—the first sitting prime minister in Canadian history—he is insisting that he does not have to apologize because “you [only] apologize when you did something wrong.”

Well, you have lost our trust, Mr. Prime Minister.

Thanks to the ethics commissioner’s report, there finally is evidence that nakedly displays what many believe are age-old problems of cronyism and corruption at the highest level of Canadian politics, spelled out in black and white for all the world to see. Other investigations and rulings may follow, and likely will. We anticipate they will vindicate what we have suspected all along—that the Liberal government, like all federal governments past, has worked to serve the interests of corporate elites.

Liberals will, and have, retorted, “that’s politics, and if you don’t recognize that you’re naïve.” They miss the point entirely.

We do get it, and that’s precisely the problem. The time is now to expose these truths. Whether we risk a Conservative government by bringing awareness to this fact, so be it.

Canadians have no reason now to believe or trust the prime minister when he says he is running on a platform of “real change” and “fair and open government.”

Real change is a government that holds itself accountable.

Real change is a government that upholds the rule of law.

Real change is a government that doesn’t kowtow to corporate interests and feign that it is acting in the service of the people.

The SNC-Lavalin affair is more than a single finding of breach of conflict of interest. It has revealed to us who the Liberals, not unlike their Conservative predecessors, really serve.

The report has led to shocking revelations about the extent of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying efforts towards the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements into Canadian law. The Liberals acquiesced by tailoring the law to suit a specific corporation and a specific case.

As it turns out, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) had a role in this, too. The ethics commissioner’s report revealed that two senior BMO officials lobbied then-cabinet minister Scott Brison to help SNC avoid a criminal prosecution. Not long after, Mr. Brison left politics to work for BMO.

Not to sound conspiratorial, but this is part of a long line of dangerously cosy connections between the Prime Minister’s Office, cabinet, and corporate interests.

One glaring example is the Liberal pharmacare policy which is being partially overseen by a finance minister whose family legacy and previous career rested with a pensions and benefits consultancy, Morneau Shepell. Finance Minister Bill Morneau, too, has been found in violation of the ethics laws.

Another example is in the Parliamentary Budget Office’s finding that the Liberal government paid Kinder Morgan sticker price on the Trans Mountain pipeline. You’ll forgive us if, given the above, we are not a little bit suspicious of the wheelings and dealings behind that purchase.

And let’s not forget that this is, in fact, Trudeau’s second ethics violation. The first came from a 2017 ruling which found that by accepting a gift from the Aga Khan, a director of a foundation registered to lobby the federal government, in the form of an all-expenses paid holiday to the Bahamas in 2016, Trudeau contravened the act in multiple ways.

It would appear that Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues are more comfortable in the company of corporate executives, and the wealthy and privileged classes; and it makes sense given many have emerged from those classes. However, these are not exactly the kind of people I want drafting tax reform, pharmacare, housing, or environmental policies.

This is not a case of bad actors. Multiple cabinet ministers took a run at the former attorney general and, arguably, colluded with SNC-Lavalin. This affair is about a political system that is rife with abuse, and those responsible for the recent abuses are seeking re-election on a platform of open and transparent government.

And they think we can be duped because the other guys are “worse.”

There’s an adage you hear in progressive circles in Canada: Liberals, Tories, same old story. It may sound trite, but in this moment it feels very much true.

Amy Kishek co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times.