By Ian Pattison
The Liberals have closed up shop and sent everyone home for the rest of the summer while a pandemic rages and committees investigating the government’s tentacles into the WE Charity are suspended. It’s a manoeuvre too clever by half.
Proroguing Parliament is supposed to signal a government single-mindedly pursuing a bold new vision for the country that will be revealed in a throne speech Sept. 23. Except that those investigators aren’t going to let up.
Opposition members of the Commons finance committee can smell blood as they pour through 5,000 pages of documents intended to support the government’s contention that it was civil servants who recommended a student service program be administered solely by WE. But despite heavy redactions, the documents show WE lobbying the government and the government working with WE before the public service recommended WE to cabinet.
In an email from WE co-founder Craig Kielburger, he thanks Bardish Chagger, the diversity minister, for her “suggestion” that WE come up with a proposal for a “student service opportunity.” The Canada Student Service Grant was quickly hatched. Too quickly, it seems. Assistant Deputy Finance Minister Michelle Kovacevic described the CSSG’s creation as a “bit of a shit show” in an email on April 20, two days before it was formally announced by Trudeau.
This thing isn’t over, not by a long shot. And the motivation for Trudeau’s escape from Parliament -- after having criticized the Harper Conservative government for the same prorogue tactic during the 2013 Senate expenses scandal -- is plain for all to see.
In an editorial about the prorogation Wednesday, The Globe and Mail called Trudeau “a leader who is ruthless, cynical and disdainful of Parliament.” And of Canadians.
Columnist Paul Wells put it this way on Power and Politics, “It’s pretty obvious they’re cutting and running because they’re a bunch of barnyard chickens.” Uncharitable, but evidently true.
A spring of positive pandemic response reviews has largely evaporated amid mounting summer revelations around WE. These are compounded by reports of a petulant governor-general who likes to spend money on her indulgences and makes life difficult for her staff and her RCMP detail; a governor general similarly anxious to escape public scrutiny who rubber-stamped the PM’s prorogation lickety-split.
At the same time, the finance minister is gone -- pushed by a series of nasty leaks from senior Liberal ranks, embarrassed by Trudeau consulting former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney about a COVID rehabilitation plan, and tired of butting heads with the PM over how to recover from pandemic-era spending.
The extent of Bill Morneau’s family connections to WE is still unfolding, though it seems pretty clear when, in an internal email, members of his staff refer to the WE team as their “besties” — best friends.
It seems equally clear that cabinet’s leading voice for fiscal caution had become a political liability. No more so than Justin Trudeau, whose own family ties to WE have been revealed in politically painful detail. But in cases where heads must roll, the axe rarely falls on the leader’s neck.
Capable Chrystia Freeland, this century’s iteration of former Port Arthur MP and wartime “minister of everything” C.D. Howe, takes Morneau’s place as he edits his application to head the OECD. It was all supposed to be a tidy departure and arrival except for the uncomfortable questions left unanswered about Morneau’s untimely departure.
Morneau saying it was time for him to leave when it is patently obvious that the middle of an economic and health crisis is no time for a finance minister to leave is the indelible stain on this power play.
Too, there is concern that Freeland’s undying loyalty to Trudeau could manifest itself as unquestioning acceptance of fiscal policy from the PMO. Trudeau is already signalling the fall throne speech will be about a lot more spending than about restraint. A key requisite of a finance minister is a willingness to say no to the boss.
Cracks are starting to show in Canadians’ faith in this Liberal government and Trudeau’s habit of calculated avoidance. There’s a reason that #pmchrystiafreeland is trending.
It’s been a bad week for Donald Trump. As Republican luminaries and 70 national security officials lined up to endorse Joe Biden, the president’s opponent in November’s elections, and 26 House Republicans joined Democrats to approve legislation blocking operational changes at the postal service that jeopardize mail-in ballots this fall as Trump intends, another of his former White House cronies was arrested.
Steve Bannon allegedly stole millions solicited from Trump supporters to help build the president’s wall across the 1,954-mile Mexican border. For the record, 100 miles of new wall has been built -- the majority of which replaces previous construction and none of it paid for by Mexico as Trump had vowed. It was the first of an estimated 20,000 false or misleading claims that have been uttered by the most ridiculous president in U.S. history.
Then, a federal judge again ruled that Trump must surrender eight years of his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney investigating the president’s business practices. Those who relish a good crime story will recall that U.S. authorities finally nailed mobster Al Capone, not on murder, racketeering and extortion charges, but on tax evasion.
When the judge first ordered Trump to hand over his records, he appealed to the Supreme Court that a president is immune from criminal investigation. Not so, the court said, and sent the case back to Manhattan.
Trump’s lawyers are already preparing a second run at the high court with the specious argument that the case falls outside the jurisdiction of the local DA, whose offices lie just 60-some blocks south of Trump Tower.
Finally this week, the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee on the Russia investigation alleged the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian intelligence services during the 2016 presidential election posed a “grave” counterintelligence threat. This is no “hoax.”
National polling continues to show veteran nice guy Biden and running-mate Kamala Harris with her thousand-watt smile holding a solid lead over Trump. A sustained be-sure-you vote message throughout this week’s Democratic National Convention, coupled with compelling messages from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Biden’s best speech yet, cannot help but have steeled their supporters to get rid of Trump in no uncertain terms.
An increasingly desperate Trump may well try to challenge a Democratic win, but the tide is turning so widely against a man who has alienated so many beyond his unwavering base, that the outcome seems increasingly and indisputably certain. The sooner this crook is gone, the better for all of us.
Ian Pattison is retied as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.