VANCOUVER — Natural cynicism aside, elections are ridiculously exciting for the participants and those, like me, watching them.
Thus when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poked his handsome head into the press section of his plane Wednesday on day one of the federal campaign and offered a cheery “Hello ink-stained wretches!” it was hard not to feel just a little charmed.
There we were, wretches all, on the PM’s charter, leaving Ottawa and heading to Vancouver, flying halfway across this gorgeous and largely empty country.
All Canadians are privileged to live in this place — a democracy where you don’t get shot for daring to line up to cast your ballot, where the vote is free and fair if not perfect, where trees still outnumber people (which in my books is perfect) and where it must be granted that almost all Parliamentarians start off, however they may end up, wanting God forbid to Do Good.
But none are luckier than the wretches of the press corps, getting to see it all close up — close-ish anyway — on the dwindling dimes of our companies.
It is worth noting that this was our sole glimpse of Trudeau on the plane.
None are luckier than the wretches of the press corps
Some had seen him at Rideau Hall earlier, where the campaign was kicked off and where he was bombarded with questions about the latest in the still-simmering SNC-Lavalin affair.
The Globe and Mail reported late Tuesday that the Liberals are stalling the RCMP investigation into whether he and others possibly obstructed justice by refusing to waive cabinet confidence for nine witnesses Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion wanted to fully question in his probe.
Globe sources say that the Mounties have been similarly denied; Trudeau’s response was one of his two standard mantras he has issued throughout the SNC mess.
He said his government gave the broadest waiver of cabinet confidences in Canadian history, which may be true but didn’t amount to the full waiver Dion (and presumably the RCMP) sought.
The other mantra of course was, “I will always stand up for Canadian jobs.” He said this so often it appeared if asked about the weather, he surely would say the same thing.
The polls show the Liberals have largely bounced back from the SNC unpleasantness — and the RCMP probe, as per the force’s custom, is on hold during the campaign — which seems to me the first Justin miracle of the new age.
Prosecutorial independence and an independent judiciary, which is what the SNC-Lavalin affair is all about really, are the cornerstones of a vibrant democracy.
As the ethics probe showed, Trudeau and PMO staffers and at least one of his senior ministers (Finance Minister Bill Morneau) and the former clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick all leaned shamelessly on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould in an attempt to get her to find a way to cut SNC the deal it badly wanted.
Wilson-Raybould stiffened her spine and refused.
She was in short order demoted, then cut loose from the Liberal caucus and sat briefly, and is now running, as an independent.
The scandal also cost Trudeau former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, who quit because she believed people deserved the whole truth. She too is now running as an independent.
The Globe story, inshallah, may have given new life to SNC and the government’s handling of it, but it should always have been a key campaign issue for Trudeau. How often does a prime minister get caught and called out for attempting to mess with a prosecutor’s decision (and broke the law in the process) and an AG who stubbornly backed her?
Trudeau and his people dirtied the whole shebang
Not to mention, of course, the way the PM and PMO kept invoking the names of former Supreme Court judges as those who just might be available to offer learned guidance as to why Wilson-Raybould should overturn her chief prosecutor’s decision.
Trudeau and his people dirtied the whole shebang, and it’s not some arcane issue of law, either.
The second issue that ought to be high on the campaign list, and not just for Trudeau, is Quebec’s awful Bill 21, which means public servants aren’t allowed to wear items of religious significance (kippahs, hijabs, turbans, veils, etc.).
Why is the PM — and the other party leaders — not forcefully denouncing this dreadful law? It may be that because the Quebec premier has invoked the notwithstanding clause, there is little chance of the federal government successfully challenging the bill in court, but that is little reason not to shout from the rooftops at its inherent racism and unfairness.
In the press goody bag on the Liberal tour — we pay $5,500 a week to travel with the PM so it’s no freebie — are a Liberal red blanket, a water bottle (as if the young reporters don’t travel with their own eco-friendly ones), and a Liberal red notebook.
I would have included a Liberal red hijab for the women and a kippah for the men, so we could all proclaim our solidarity with the oppressed in Quebec.
Who am I kidding? That bill is enormously popular with Quebecers.
Thus, in the end, the PM — after all, as he reminded Wilson-Raybould at one of the meetings-cum-spankings he had with her, “I am an MP from Quebec, the member for Papineau” — has the same reason for not railing at Bill 21 as he had for working in the interests of SNC, a Montreal-based company. Quebec Quebec Quebec: It’s always about deferring to Quebec.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.