Lowering the bar on political ethics

The October 21, 2020 confidence vote in Parliament is one of the lowest points ever reached in Canadian politics. It was a vote about integrity and ethics, versus incompetence or, worse, corruption. It was about the propriety of a sole-sourced contract for almost a billion dollars being given to an organization with close ties to the Prime Minister and his family. It was about holding officials and the cabinet to account for awarding an untendered contract to the WE Charity despite knowing that it had paid over $600,000 dollars in fees and expenses to the Prime Minister’s spouse, mother and brother since 2015. To avoid the fallout from the growing scandal, the government first prorogued parliament to prevent further inquiry into the scandal. When that did not work, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a confidence vote and threatened a snap election in the middle of a global pandemic to stop Parliament from further investigating the matter.

The late great Liberal Prime Minister John Turner (who died earlier this month) honourably served Canada for seven decades always stressing the importance of maintaining the integrity of Parliament and Canadian institutions. Turner called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not long before his death. He told Mr. Trudeau that using obstructing initiatives to avoid questions related to the WE issue was a “contempt for Parliament.” I don’t know what Trudeau said in response to his Liberal predecessor, but weeks later in his eulogy at Turner’s funeral where he praised his legacy, Trudeau's words collided head on with his actions: shutting down Parliament and later holding a confidence vote with the threat of an election in the middle of a global pandemic to avoid being held to account for the WE scandal. These events, coupled with the SNC Lavalin debacle and other ethics controversies, have accelerated the deterioration of a Canadian political system that was once recognized as a beacon of transparency and admiration the world over.  

There have always been governments and politicians from all parties accused of taking advantage of the system for partisan or personal interest. This government is no exception, but it does so with a twist. In the past, elected officials who were gaming the system did so discretely knowing if they were caught, they would be held to account. Prime Minister Trudeau himself has been sanctioned three times by the Ethics Commissioner for breaking the law yet continues to ignore the rules with abandon. His response to being held to account is to attack those daring to question him. Maybe he believes he is entitled to rule without consequence (or Parliament) or he considers his government above criticism. He seems to believe that ‘this is what politics is all about.’  

Shutting down Parliament to deliberately blur the line between right and wrong to avoid legal, political, and moral retribution should not be a partisan issue. It is about the degeneration of Canada’s political system to accommodate the whims of a PM with ethics issues. It should not matter whether you are a Liberal, Conservative, Bloc Quebecois, NDP, Green or Independent MP. Any attempt to stifle the voices of MPs is a danger to our democracy and must not be tolerated. Parliament is the institution that protects that principle. Without it, we are lost.

I do not know if this government did something wrong in handing close to a $1 billion untendered contract to WE, but I know that this government is doing everything to stop Parliament from finding out. Instead of leading efforts to clarify the sole-sourced contract to WE to clear his reputation and those of his immediate family, Justin Trudeau is doing the complete opposite. This week’s vote in Ottawa has done what Covid-19 has done to Canadians — it has changed what normalcy is all about. Personal interest or incompetence are not a pathologic aspect of Canadian political life, they are the new normal.