When I started my first newspaper job with this paper 15 years ago, I saw conflicts of interest everywhere. I forget now what the exact issue was, but it was something with then-mayor Jim Davidson being involved in some enterprise that was on the council agenda.
I took it to the editor and his response was basically that in a town of 5,000 people, if being involved in things that eventually town council was going to have to vote on disqualified a person for office, we would not have a town council.
Of course, in these matters the problem is not that a potential conflict exists, but how the officeholder in question handles it.
As it turned out, Davidson did the right thing and recused himself.
So far, I’ve tried to cut our prime minister a bit of slack, mainly because I shudder at the prospect of any of the alternatives to a Liberal government right now.
Merely by the celebrity of the Trudeau family, potential conflicts of interest are going to arise, as one did last week when the federal ethics commissioner opened yet another investigation over Justin Trudeau’s role in awarding a $19.5 million sole-source contract to the WE charity to administer the $912 million Canada Student Service Grant program.
The WE organization hires all kinds of speakers, performers and leaders for events intended to inspire youth to take local action for global change. Two of those speakers over the past four years were Trudeau’s mother Margaret and brother Alexandre (Sacha) who were paid $250,000 and $32,500 respectively.
His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is an ambassador for the organization.
On top of that, finance minister Bill Morneau is also drawing criticism because one of his daughters works with WE.
I’m not convinced anything overtly nefarious happened here. There is a big difference between corruption and conflict of interest. The public service has said it was their recommendation to award the contract.
But good gracious, the cabinet still had to rubber-stamp it and at the very least two seasoned public figures should know, at the very least, to recuse themselves, especially after being sanctioned twice by the ethics commissioner.
What happened to transparency and doing politics differently?
I find it extremely discouraging that we can’t get beyond these kinds of simple ethics issues. We’ve had 153 years of political scandals from both of the seesawing governing parties. Can we ever expect something different? Is human nature really that intractable?
I have lots of friends who despise Trudeau. They believe he is only prime minister because of his celebrity. There’s some truth to that. There were better candidates in the Liberal leadership race, but it’s doubtful any of them could have won the election in 2015, or at least a majority government.
My Trudeau-despising friends think he is entitled, narcissistic, incompetent and insincere.
It’s getting pretty hard to argue with that, not that I have ever whole-heartedly defended him, my only real defence being that the Liberals as a whole are the lesser of evils.
Of course, all the opposition calls for criminal investigations and for Trudeau to resign are political posturing. Ultimately, he will get his knuckles rapped for a third time and his fate will be in the hands of public opinion when the next federal election rolls around.
Unfortunately, at this point, I still don’t see a viable alternative emerging.
Someone, please prove me wrong.