Trudeau Flubs Again: Is This Strike Three?

A Prime Minister should be equipped with a strong moral compass and good judgement. Authenticity is equally important. Voters expect the leaders they choose to fit the image that was projected.

Justin Trudeau’s latest ethical lapse and his clumsy initial response demonstrate again that he fails on all three counts.

There was a big problem with his relationship with the WE charity before the most recent events. Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has been a paid speaker for WE. So has his brother, and his mother for more than $300,000, including a government-funded event on parliament hill.

They have been deeply involved with WE for years and he spoke at events as recently as 2017 when he was Prime Minister. It was wrong, before this year, for he or she to do that when his mother was making big money as a speaker for the organization.

In April, the government announced a $900 million program to pay student “volunteers.” The next day they called Marc Kielburger, co-founder of WE with his brother Craig, to see if they would be interested in managing the program.

Kielburger initially said that the call was from the Prime Minister’s Office but has since changed his story to say it was a senior civil servant.

The decision to award WE the sole-source contract worth $19.5 million was confirmed at a cabinet meeting at which Trudeau presided.

Having got it wrong at the beginning, warning bells should have rung loudly in Trudeau’s head when he was asked about the obvious conflict of interest.

Instead, he explained that he wanted to be at the cabinet discussion because of his long involvement in getting young people to serve their country.

To put that in perspective consider a hypothetical future Prime Minister whose family is deeply involved in a pipeline company. Imagine the outrage if she failed to recuse herself from a cabinet decision about subsidies for pipelines.

One can imagine the reflexive cringing of senior Liberals when they heard Trudeau’s explanation. They still bear the scars from having to explain to voters Trudeau’s inane first response when asked about prior ethical lapses.

The Aga Khan’s foundation is a major recipient of government funding. Trudeau insisted that a vacation on his private island was not a problem because he had been a longtime family friend. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson trashed that, noting that the two had only spoken once in thirty years.

Last year, Trudeau denied a Globe and Mail story that he had pressured then Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin.

When it became evident that he had done exactly that, his response claimed that he was trying to defend jobs in his riding. In spite of Trudeau’s efforts to restrict availability of witnesses, New Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

Trudeau’s failure to deal honestly with both cases made bad situations much worse.

This week’s belated apology for the lapse in judgement on the WE affair continues the pattern. It is doubtful that Trudeau got there on his own. Rather one can imagine a clutch of seasoned Liberals providing strong advice with side mutterings about unrest in caucus.

The apology will not make the matter go away. Trudeau has called the process “transparent and open” when it was nothing of the kind. The Ethics Commissioner is again investigating Trudeau as well as Finance Minister Morneau.

There are plenty of unanswered questions about how the file was handled. Who concluded that WE was the only possible way to manage the program? What was the PMO’s involvement in the call to Kielburger? Did the government sign off on WE’s plan to recruit students by paying bounties to teachers and camp councillors for recruiting their charges?

The Covid-19 pandemic has been good for the Liberals. After a few missteps in managing borders and medical supplies in the early days they have played an appropriate role in support of the provinces, who make the choices that affect people’s lives. Their spending has been lavish but they rightly prioritized speed over precision targeting.

This has given Trudeau lots of visibility and the opposition parties almost none, with Parliament largely shut down. It has been hard for the Conservative leadership candidates to get attention in a contest with few media-friendly events.

Trudeau had to self-isolate in mid-March after Gregoire-Trudeau tested positive for Covid-19, ironically after a trip to the United Kingdom in support of WE. The Liberals did well when Trudeau was confined to reading scripts from the cottage. Someone else (Chrystia Freeland?) was putting the pieces together.

Trudeau’s latest mess may breathe new life into the Conservative leadership race as voters start to wonder how much more they want of him. If the Tories start to surge in the polls after a new leader is chosen, the Liberals may wonder whether they want to fight another election with their leader as a liability.

If prospects deteriorate, a broadly representative group of Liberals might tell Trudeau to consider new career options.


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