Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trudeau government, Year 1: the corruption of power?

                                                     Parliament, Ottawa
            There is a saying, attributed to various sources, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" which seems to apply to the Trudeau government in these its early days. No nothing truly scandalous. President elect Donald Trump is more entertaining for the scandal seeking.

            But consider the practice of $1500 per place fundraisers for the Federal Liberal Party. The opposition is arguing that these gatherings provide the super-wealthy with privileged access to Trudeau cabinet ministers and to the Prime Minister himself. Aside from the PM, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould have attended these exclusive fundraisers. Nothing illegal is taking place, of course, but what is legal is not necessarily moral.


           In this case the government has failed to adhere to its own standards regarding transparency.

             On Nov. 27, 2015, the Trudeau government released an 87-page document called "Open and Accountable Government" which says ministers and parliamentary secretaries 

 "must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.. There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties,"  (emphasis added)

             The problem is that during the election Trudeau and his team promised "transparency" - as, interestingly, the Harper government before them! They were shaking down votes by appealing to the voters' rising sense that world society (and Canada) are adrift and heading toward some ill-defined future cataclysm. Witness the sentiments expressed in the BRexit referendum which took the UK out of the European Union or the "stunning" populist victory of Trump in the recent American elections. One need hardly mention the rise of the populist Right in France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Scandinavia,..

           Trudeau reached out to a skittish populace and offered them consolation and comfort: we are on your side, we will prove it by standing above vested interests who place themselves above national interest and the Common Good. Not only must transparency be achieved but the appearance of transparency must be achieved..

          Trudeau has failed on this one. We are back to government-as-usual. The "fix is in" as Trump like to argue during his campaign. Big Money talks Big (at least, this is the perception people are getting..) Worse, when confronted with disquieting facts, Trudeau dodges by turning and pointing a finger at the Conservatives' lousy record of blurring the line between partisan politics and governance. When the pot calls the kettle black..

Trudeau defends fundraisers by attacking Conservatives' record 

                          controversial Light Armored Vehicle sales to Saudi Arabia

              Before the last federal election which brought the Liberals to power, Harper's Conservatives contracted to sell Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia despite the fact that the Saudi government has used such vehicles against dissident elements of its own civilian population and abroad. Such usage contravenes Canada' own weapons export regulations:

"Attacks on civilians – or even serious, reasonable doubt that the Saudis would use LAVs only for their stated military purpose – would raise red flags under Canada’s weapons export rules, which forbid weapons shipments “unless it can be demonstrated there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population” by the buyer."

Saudi LAV deal in a nutshell 

           One has to concede that the Feds were between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they refused to sign the deal the outgoing Harper Conservatives had negotiated, they would be held responsible for job losses in Ontario where the vehicles are constructed.

           One option that presented itself to the incoming Trudeau team: open the nature of the LAV deal to parliamentary (and public) debate along with the demonstrated Saudi record of human rights violations committed with such vehicles. This High Road moral approach would still probably lose them some votes in affected parts of Ontario but gain them votes elsewhere (in addition to confirming their commitment to probity and transparency).

            Unfortunately, the Trudeau government chose the Low (government as usual) Road and they did so in a particularly cheesy way. The Liberals claimed, falsely, that the Saudi LAV sale was a "done deal", put into motion by the defeated Harper government and their was nothing they could do about it. Nothing could have been further from the truth! In reality, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion signed export permits allowing the vehicles to be shipped. Without his signature neither vehicles nor their "spare parts" would have left the country.

"Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has quietly issued export permits for the bulk of the shipments tied to a controversial $15-billion sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a crucial green light for the deal that many thought had already been granted.

Mr. Dion approved six export permits on Friday covering more than 70 per cent of the transaction, newly released documents show – a decision that represents the most vital step in the Canadian government’s arms-control process. The Liberals have long said they could not interfere with what they described as a “done deal” arranged by the Harper Conservatives."

           Once again, a smell test failed. This does not auger well for a government barely a year into its mandate. People were voting for change when they voted Trudeau..

           Speaking of voters seeking change. Voters in the US revealed the degree to which the chattering classes inhabit a parallel universe by voting the "impossible" Donald Trump as their next president. The Trump presidency could pose some interesting existential challenges for the Trudeau government!

            For openers, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna recently announced plans to accelerate the phase out of coal fired electricity. Meanwhile, south of the border, President elect Trump wants to phase coal back in again. The two leaders seem out of phase on this one (note 1).


              Yet once again, Trudeau seems the prey of indecisiveness. He has argued that Canada need infrastructure (this is true, bridges and buildings in Québec fall down and kill people..) In a Keynesian attempt to stimulate a flagging economy, Trudeau has promised increased Federally-driven infrastructure development, some of it the renewable energy sector. Yet he has not really bitten the bullet yet. He has not made the messy, the politically incorrect - yet necessary - choice: choose renewable energy infrastructure development over oil pipelines and other forms of fossil energy. He is still clinging to mealy-mouthed "please everyone" platitudes about using pipeline revenues to finance the conversion to a green energy economy. We have left those days far behind! Today is the time of choosing, we have run out of time..


             Then there are the social value issues and questions of "style". Women make up a whopping 50% of the Trudeau cabinet. So far President elect Trump has not announced any female members of his cabinet. 

             In a similar vein, Trump, during the election at least, promised to build a wall separating the US and Mexico - and make the Mexicans pay for it! As part of his campaign, Trudeau promised to "throw the doors open" to Syrian refugees, one promise he has kept (note 2). Once again, the two leaders appear to be out of step. At this stage of the game, one can only guess what the outcome will be.. 


1- Some pundits have argued that Trump won't get far with his zombie coal strategy. Depending upon where you live, renewable energies are already a bit cheaper, the same price or within striking difference of coal fired electricity rates. Economics, they argue, will trump Trump's populism. When the rubber hits the road..


2- In a sense, Trudeau - like Trump - does not have much of a platform, few really new ideas, just government-as-usual with a few tweaks and some fancy spin. (This criticism applies to all, or most, governments and parties in the so-called "developed world", not just to Trudeau and Trump. The "System" is broke and too broke to fix. We need a new breed of popular - community based - leader to think outside all boxes and all existing political ideologies.) During their victorious campaigns, both Trudeau and Trump appealed to popular sentiment (emotions, public self images, nationalistic clichés..) Trump played the Angry White Man card (AKA: Hard Working Ordinary American card). Trudeau played the Compassionate, Tolerant Canadian card. Both lead to hasty ad hoc policy commitments which neither country is in a position to fufill. Just think of the economic impact of sudden massive tariffs on Mexican or Chinese imports on the standard of living of all those Angry White Men who voted for Trump! And here is a text that argues that Canada was not ready to accept the numbers of refugees Trudeau has attempted to resettle:


           Make haste, make waste!

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