What price will Liberals pay for Trudeau-SNC Lavalin Scandal in the Canadian, not democracy, but plutocracy?
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Tue, 2019-08-20 00:54#1
What price will Liberals pay for Trudeau-SNC Lavalin Scandal in the Canadian, not democracy, but plutocracy?
If the SNC-Lavalin scandal becomes the main issue in the election, it risks sucking up all the oxygen at the expense of other issues (climate crisis, wealth tax, housing, ect.); and it will primarily benefit Andrew Scheer, increasing the chances of him becoming our next PM. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
The SNC-Lavalin Scandal Is a Sideshow Distracting from the Real Issue: Corporate Control
Latest polling from Nanos, Ekos, and Ipsos says it is not having an effect.
wait till after labour day.
The Tyee wrote:
The idea that the SNC-Lavalin affair represents a scandalous aberration is based on the false premise that the federal government doesn’t always act at the behest of big business.
But let’s be clear: for the past four years, the Liberals have continued the Harper-era consolidation of corporate power, largely without discussion or debate. The Trudeau government uses free trade agreements to lock future governments into free market policies, limits union bargaining rights with back-to-work legislation, purchases the occasional pipeline and keeps the exploitative temporary foreign worker program running.
It's a basic rule of political psychology that people will get more upset when a law or a rule is broken, than when a bad status quo is allowed to continue, as long as maintaining the status quo involves no outright illegality.
Buying pipelines and bringing in temporary workers are bad policies? Maybe they are, but until those things have been banned, there isn't a court or an ethics-commissioner in the country who is going to rule that the government has done anything wrong. And without such a ruling, those stories simply aren't going to get the kind of public attention that something like SNC-Lavelin does.
^ That said, I agree that SNC-Lavalin isn't gonna be a major issue in the next election. It's still gonna get more attention than pipelines or foreign-workers will, however.
The Ethics Commisioner's report fingering our hapless Prime Minister Trudeau and his blatant interference in the SNC Lavelin affair could not have come at a more damaging time for the Liberals.
The Trudeau Liberals will pay a price. We just don't know yet how big that price will be.
An RCMP Investigation Could Sink Trudeau. Here’s Why It Won’t Happen
Liberal insiders says a criminal investigation before the election could snuff the party’s re-election hopes.
Despite damning ethics report, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may not face criminal investigation in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Photo from Flickr.
Besides broken promises, there are a lot of things that could hurt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in this October’s federal election.
There is the bratty sense of entitlement, the dubious judgement and the furtive backroom dealings with a company charged with fraud and bribery.
But it is the RCMP who could provide the nitro to blow the doors off Trudeau’s bid to win a second term as prime minster.
The national police force is facing the momentous decision of whether to launch a formal criminal investigation into the SNC-Lavalin scandal, just as the Quebec engineering giant had its credit rating downgraded to junk status.
If they do investigate — and that fact becomes known — Trudeau will be forced to spend the election campaign trying to convince Canadians he is not a crook
The prime minister knows that all too well. That’s why he and the Liberal Party are fighting back with all the usual tools to change the political channel:
Daily spending announcements have become obscenely routine; cabinet ministers like Chrystia Freeland have offered protestations of undying loyalty; and strategists are pushing the line that Canadians aren’t interested in the scandal. Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, the two cabinet ministers who put Trudeau in his current predicament by refusing to play ball on the SNC-Lavalin case, are dismissed or attacked by Liberal loyalists.
Politics can be a dirty and brutal business, especially when all the marbles are on the table in a national election. But Trudeau made a major error in his defence strategy when he stooped to the fine art of sucking and blowing on the report of Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion.
It comes down to this. You can’t say you accept the findings of a report and then add that you disagree with the most critical parts of it. You can’t say “mistakes” were made and then defend them.
When Trudeau did that, he sounded like disgraced Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who described Justice Lisa Cameron’s verdict that he was guilty of election spending violations as merely her “opinion.” The PM has apparently forgotten the most basic legal tenet of them all — that no one can be the judge in their own case.
While Trudeau continues to defend his actions with SNC-Lavalin, the RCMP faces two burning questions: will they investigate, and just as important, should they? After all, the country is wobbling towards the writ period for the 2019 election, and the whiff of criminal wrongdoing around a sitting prime minister could clearly affect the result.
According to a recent report in the Hill Times newspaper, some Liberal MPs believe that the party is “cooked” if the national police force launches an investigation into Trudeau’s part in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Some of the MPs who were anonymously interviewed in the Hill Times piece say they don’t even want to use Trudeau’s name or image in their campaign material. It is not a good sign when the leader becomes the skunk at the garden party.
Some backbenchers believe that there has been a dramatic drop in the PM’s popularity after Dion’s damning report detailing interference by Trudeau and his staff and senior officials in an active criminal prosecution.
The commissioner found that Trudeau broke Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act by repeatedly and improperly pressuring his then-attorney general, Wilson-Raybould, to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin. That way, the company could avoid criminal prosecution on fraud and bribery charges it has been facing since 2015.
Wilson-Raybould refused to violate the independence of her Director of Public Prosecutions, who had already decided not to offer the company a remediation agreement. She was subsequently shuffled out of the justice portfolio and later resigned from cabinet. For good measure, Trudeau also kicked her out of caucus, along with Philpott.
People have been scenting the stench from this story for several months. Last February, five former federal attorneys general, including Peter MacKay and Douglas Grinslade Lewis, sent an open letter to the RCMP asking them to investigate the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said that there is enough evidence in Dion’s report to trigger an RCMP criminal investigation. He said in a news conference Monday that Canadians know that Trudeau broke the law; they just don’t know if he committed a crime.
Something has to be noted. The Conservatives are in no position to play holier-than-thou on the SNC-Lavalin file. The company also successfully lobbied the government of Stephen Harper, which in July 2015 brought in the so-called “Integrity Regime” to replace the Integrity Framework of 2012.
Under the changes, a supplier was ostensibly barred from doing business with the government of Canada for 10 years if it committed integrity related offences domestically or abroad. Those offences included bribery, fraud, bid-rigging, tax evasion, insider trading or money laundering.
But there was a catch. The ban could be reduced to just five years if the company co-operated with authorities and took remedial action to mitigate their offences.
And Harper’s new rules also created so-called “Administrative Agreements” that would allow convicted companies to continue to do business with the Government of Canada in lieu of a suspension.
One of the grounds for entering into such an agreement with a convicted company was the “public interest.” In other words, the Conservative government was well on their way to deferred prosecution agreements.
Opposition parties and politicians are now asking for either a police investigation or, in the case of the Green Party, a public inquiry to clear the air.
That will take an industrial-strength air-freshener, as Dion’s report makes clear.
At the time of Trudeau’s first meeting with SNC’s then-CEO, Neil Bruce, in early 2016, a meeting that was not recorded in the lobbying registry, the company had already been criminally charged.
Why does that matter?
Trudeau was effectively discussing a live criminal prosecution with the accused — not exactly standard operating practice under the rule of law. His government would later draft and pass exactly the kind of deferred prosecution law the company lobbied for in over 80 meetings with government officials.
One of Dion’s most breathtaking findings highlighted Trudeau’s persistence in meddling in the SNC-Lavalin file. Dion wrote that Trudeau was twice advised in briefings from the Privy Council Office — on Nov. 20 and then again on Nov. 26, 2018 — not to meet with SNC-Lavalin’s CEO, and not to discuss the SNC case with the company’s legal counsel.
Despite that advice, the prime minister did not instruct his senior staff to stand down in their talks with the accused company.
In fact, as the commissioner notes in his report, discussions between the Trudeau PMO and SNC-Lavalin actually intensified after those briefings, with the company’s legal counsel becoming the primary points of contact in November and December 2018.
As Dion notes in his report, that was inarguably improper.
“The principles of prosecutorial independence and sub judice make it clearly improper for one branch of the Government of Canada to be communicating with applicants to a judicial review challenging a decision made by another Branch of the Government of Canada, without the knowledge or involvement of the Attorney General or their delegated representative.”
But if the prime minister is on shaky ground as a result of the ethics commissioner’s findings of fact, the RCMP is in a delicate position as well — starting with the fact that their boss is Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
There is considerable irony in that fact. The last time the RCMP got embroiled in federal politics, Goodale himself was at the eye of the storm as Canada’s finance minister.
Then RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli named Goodale in announcinga criminal investigation into an alleged leak from the federal budget. The Liberals had decided not to tax income trusts. After that information apparently leaked from the Finance Department, some investors profited on the stock market. Then Opposition leader Harper called for Goodale’s resignation.
Zaccardelli announced the criminal investigation smack in the middle of the 2006 federal election campaign that brought Harper to power. Despite the lingering stench of the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal, they had been leading in the polls. Zaccardelli’s startling announcement killed their mojo.
A subsequent investigation into the budget leak ended with an official in the Finance Department being charged. Goodale was cleared of any wrongdoing. The RCMP complaints commissioner concluded that there was no evidence to prove that Zaccardelli meddled in the election for political reasons. Zaccardelli refused to answer questions for the probe.
Despite naming a new leader — Paul Martin — the Liberals lost the 2006 election. Some people believe the RCMP investigation was the straw that broke the party’s back.
Besides the question of whether the RCMP should launch an investigation that impacts, or even decides, a federal election, another big question should give the RCMP pause. Do Canadians trust the Mounties the way they once did?
Harper eroded a lot of that trust by using the RCMP in what looked like vindictive and political investigations.
Case in point. After a note from the Prime Minister’s Office, the RCMP put former Conservative MPs Helena Guergis and her husband Rahim Jaffer under a major police investigation in 2010 that sent investigators to other countries. The investigation looked into a wide range of allegations.
The RCMP found no substance to any of the accusations.
Jaffer was by then out of politics, but Harper had kicked Guergis out of the Conservative caucus when the investigation was launched, and refused to reinstate her despite her exoneration. That created a sense that the PMO had used the RCMP as a stick to beat perceived enemies. And that hurt the RCMP’s reputation.
The case of Senator Mike Duffy did nothing to allay fears that the RCMP allowed itself at times to be a political police force.
In a spectacular example of either incompetence or robotic obedience, the Mounties charged Duffy with 31 offences relating to alleged fraud, breach of trust and bribery in his role as a Canadian senator.
They announced these charges in a circus-like press conference. After 62 days of hearings, Judge Charles Vaillancourt said he found the Crown’s case “mind-boggling and shocking” in its weakness.
Vaillancourt dismissed 27 of the charges against Duffy, and found him not guilty of the other four. The RCMP emerged from that travesty of justice with faces as red as their ceremonial uniforms. How could the country’s national police force, backed up by all the legal firepower of the federal justice department, bat zero for 31 in a case that ruined a man’s reputation? Duffy’s lawsuit against the RCMP continues.
And for those senior Mounties with an institutional memory, there is another case from the past that may give the RCMP pause before investigating — or charging — a sitting prime minister.
Back in 1984, the RCMP investigated then New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield for possession of marijuana. The drug was found in a small plastic bag in his luggage during a visit to New Brunswick by Queen Elizabeth ll.
As reported by Macleans back in 1985, a partial print was found on the bag of marijuana found in an unlocked outer compartment of his suitcase. It revealed eight points of similarity with the premier’s fingerprints; it takes 10 for a positive identification.
Presiding Judge Andrew Harrigan acquitted Hatfield on the grounds that there was no proof that the premier ever had personal possession of the drug.
Trudeau’s Ethics Violation Is ‘Political Dynamite’
The judge even mused that the marijuana might have been planted there by a mischievous reporter looking for a sensational scoop. The story made the New York Times.
For all the above reasons, my guess is that the RCMP will not open a criminal investigation into its political masters. For one thing, it could never be completed before the election, given the number of cabinet ministers, senior government officials and corporate players who would have to be interviewed.
It would also be impossible to keep such an investigation secret, and Trudeau would be seriously hurt by leaks from any probe. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki doesn’t want to end up like Giuliano Zaccardelli, facing accusations of interference in the electoral process.
The likely outcome is that the RCMP will make a terse statement sometime soon announcing that the Trudeau government’s actions in the SNC-Lavalin case do not rise to the level of a crime. But even that public relations exit strategy comes at a price.
There is enough evidence available to the public, thanks to Dion’s report, that giving Trudeau a pass on a criminal investigation will leave Canadians facing disturbing questions.
If the decision is taken not to investigate, will it be based on what Trudeau actually did, or the office he holds?
And are some people more equal before the law than others?
Opposition parties to push for ethics commissioner to testify on SNC-Lavalin scandal
SNC-Lavalin affair exposes Trudeau’s lazy math on jobs
There’s a short but jarring paragraph in Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s report last week on what went wrong in the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
When the commissioner asked Finance Minister Bill Morneau what kind of analyses his department had done on the economic damage that could flow from SNC-Lavalin having to go to trial, Morneau replied that there were none.
Not necessary, he said. As a former CEO, he just knew.
“For a company that relies on government contracts, a criminal conviction would almost certainly lead to a loss of employment and jeopardize the funding of pension plans,” the report states in a paraphrase of Morneau’s testimony.
It’s a key assumption that has had cascading effects. The argument that 9,000 jobs were at stake, and that they must be protected at all cost, lies at the centre of the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s defence — and his political recovery plan.
“One of the things that a prime minister’s responsibility is, and always is, is to stand up for jobs, and to protect Canadians right across the country,” Trudeau said again Monday.
Trudeau, like Morneau, is using “jobs” as a shorthand for economic growth and prosperity. They use that math repeatedly in their explanations in the SNC saga, just as they use it in their speeches, their slogans and their electioneering. One million jobs, brought to you courtesy of the Liberals. It’s a voter-friendly stand-in for comfort and stability.
But that easy equation is based on an outdated understanding of how labour markets and modern economics are working in Canada. To assume that jobs should be the federal government’s top economic responsibility is to assume prosperity for all flows from the fact of holding down a job. That’s not always automatically the case, however, and the SNC-Lavalin controversy exposes some of the problems with leaning on lazy calculus.
Sordid SNC-Lavalin affair exposes Canada as a plutocracy, not a democracy
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March 1, 2019
POLITICS IN CANADA
With all the political commentators pontificating on the SNC-Lavalin affair and former attorney general Wilson-Raybould's explosive testimony to the House of Commons justice committee, I wouldn't dare venture to offer my own modest opinion on the imbroglio if I didn't think I had something original to say.
To put it bluntly, I'm convinced that the eruption of this political scandal occurred because we live in a plutocracy rather than a democracy.
The Oxford dictionary defines plutocracy as "government by a wealthy elite."
U.S. president Abraham Lincoln once defined democracy as "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." But, since women and people of colour were denied voting rights at that time, he was careful not to say "government of, by, and for all the people."
Indeed, more than 80 years were to pass before women and people of colour were grudgingly permitted to cast their ballots -- a long delay that lasted in Canada as well as the U.S.
The freedom to vote, however, even when ostensibly extended to all citizens of a country, does not automatically make that country a democracy. If the governments thus elected still give priority to policies and laws that favour the upper-class elite, while neglecting the needs of middle- and lower-class citizens, the latter's right to vote is effectively nullified.
This is what happens when large corporations amass so much political as well as economic power that they are able to subvert "democratically" elected governments. In effect, they transform them into servile vassals of the owners, executives, investors, and major shareholders of the big corporations.
Such as SNC-Lavalin.
Study exposes U.S. plutocracy
If you think I exaggerate, consider the findings of a prolonged study of the political system in the U.S. conducted a few years ago by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern universities.
They concluded that the U.S. can no longer be called a democracy. They described its current political form -- even before Donald Trump became president -- as "an oligarchy ruled by a small, powerful group of people with an entrenched commitment to serving their special interests."
In short, a plutocracy.
Commenting on this study, consumer activist Ralph Nader noted that half the families of four or more in the U.S. "have incomes too low to lift them out of poverty. We have the highest child poverty rate in the developed world, and the lowest average wage. Electorally [as this study finds], the U.S. is a money-driven two-party tyranny -- yet we're still lecturing other countries on democracy!"
Former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges claims that the conversion of democracy to plutocracy has given corporate oligarchs most of the wealth, power and privilege, "while the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us, another set for a corporate power elite that functions as a global mafia."
That Canada has also become a plutocracy is clear. David Moscrop, political scientist at the University of British Columbia, referring to the U.S. study, pointed out that "oligarchic forces" have also undermined democracy in Canada. "Policy outcomes skewed to favour an elite are unlikely to benefit most Canadians," he says.
He points to the inherent unfairness of our first-past-the-post electoral system, which remains in effect after Prime Minister Trudeau cynically broke his promise to replace it with some form of democratic proportional representation.
"Only twice over the past two decades," Moscrop points out, "has a winning party received more than a 40 per cent minority of the vote. Giving these and other serious shortcomings, we can't claim to be living in a democracy. A plutocracy would indeed be a more accurate description."
Plutocracy spawns poverty, inequality
The inequitable society that has been created by the plutocrats' dominant economic system -- laissez-faire capitalism -- has enriched and empowered an affluent minority in Canada, as it has in the U.S. and elsewhere. The plutocratic one per cent wallow in luxury while millions of Canadian families are destitute and millions of underpaid workers scrabble precariously from paycheque to paycheque.
We live in a country in which -- despite a recent decline in national poverty rates -- more than 750,000 children still remain impoverished while just two of our richest business tycoons -- media magnate David Thomson and Holt Renfrew owner Galen Weston -- hold a combined wealth of more than $33 billion. And the collective wealth of the next six richest Canadians amounts to another hefty $30 billion.
Is this not also the Oxford dictionary's definition of a plutocracy?
Only in a plutocracy could this sort of inhumane disparity persist. Only in a plutocracy could the big corporations exercise such overwhelming political influence. Only in a plutocracy do governments meekly coddle, protect, and subsidize large corporations, and supinely bow to their wishes.
Canada also subsidizes big business
The most striking example of this political subservience to the big business barons occurred during the crippling recession in 2007-08. That momentous economic crash was precipitated by the big unregulated American banks and other large financial firms. Their greed, reckless low-cost mortgages, short-selling, insider trading, money-laundering, and other infamous schemes inevitably triggered the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression.
If the U.S. at the time had been a democracy, the blame and punishment for the meltdown would rightly have been imposed on the culprits -- the owners and managers of the financial institutions. But all but a few of them not only escaped prosecution and jail terms, but were saved from collapse by enormous government bailouts.
Only in a plutocracy could such a monstrous injustice be inflicted and rationalized. And the same plutocratic perversity prevails in Canada, if not quite to the same drastic extent.
For example, although our federal government boasted that Canadian banks didn't need any bailouts during the 2007-08 economic crisis, a CCPA study found that they actually received a combined $114 billion in cash and loan support from the Canadian and U.S governments.
Our federal government also bailed out General Motors and Chrysler with $13.7 billion in public money. Although it was all claimed to be in the form of loans, the auto companies failed to repay nearly $4 billion of that amount, so the Trudeau government last year gave up and wrote it all off as a free gift.
Such huge bestowals of public funds on big corporations is standard practice in a plutocracy. A recent study by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy found that the federal government and the four largest provinces spend $29 billion every year subsidizing business firms.
Of that huge largesse, $14 billion comes from the federal government and $14.6 billion from the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. The most extravagant and harmful subsidy, by far, is the $3.3 billion a year that our federal and provincial governments lavish on the large oil and gas companies. This is a gargantuan annual gift to the worst polluters of the environment. In effect, it helps them keep increasing the toxic carbon emissions that cause global warming.
Among other prominent corporate recipients of massive government gravy, in addition to SNC-Lavalin, is aerospace company Bombardier, which is also based in Quebec. It also has a history of malfeasance and currently faces bid-rigging and corruption charges in the courts of Sweden and Brazil. A few years ago, when suffering serious financial setbacks, Bombardier was bailed out by a $3.7-billion government subsidy. It was allegedly intended to enable the company to avoid layoffs, but, shortly afterward, the company still sacked thousands of employees while company executives raised their own salaries.
Financial Post columnist Andrew Coyne's acerbic reaction was to quip that "Bombardier is not in the transportation industry; it's in the government subsidies industry."
Commenting on this and other huge government handouts of public cash to the corporations, the Huffington Post's Mike Milne made this cynical observation:
"In the land of government plenty -- that vast landscape populated with the tax dollars of Canadians -- there is no shortage of politicians willing to hand out and defend subsidies to big business, and no dearth of corporations willing to take the cash."
Companies subsidized, social programs cut
While Ottawa and the provinces continue to maintain and even increase the amounts of their tax revenue they expend in business subsidies, they have proportionately reduced their spending on social services.
The OECD's latest report on the social expenditures of its 34 member countries ranked Canada 24th for the relatively low 17.2 per cent of GDP it spent on social services. Most of the 23 countries that surpassed Canada had social spending rates of 23 per cent of GDP or more. Some, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Belgium, Italy and Ireland, had rates higher than 28 per cent.
The decision of Canadian governments to convert so much of the tax revenue they derive from workers into mammoth handouts to corporations could only be maintained in a plutocracy. This depletion of tax revenue through profligate business bounties gives political leaders the contrived excuse that they simply can't afford to improve the social services they had deliberately stripped of adequate funding.
Inexcusable and sustained pressure
Now let's apply these stark realities to the intense and long-sustained political pressure exerted on Wilson-Raybould by Justin Trudeau and his staff to intervene in the trial of SNC-Lavalin -- specifically, to save the Montreal-based firm from a conviction for its charges of corruption.
The company had every reason to expect such a "get-out-of-jail-free" rescue from a political party whose election campaigns it had so generously funded, and with whom it had developed such a long and cozy relationship. And the Liberals had every reason to expect they could provide the company with that deliverance, which in a plutocracy is almost taken for granted.
For a plutocracy to function as intended, however, all of a government's cabinet members have to be "team players." They have to share the same perverted priorities -- and the same willingness, if necessary, to put expedience ahead of principle in the service of corporate overlords.
However, when Trudeau appointed Wilson-Raybould attorney general, he rashly placed a non-conformist and incorruptible wolf in his flock of compliant cabinet sheep. She was never going to put the interests of a criminally depraved corporation ahead of the public interest.
Her valiant adherence to that moral and ethical principle triggered the colossal political uproar that followed. It also inadvertently exposed the existence of plutocracy as the real type of government that prevails in Canada.
That fundamental aspect of the SNC-Lavalin affair would not have been so widely publicized without Wilson-Raybould's revelations, but it has still been studiously ignored by the mass media pundits. As usual.
Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer’s apprentice, reporter, columnist, and editor of that city’s daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.
Photo: Jeangagnon/Wikimedia Commons
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If people voted based on morality first the NDP would have been running Canada decades ago. People will vote first based on their economic self-interest. Many people assume all politicians are corrupt; certainly the high-level ones. It's not like Trudeau personally benefited beyond the hope of votes which politicians are expected to want. The accusation of "buying votes" is weak. I want my vote to be "bought". I want the government to do what I want.