On the WE Scandal: When Parental Disappointment rears its head

As a parent, I have three modes of anger. The first and most basic level of my parental anger can be described as me just being “mad”. This most basic level of anger surfaces when my child has done something new that is wrong. Maybe she has taken something that is not hers or maybe she has stated one of various forms of untruths: “lie”, “white lie”, “embellishment” or “lie by omission”. Maybe she has taken something that is not hers or forgotten to return something she should have. The first time she makes a mistake, I get “mad”. 


From “mad”, I go to “angry” and then I go to “disappointed”.  Today, because of the “WE Scandal”, I am disappointed; and my disappointment has three components. There is my disappointment in Justin Trudeau, my disappointment in Morneau and my disappointment in Canada’s Opposition – the Conservative Party of Canada, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.


Why am I disappointed in Justin Trudeau? Well, that is simple: he didn’t learn from Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Senator Duffy, the Conservative Party and the other participants in the Senate Expense Scandal. For those who don’t remember, in 2012, Senator Duffy was accused of improperly claiming that his primary residence was outside of Ottawa. From there, three other Senators (3 Conservative, 1 Liberal), with different fact cases, were also accused of filing false expenses.


What made Duffy’s case unique was that he then publicly claimed that he had paid back $90,172 to the Government of Canada. Then the Senate suspended the three Senators and asked the RCMP to investigate. Charges were filed and these are the outlines of the Senate Expense Scandal.


In responding to the scandal, Justin Trudeau said that he had learned the important lessons which came from the Senate Expense Scandal. Justin Trudeau said that his father had started a trend in centralizing control in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – and that trend had led to many poor outcomes including Expense Scandal. Or put differently, as the PMO grew in strength, Parliament had increasingly lost the will to review the Prime Minister’s actions. This lack of transparency and accountability led to poor outcomes like the Senate Expense Scandal.


Given this trend had started in the 1960s, one can see it had a life of its own. However, Justin Trudeau – as the leader of the Liberals, the third party in Parliament at the time – said that he was going to stop it. He would lead a change which would empower the legislative arm and cabinet to ensure that the PMO would not go so far again. As such, Justin had learned the lesson of history and this Trudeau would be different from the last. Furthermore, in weakening the PMO, this Trudeau would also be different from every Prime Minister that came between himself and his father: Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chretien, Martin and Harper. 


Yet, the truth is that the “WE Scandal” looks like the “SNC Lavalin Scandal” and like Stephen Harper’s “Senate Expense Scandal”. It looks like a scandal that comes from an overly empowered Executive Branch, one without proper legislative review. The WE Scandal, in many ways, comes from a 60 year non-partisan growth in Canada’s Executive Branch. The WE Scandal comes from 60 years of increasingly strong party loyalty which the Conservatives (the Progressive Conservatives before them), the Liberals and the NDP have encouraged. So one can see why my disappointment is not limited to the Liberal Party, but I will get there soon enough. Since being Prime Minister comes with all the rewards, slings and arrows; it is clear that today’s Prime Minister – Justin Trudeau – gets most of my ire. It is clear that Justin Trudeau should receive most of the blame for a scandal which didn’t have to be. 


However, as I said, blame in this matter isn’t one-sided.  In the case of Mr. Morneau, my disappointment is simple: he didn’t do anything right. From not paying for a vacation to not having more of an arms length relationship to a charity to not telling anyone about the conflict of interest, Mr. Morneau has broken (either the spirit or letter of) the rules so many ways that it is not funny. Think about it, most professionals have to declare their conflicts of interest. If you are a lawyer, an accountant, an insurance broker or an investment professional, this is a regular course of business. As an executive at Morneau Shepell, Mr. Morneau had to be responsible to many stakeholders. He had to be clear, honest and upfront. Mr. Morneau would have to report any conflicts of interest to his firm – Morneau Shepell -, the various securities regulators, to his clients and to Bay Street. Bill Morneau would have to do that so that he could work with and for a company whose main business was advising companies about Group Benefits, Pensions and Human Resources issues. Accordingly, Mr. Morneau would have worked for a firm that advised other organizations (government, profit and non-for-profit) about how to create Conflict of Interest rules for those other organizations’ workforces and stakeholders. So Bill Morneau should have been able to not only identify what a conflict is but be able to follow a procedure to lessen or eliminate the harm. Yet, the “WE” Scandal happened; and, we are here.


So, I think I have explained why I am disappointed by the Rt. Hon. Trudeau and by the Hon. Bill Morneau. But some might ask why the Opposition is included in my wrath. Well, simply put, the Opposition could have been Statesmen; yet, instead they played small, petty politics. All the NDP cared about was bringing down Trudeau’s numbers, so that they could get their “left-wing” voters back. All the Conservatives cared about was making Trudeau look bad without going into an election so that their “new” leader – and not Scheer – would be able to take advantage. The Bloc, finally, just wanted to ensure that the best federalist leader  – Yup, Trudeau – would lose seats in Quebec. 


It is sad to say that the Opposition didn’t take this seriously. Given that we have a minority Parliament, the Opposition could have weakened the Executive Branch. The NDP, Greens and Bloc could have rewritten the Pandemic Era rules that now govern Parliament. They could have worked with the Conservatives to get a new set of rules passed. Or, the NDP, Greens and Bloc could have asked the Conservatives and Liberals to form a new government of National Unity. Or using the journalistic and bureaucratic reports from SNC Lavalin and the Senate Expense Scandal as their guide, the Opposition have made educated guesses on what happened and proposed some remedies. None of that happened.


Instead what happened is that the Government and the Opposition played political footsies in a way that hurt most Canadians. This is why the poll numbers are back to where they were after the election. Instead of a golden age in governance, we got the same old politics. Instead of bringing forth policy that would grow the fortunes of the majority of Canadians – while not hurting a minority -; we instead got yelling and screaming and baseless accusations. This scandal – in my eyes – has made everyone look bad, save for Chrystia Freeland. Ms. Freeland – the perennial white knight – is a good choice for Finance Minister. However, this scandal is a high price to pay to have a competent Finance Minister; even our first female Finance Minister. Accordingly, it is sad that this Parliament couldn’t do better and that is why I am disappointed. 

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