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I think the thing I hate most about governments and politicians doing stupid, stupid things is the sheer wasted opportunity of it all.
And I know I’m an armchair quarterback, that I don’t fully understand the pressures that bedevil politicians — especially as they look ahead to the approaching thunderheads of the latest election that controls their future.
But one thing’s for sure: 30 years into covering Canadian politics, I feel the only thing that’s a true constant is that whoever you elect will be bound to disappoint.
And not necessarily disappoint as a result of a huge issue, either.
Often, it’s actions that start as whimper, and only later build to a bang.
Take the current controversy facing Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, using only the evidence there is so far: the Trudeau government was concerned that a key Quebec employer, engineering and project management giant SNC-Lavalin, might be barred from getting federal contracts for a decade if the firm was convicted of bribing Libyan officials for international work. So, after an instrument called a deferred prosecution agreement was built into the last federal budget to allow companies to bypass a conviction through fines and corporate changes (magically just in time to help SNC-Lavalin), officials from the prime minister’s office tried to convince then-justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and have her prosecutors use the DPA system, even after the prosecutors had rejected that approach.
At that point, it’s scummy political pragmatism, and, frankly, not an unlikely set of actions for any party.
Thirty years into covering Canadian politics, I feel the only thing that’s a true constant is that whoever you elect will be bound to disappoint.
But then, if Wilson-Raybould is correct, continued PMO pressure for her to change her decision reached the point where it was improper interference.
Arguing that economic implications should be considered in the overall process suddenly became the resignation of cabinet ministers, a political meltdown, and the very real chance that the Trudeau Liberals have thrown their chances in the fall election into the toilet.
And all I can think is, “What did you think would happen?”
I can understand the Liberals wanting to do what they could to help (or appease) a big Quebec employer facing a serious threat. But why didn’t the PMO eventually just say, “We tried, but there are consequences to fouling your own nest, and there’s only so much we can do about it”?
Instead, it became a hill to die on where there didn’t even seem to be a hill: if a government can’t definitively say, “we don’t use political powers to interfere in criminal cases,” how can it claim to be fair and just? And they just keep digging themselves in.
SNC-Lavalin is not the only engineering and project management company in the country, and, chances are, even if they were banned from federal contracts, the work they might otherwise do would still be done by Canadian firms.
One thing that you can see from evidence in the current public inquiry into the Muskrat Falls hydro dam mess in Newfoundland and Labrador is that people with skills in engineering, procurement and project management move around — they move from project to project, often from company to company, and that movement is based on their particular skill sets and track records.
And the threat that somehow SNC-Lavalin was going to pull up stakes and move lock, stock and barrel to mid-Brexit Britain? Hasn’t anyone stopped to consider how much of a nose-cutting-off-to-spite-Canadian-face that would be? Companies looking for opportunities are talking about fleeing the restrictive borders of Britain, not moving there for the dazzling array of upcoming opportunities.
Like so many governments, the Liberals have met their biggest enemy, and have fallen on that enemy’s sword.
What a waste.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky