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Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally found his way — maybe — into saying mistakes were made in the SNC-Lavalin mess.
But he continues to miss crucial issues.
Say things are looking bad for the corner store you own. Business has been down and you’re in trouble for failing to remit employees’ taxes. You may have to lay off some of your six employees. You might even have to close. You will pay, if you’re given a little time, but the tax department just isn’t listening.
So you get on the phone to the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, one of the highest-ranking civil servants in the nation, and make your case about the threat to your employees and the threat to your business, the threat of the Canada Revenue Agency doing exactly what the CRA is there to do.
And Wernick immediately forwards your concerns to the minister responsible for the CRA, because those six jobs are important. Officials take action — pressure, maybe excessive, maybe appropriate, is brought to bear on the minister responsible for the CRA. The upper echelons of government turn their eyes towards the need to address your store’s imminent woes.
But it doesn’t really happen that way, does it?
Wernick is not going to take your call — and he’s not going to raise your concerns in the highest reaches of the federal government.
You are but a fly, batting uselessly at an impenetrable window screen.
Now, say you’re Kevin Lynch, the chairman of Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, and you have 9,000 employees. A government department has charged your firm with bribing Libyan officials, and you want to have the courts go through an alternate method to settle the charges, because a conviction could mean a 10-year ban on bidding on federal government contracts.
Is Wernick going to take your call?
Yes. It does — and did — happen that way, according to Wernick’s testimony at the federal Justice committee on Wednesday.
It’s often been said that there are companies that are too big to fail — are there some that are too big to convict as well?
If a major employer picks up the phone, government officials are going to take the call. It might be big-company privilege or because they can throw the 9,000-job poker chip on the table.
Officials will listen one-on-one to your company’s concerns and pass them on.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the government is Liberal or Conservative or any other stripe, frankly — big companies not only have deep pockets for lobbying, they have the ability to get their message directly to the top, where normal citizens only get to tread for prime-ministerial public event selfies.
Trudeau fixed none of those optics Thursday. He may even have made things worse.