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REX MURPHY: In the wake of SNC-Lavalin, should Trudeau be lecturing about the law?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - Reuters

It’s obvious to anyone with the intelligence of a tortoise that this factitious controversy was designed to knee-cap Andrew Scheer

I didn’t rob a bank yesterday.

I wanted to.

But it’s against the law. So I didn’t.

Very reluctantly … well, not very … somewhat reluctantly I left the money in the bank.

Saw a lovely new Tesla, all silvery and shiny, the quiet battery at full power, owner inside a shop. Didn’t steal it. I like those new Teslas. (Very smart cars. They can read Latin.) Still didn’t steal it. (I love Latin.) Against the law. Can’t really say some part of me didn’t want to steal it. But, reluctantly, I didn’t.

Now, according to our new legal ethics instructor-in-chief, Justin Pierre James Trudeau, though the bank is safe and the car untouched, my lack of enthusiasm is worrisome. Perhaps even morally disqualifying.

Mr. Trudeau has gloriously expanded the idea of the law-abiding citizen.

Speaking in British Columbia on the jumped-up controversy the Liberals have sprung on Andrew Scheer, on the frightfully current topics of abortion and same-sex marriage, the legal-ethicist PM had this to say: “It’s not enough to reluctantly support the law because it’s a law.” (The italicizing is mine; the stress on reluctantly was his.)

Now there’s something Blackstone overlooked. None of the reporters present for this legalism-from-the-mount had the presence of mind to follow up with: “In the matter of obeying the law, what degree of zest and enthusiasm is sufficient? Is it enough to be … not exactly reluctant, but only OK with the law? Or, for example, should you throw a small party and maybe a little dance before you stick to the speed limit? Just to show you’re really on board with driving under 90K? Will there be a test for enthusiasm?”

But reporters are not lawyers so these niceties were not exfoliated.

Are we now in a state when the police will stop a driver and note … “you were under the limit sir, but you didn’t seem too happy about it. Sorry. Here’s a ticket for inadequate zest while under the limit.”

Were we to seriously adopt this innovative idea of abiding within the law, we could ask Mr. Trudeau himself: Are you only reluctantly not taking freebie trips to the Aga Khan’s private island? Are you now only reluctantly not attempting to interfere with the attorney general and the Public Prosecution Service? Did you stop doing those things because you were caught out, or because you had an enthusiastic awakening and are now nearly ecstatic leaving the attorney general to follow his conscience without outside pressure and interference?

It’s obvious to anyone with the intelligence of a tortoise that this abortion/same-sex rehash is a ginned-up — factitious is the precise term — controversy to (a) politically knee-cap the awkward Mr. Scheer, and (b) to serve as a useful screen for the much more problematic recent report of the ethics commissioner on the Jody Wilson-Raybould affair.

On the first point, if we agree politics is a rough business, and anything goes, then all points to the Liberals, proven aficionados of its darkest arts. If they can muck up Andrew Scheer over issues long-settled, put him off whatever game he’s on (and that is far from clear), then more power to them. This kind of politics, however, remains outlandishly discordant for a prime minister who is so eerily pious about everything else, who soaks his every platitude in unctuousness and projects himself as a social justice version of Gandhi himself.

That said, he and the minions of his back room are only getting away with it because Andrew Scheer offers himself as such a feeble target. We know Mr. Scheer is there — he is the Opposition leader, and by virtue of that status the only potential real contender for the PM’s job. But beyond being there, what else is he? From a distance his approach to the election seems to consist almost entirely of awaiting Mr. Trudeau’s losing it to him. This is, to be kind, a very passive approach.

The outstanding characteristic of Mr. Scheer’s leadership is that it has no outstanding characteristic. On issues he should be storming the country with, he’s near mute. The uselessness of the carbon tax, the neglect of or direct hostility to the West’s oil and gas issue, the (effective) embargo on pipelines, the excessive embrace of industry-choking Greenism — Scheer has said things about this explosive combination. But he doesn’t register. It’s all passionless.

The Trudeau record follies and foibles, from the ridiculous pantomime he pulled off in India to the egregious muscling of the attorney general, his high-speed twirl on electoral reform, and his shameless “honest” promise on balancing the budget by this year — on all these Scheer could come down on Mr. Trudeau like a Steinway grand from a great height. Yet here he is, the election not officially underway, in a defensive crouch in a controversy stitched-up by his opponents. He has to do much better.

Where’s the speech about Canada? Every opposition leader has to limn a portrait of the country he hopes to lead, to offer voters the broad themes of its essential character, the elements of its past he treasures, the outline of how he can add to its heritage.

Elections are fought. They are not waddled through. And while it is true, as I have written here before, that Mr. Trudeau is Mr. Scheer’s best hope, the idea that Scheer will win on not-being-Justin-Trudeau is not satisfactory as a strategy, or even as a sufficient reason for those who do not like the Trudeau administration to actually vote against it.

Mr. Scheer has to set up real, Conservative, positive markers to demonstrate he has something — beyond the flaws of his opponent — that makes him worthy of replacing him.

It’s only right, by way of a footnote, to remark that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also a bit of a gift to Mr. Scheer — Singh’s campaign is all but unlocateable; I’d put it in abysmal Kim Campbell (1993, two seats) territory — but then, it’s equally a prize for Mr. Trudeau. Evens out.

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