You can’t be serious. I know, I know, people can believe all manner of strange stuff even after hearing my sensible opinion. But “you” in this case is Prime Minister Trudeau, and the thing he can’t be serious about is a suspiciously-timed report clearing him on Chinese election meddling written by… the guy who was head of the Trudeau Foundation when it got highly suspicious Chinese money. Does our PM really no longer permit anybody to enter his august presence who is not such an obsequious lackey that they could not warn him against such a frivolously insulting response?
It may, of course, all be perfectly innocent. The mysterious flood of money pouring from Beijing toward Justin Trudeau just as he became politically important could be sheer coincidence. Morris Rosenberg’s apparently conflict of interest may not have blinded his eyes or twisted his words. The Communist meddling might have been sufficiently inept as to be funny, or our democracy could be a sham not worth preserving. And the CBC might report the whole business po-faced despite its vast government grant not because of it. It still does not mean there is nothing to see here.
It does not because what there is to see here is flagrant contempt even for the appearance of propriety. It’s a finger in the eye from the Prime Minister to everyone who believes in integrity in public life. Deliberate, sharp and right at you. What are you going to do about it, he taunts us with that trademark smirk. Well? What are we?
I presume you know that Rosenberg was head of the Trudeau Foundation when it suddenly got a big chunk of a $1 million grant from a Chinese businessman named Zhang Bin, $200,000 with $750k going to the University of Montreal’s law faculty in honour of Pierre Trudeau and $50k to a statue of him on that campus (oddly there is apparently no statue but hey, they got the money so it’s OK, right?). And that Zhang was apparently recorded speaking to a Chinese diplomat who told him to make the grant and the Politburo would make it up to him.
I presume you also know that under Chinese law, all firms are obliged to cooperate with espionage efforts. And that under Chinese lack of law, you do what the Party says not what the legislation says or you vanish into their version of the Gulag. So the odds that Zhang’s sudden burst of generosity was private and spontaneous are impossibly long.
Moreover, as Brian Lilley wrote, the report Rosenberg delivered is as suspicious in its contents as in its timing. Including in saying there was interference but “not enough to have met the threshold of impacting electoral integrity”, and that the panel on whose behalf Rosenberg wrote it didn’t know where that threshold was. So if it was crossed, luckily nobody saw either the crossing or the thing it crossed. However it does seem that if it merely caused a few ridings to elect pro-Beijing candidates or dump anti-Communist ones, well, it’s fine. Especially if, you know, the losers were not Liberal and the winners were.
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service begs to differ. But Trudeau’s buddies inside and outside the bureaucracy and the state media don’t care. What sort of banana (or bok choy) republic are we living in?
Well, we’re going to find out. And very possibly it will be bad news for Trudeau. The tenor of commentary at the moment is very pointed and his and his friends’ responses are looking feebly desperate. I know, I know, he’s ridden out scandals before, and the bar on his conduct is shockingly low, and if Clinton could survive his lies and misconduct (and Trump can remain popular with a vast chunk of the American electorate, I should add for balance), Trudeau might well get away with it. But I think not, and here’s why: This attempt to brush it aside is so contemptuously unconvincing.
If the Prime Minister had anything vaguely resembling self-awareness, or permitted people near him who could tell him when he was looking bad, he would never, ever have let this thing happen. Especially not after the initial attempts to smear those raising questions as MAGA bigots.
Calling Chinese Canadians racists for objecting to Communism is gutter politics of a distinctly non-sunny sort. But it’s not that the effort was surprising, or that it hadn’t worked before. It was that it was so tone-deaf here, so obviously cynical, formulaic and scornful.
Those politicians who ride out scandals are, for the most part, very in tune with public opinion or at least the sections of it that matter to them. Sometimes it’s incomprehensible to me, or to you, how it can be. It certainly was for me with Clinton. (And yes, Trump.) And politics has had its share of bafflingly “lovable” rogues from time immemorial, including ones like Edwin Edwards in Louisiana.
In case he is obscure to you, Edwards was a four-time state governor in the late 20th century who early in his career brushed aside acknowledged receipt of illegal campaign contributions with the immortal line “It was illegal for them to give, but not for me to receive.” But eventually, after several crashes and rebounds, he went to jail, I’m glad to say, and then lost an election.
What then of Trudeau? Has he not given us enough, from the Aga Khan to blackface and the Kokanee Grope, to conclude that he is a self-absorbed fake? And from budgets balancing themselves to SNC Lavalin Chinese election meddling to conclude that he is a menace to good government?
Evidently he doesn’t think so. He appointed a long-time Liberal activist to write a report clearing him of invoking the Emergencies Act frivolously in the wake of a string of government bungles at every level from the municipal to the PMO and apparently got away with it. The usual suspects gnashed their teeth but official Ottawa and enough of the public gave him a pass.
Certainly the insider mentality in Ottawa is strong, among the chattering classes as well as bureaucrats and Liberals. And now he is testing its outer limits, to borrow a line from Hamlet, by attempting to pluck our beards out and blow them in our faces. Is there no way to catch his conscience? Has he got one? Is he kidding us?
It’s as though Nixon had commissioned G. Gordon Liddy to write a report on Watergate, which not even Tricky Dick in a dark moment would have contemplated. Is our PM by now so surrounded by sycophants that none dared tell him so? And are we so demoralized that it won’t matter?
I don’t think so. Not this time. This scandal is so bad, and his response so much worse, that I think he’s about to go off to his post-political reward. Beijing will no doubt see to it. They look after their friends. Something in the promotion of trade line, with minimal work, lavish travel and generous stipends. And the sooner the better.
Surely by now we know what he is, and what he thinks of us.