Ah, anticlimax, hello old friend. Welcome back to Canadian politics.
After days of bluster and posturing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has not fallen. And while it has turned out we are not going to an election, this little bit of farce and theatre has taught us a little something about Trudeau: he’s not afraid to face the voters, if the opposition gives him an excuse.
Which is something. All the talk of Trudeau calling a snap election over the summer was an absurd one, his numbers may have been high, but in the middle of a pandemic calling a vote isn’t going to necessarily go over well.
In BC, NDP Leader John Horgan seems to be getting away with it, but federally it might not go down so well. At some point people get tired of opportunism, the trick is figuring out when you can still get away with it.
But, this proposed anti-corruption committee by the Conservatives gave the Liberals the perfect chance to pounce.
It’s deeply cynical, and frankly dishonest, for the government to claim this committee would have ground parliament to a halt just by its existence. It’s extra terrible, given the reason they oppose the thing is so obvious: they don’t want to have people look any further into the WE scandal. That’s why they prorogued, and that’s why they made this motion into a confidence vote.
By raising the stakes and, essentially, putting the responsibility for calling the election at the feet — again, dishonestly, but no matter — of the Tories, they were able to test how willing their opponents were to actually fighting an election. Calling that bluff this time paid off. Eventually it will not.
What we know of the government’s dealings with WE and how the proposal to get one of the many arms of the charity to run a rescue program worth hundreds of millions of dollars is pretty grim stuff. There was a conflict of interest there, the set up of the whole contract is more than a bit dubious, and it doesn’t really make sense to have an outside entity run a program the government could have run itself.
But in the middle of a massive crisis, is the WE scandal, however serious, really the issue that’s going to move votes? My bet is no. And if things had gone to an election, the public mood for Conservative rule, with all their talk of problems with the deficit and so on, wasn’t really going to fly when so many people are struggling because the virus has yet to be tackled.
While their programs have often been inadequate, and slow to be improved, the Liberals have offered real support for people to survive the pandemic. That the provinces have largely dropped the ball leading to a surging second wave isn’t something people are blaming anyone for yet — neither the premiers who are mostly responsible for it, or the federal government who have been sluggish to adjust.
And, let’s be real, an election right now on top of two provincial elections — in Saskatchewan and B.C. — is really not something we need as a country generally.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, one time Liberal and justice minister, now just an independent MP, perhaps summed things up best in a statement she tweeted out after the vote was tallied and the Liberals officially survived:
“The choice this [government] placed before us — a potential election during a spiking pandemic or seeking to avoid transparency/accountability for ethical wrongdoings demonstrates an utter lack of leadership. Imagine risking the health of [Canadians] to avoid taking responsibility,” Wilson-Raybould tweeted in part. “Shameful.”
JWR is correct, it is shameful. The government’s reasoning for making this a confidence motion are, essentially, bullshit. They wanted the other parties to blink, and they did. It will be a long time before we get the full WE story, if we ever do. And that’s thanks to the political maneuvering of Trudeau.
One of the interesting things about the prime minister is how similar he is to his predecessor. For all his invocations of Stephen Harper as some kind of malevolent spectre haunting the country, he uses a lot of the Bad Man’s tactics. Loading down MPs and ministers with say-nothing talking points, cynical misuse of Parliamentary maneuvers like prorogation to avoid accountability, threatening the opposition with a snap election if they do not bend to the government’s will, closing off bureaucrats and information from public view. And on and on.
Today was just one more exposition at the rot that has bloomed within this government. For all Trudeau’s half-assed sunny ways, he has become that which he once opposed. Sure, the programs are more generous and the deficits are bigger, but how much different are this government’s actions and demeanour different that the last Tory government?
But that’s how things go in Trudeau’s Ottawa.
Whatever optimism he rode in on is now well and truly dead. The Liberals are the party of power. Hanging on to it, even if that means pushing around the opposition, is the name of the game.
After these few short years, that’s what it comes down to. Someday, perhaps someday soon, this emptiness will catch up with Trudeau. But today, he lives on.
Photo Credit: Global News
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