Let’s say for a second that you’re the prime minister. Someone has put a large government funded program in front of you and it’s going to be administered by a charity you’ve spent some time with.
“Hmm,” you think to yourself. “I know that charity, it’s the one me and my family have done a bunch of speaking for. My wife has that podcast with them. Hmm.”
You have put your finger on something here. An issue of some sort. “I know!” you think. “What we have here is something that might look bad. People might think there’s some kind of underhanded dealing here. People might even think there’s some kind of conflict of interest in this whole thing.”
But what to do? What can be done?
Now, you may think, dear reader, that maybe you should ask for other options. Maybe step away from this thing and let someone else make the decisions. But that would make you not the prime minister.
What we learned today in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s testimony on how and why the WE organization was given the task of running the CSSG, was he knew there could maybe be a problem with his participation, but then he barrelled ahead.
“When the public service came forward with this organization, I said, ‘You know what? Let’s put the brakes on that. Let’s make sure it’s done absolutely right because there are going to be questions of the connections with my family on this,’ ” Trudeau said.
Recognizing the tunnel ahead of him may just have been painted there by a flightless bird, he lightly tapped the brakes, only to thunder ahead. As we’ve since seen, it did not end well for Trudeau.
“In hindsight I should have recused myself and perhaps the program would be delivering for students right across the country right now,” he told the Finance committee today.
The baffling thing is he saw there was a problem. Some part of his brain gave him the Danger Will Robinson tingle, and the best solution he says he could come up with was to make sure everything was done really well.
I’ve been running on the assumption, more or less, that when the federal government went ahead with giving WE the contract to run the CSSG program, he was blithely unaware what he was getting into. That it had never crossed his mind that this very much might look like a conflict of interest.
But it wasn’t a blind spot after all. He’s a different sort of dolt, it turns out. He’s been aware these things could look bad and get him into trouble this whole time. He’s just unable to navigate away from them.
I’m at a loss to explain how to fix that. What do you do when someone knows the stove is hot, knows hot things hurt, and then decided to check the stove is in proper working order, before just putting their hand on it again?
I guess the easiest way to make sense of it goes back to the idea of the Liberal Party generally, and Trudeau in particular, believing everything they do to be inherently good, because they are doing it.
How else do you make sense of Trudeau’s decision to stay in the decision process when he’s aware there’s a problem? That his response is to make sure they just do it in the best way possible, and everything will work out fine.
“This proposal mattered to me and, instead of encouraging it along, as some people say, because it was somehow connected to my family, I actually slowed it down, pushed back on it, to try and make sure that everything was done exactly right. Because I knew there would be questions asked because of the links to the family,” Trudeau said.
You see, his intentions were good. It was a program to help kids, after all. So he wanted to make sure the government did everything as bestestly as they could.
Since the contract has been handed down we’ve learned various members of the Trudeau family have been paid by WE for expenses or speaking fees and expenses. His finance minister has had to pay back tens of thousands in travel expenses, and also his daughter works for WE. It’s also come to light there are some, shall we say, curious things about the way the deal was structured. It was, for example, given to a non-profit sub-foundation of the WE series of entities that had previously been set-up to hold real estate for WE.
And any charity dealing with WE to help recruit students had to sign documents giving WE rights to use their logos, and making sure those other charities never said anything bad about WE. And so on.
None of this seems particularly close to “exactly right”, as Trudeau wanted things to go by his slowing down of the process.
But so it goes in Trudeauland. When your heart is in the right place, everything will turn out fine. Except when it doesn’t again and again.
If there is a lesson here, no one in the government seems willing to learn it. This is who they are. This is who Trudeau is. Just be happy it’s not your hand reaching for the stove.
Photo Credit: CBC News
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