Justin Trudeau hopes the ethics report was the last chapter of an unfortunate series of events

Principled stance 2

 

On the eve of the launch of the federal election, the SNC-Lavalin affair is back on the front pages again.  This is the second time Justin Trudeau has been found guilty of violating the federal ethics act.  The first time, it was for staying on the private island of the Aga Khan.  This time around, he put himself in a conflict of interest for pressuring the Attorney General to give a break to a Liberal-friendly Quebec firm.  The decision of ethics commissioner Mario Dion is clear.  The headlines are damning.

TRUDEAU BROKE ETHICS LAW – Globe and Mail

A STRONG WHIFF OF ABUSE OF POWER – National Post

TRUDEAU BLAMED – Le Droit

PM IN CONFLICT OF INTEREST – Le Soleil

REPORT FINDS PM BROKE ETHICS LAW – Toronto Star

PM’S POWER TRIP A CONFLICT – Toronto Sun

TRUDEAU BLAMED AGAIN… BUT WON’T APOLOGIZE – Journal de Montréal

And so on and so forth.

When the Globe and Mail first broke the story, Justin Trudeau’s answer was crystal clear: “These allegations are false.”

But now, he accepts the report and takes full responsibility.  But he won’t apologize, still saying that he did nothing wrong, that he will continue to stand up for Canadian jobs and will make changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  And by that, he really means that he won’t be found guilty again.

“What happened over the past year shouldn’t have happened,” Trudeau acknowledged on Wednesday.  “What we did over the past year wasn’t good enough.”  And by that, he really means that he failed to get the results he sought – a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

In his report, Mario Dion also pointed out that his report was completed despite the decision made by the Privy Council Office, the PM’s very own department, to deny the investigation access to a full range of information, constraining nine witnesses from providing Dion with the full body of evidence relevant to the case.

Cabinet confidence, you see, matters more than the truth.  And the public interest trumps all else.  The performance was admirable.  Trudeau looked comfortable, was in control of his message.  His delivery was clear, concise, disciplined.  Except for a misstep when asked to repeat a french answer in english, his performance was flawless.

Clearly, the PM was ready.  Of course, they had received the Ethics Commissioner’s preliminary findings a month ago.  The messaging was probably tested to make sure it would mitigate the damage.  Clearly, the Liberals are thinking that most of the damage on this file is behind them.  The drop in the polls they suffered in the spring is in the past, they are now back on top and they are moving forward, full steam ahead.

Liberal strategists believe that Trudeau’s brand will survive this new hit.  Breaking the law, it seems, doesn’t really matter because he means well.  And breaking that law is not so bad, because he faces no actual consequences or penalties.  No harm done, then, surely.

The ball is now in the hands of the opposition parties.  Their performance, yesterday, was lackluster.  The Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer wasn’t particularly angry or passionate.  He who called for Justin Trudeau’s resignation months ago over this whole mess was no longer seeing it as necessary, strangely, since Trudeau clearly did not heed his call to step down, and since an election is just two months away, it is now up to Canadians.  “He may never face a court of law, but he will have to face the Canadian people over the next few weeks,” Scheer said in a news conference in Regina.

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh stuck to a classic anti-establishment message: Justin Trudeau is only interested in helping his wealthy and well-connected friends at the expense of Canadians.  Singh delivered his message with little conviction, in a busy coffee shop, with distracting coffee-seekers in the background, more interested in getting their lattes than hearing what Singh had to say.

Still, as we have seen in the spring, the SNC-Lavalin has the potential to hurt the Prime Minister’s image and the Liberals re-election chances.  If the story has legs, the poll numbers will drop.  For that to happen, however, will require new information to keep the fire burning under Trudeau’s feet.

If the opposition parties are lucky, the RCMP will bring this to the next level by moving in with an investigation for obstruction of justice, which is a criminal offence.  “The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required,” stated the federal police.  In addition, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who feels vindicated by Dion’s report, may yet add more fuel to the fire, with a tell-all book to be published in the middle of the electoral campaign.  Do the opposition parties have any other cards?

If not, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals’ hope that Dion’s report was the last chapter of an unfortunate series of events in which they only did what they believe Canadians expected them to do, and for which they believe, Canadians surely will reward them with another majority government.

Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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