What can we expect from Trudeau on WE? Not much


It was some time around 3:30pm Tuesday that my brain started leaking out of my ear. 

I’d been watching Craig and Marc Kielburger testify before the House of Commons finance committee for about two-and-a-half hours and something inside started to crack.  The hours of smarmy non-replies from the two brothers, the co-founders of WE and its various and assorted sub-charities and non-charity-charities, were milling my brain down to a pink slurry.

And so, out my ear it went.  And there was still more than an hour to go.

(If you’d like to see my breakdown as it happened in real time, start with this tweet here.)

It’s hard to get a handle on what exactly we learned in their many hours of testimony.  It was a long series of yammering where brothers Marc and Craig would get a fairly specific question, then give a meandering speech offering “context” or “nuance” — at one point Craig said, and this is a real quote, “Sir, allow me to nuance, because nuance in facts matters.”  Nuance as a verb!  I hate it! — that would never get to the point of anything.  And the clock would spin ever forward, and I would disassociate just a little more. 

Again and again, Liberal MP Wayne Easter, the chair of the committee, would interrupt questioners, saying they had four hours with the Kielburgers, which made for a handy excuse to let them run out the clock over, and over, and over.

“I want to give the witnesses an opportunity for a thorough answer,” Easter said at one point.  “We’ve got four hours with these witnesses.  We should be able to allow them the full answers.  If it was politicians, then we’d get into the four-second–four- second [back-and-forths], but [they aren’t politicians].”

It was one of many moments that relied on some kind of narrow semantic argument.  Sure, Marc and Craig aren’t elected politicians.  But they are central figures to an ongoing national scandal.  And they certainly answered questions like politicians, with lots of platitudes and sentences so light on information but heavy on words you could swear they’d invented some futuristic new material designed for superconductors or something.

It would have been comical, if it wasn’t so soul-deadening. 

For anyone not ritually bound to the Liberal party line, the display was a pretty revolting one.  The fake cheer from the Kielburger brothers, their bottomless well of smarm, and their inability to accept any responsibility for anything at all.  Their willingness to argue endlessly on minor semantic points ground me nearly to dust. 

Here’s an example.  The WE Charity Foundation was the legal non-profit entity actually given the government program, the CSSG, that kicked this whole thing off.  In the documents when this small offshoot of WE applied for non-profit status with the CRA it is described that “WE Charity Foundation will hold real estate”.  That language was later changed when they got the federal contract, but as it was originally designed, it was to “hold real estate.” 

Straightforward, yes?  Ha, no.  The brothers would not allow it to be called a shell foundation or a holding company or a holding non-profit, never mind explain why this tiny offshoot was the signatory to handle the CSSG.  Craig said it was “established as an idea to hold the legal liability for WE Charity” but would never concede it was in anyway a shell.

Both Craig and Marc accused others, on the committee, in the media, the general public, of lying, of spreading rumour, and of generally being out to smear the good and noble pursuits of WE.

The Liberals on the committee were happy to play along with this line.  When they weren’t scolding opposition members for their tone, they were giving Marc and Craig time too “address any inaccuracies” or what taking the program from WE is “going to cost the youth.”  It was a wretched display of subservience to party.  A parade of smarmy seals, looking to ask questions whether New Democrats or Conservatives had ever supported WE. 

The job of a committee member from the governing party is one of constant debasement.  And the Finance committee Liberals were happy to debase themselves.

In the end, about the only thing Marc and Craig seem to regret is that they ever took on responsibility for operating a massive government program, and are now facing the public scrutiny that goes along with that.

One thing that’s become clear is that by running a charity, they see themselves as doing good, and by their very nature as do-gooders they cannot fathom doing wrong.  This extends so far as to think that any damage to WE is in fact damage to the country itself.

“But sir, you do know this, with great respect.  People, as members of Parliament, don’t reach this stage in their careers without understanding what we’ve explained hour after hour here,” Craig said to Conservative MP James Cumming.  “It’s this blatant disregard for the facts that are being put out here, comments around companies and comments around money moving at inappropriate levels, that by continuing this you’re harming a Canadian charity and you’re harming young people in this country in the process.”

Asking about the labyrinth structure of WE’s various charitable and corporate entities, asking why a separate foundation that was recently for holding real estate was given to manage the CSSG program, asking why the board was suddenly turned over in the middle of a pandemic, or why the chairman of that board said she was forced out, are all out of line.  Asking any and all of things are harming Canada, and Canada’s children.

In this way, you can see how they fit in so well with the culture of the Liberals.  The mindset of If I’m doing it, it must be good is absolute poison.  It leads to dark and foolish places.  It can bring down governments, and now it seems it might bring down a charity, too.

At one point NDP MP Peter Julian summed up the mood of the meeting pretty well.  “I’m, quite frankly, not satisfied with a whole range of the answers that we’ve gotten today,” Julian said.  “Many of them haven’t been answers.  They’ve been speeches, but we’re looking for answers here.”

So now, on Thursday, we get to hear from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I expect more of the same, frankly.  Few answers, plenty of meandering speeches.  But little contrition, beyond what we’ve already heard, and certainly no explanation of how this whole mess came to be.

Back in the heady days of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, Trudeau seemed quite close to making a full accounting for the many missteps of the government.  It looked for a brief time he might come clean, and make some kind of real changes around his office.

Then Gerald Butts testified before a Liberal-run committee.  The next day Trudeau gave something of a defiant press conference, in as much he’s able to be defiant, that basically repeated what Butts had said the day previous.  In the end there would be no retreat, no acknowledgement of the full wrongness of the episode.

Instead, we were left with a government willing to pursue its ends by whatever means necessary, no matter how unethical.

Trudeau has a chance to set a different course Thursday.  I doubt he will.  It’s not who he is.  His government was doing it, so it must have been good.  How could it ever be wrong?

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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