Peter White is the former principal secretary to prime minister Brian Mulroney.
There is, right now, a golden opportunity for a politician to seize the high ground in Ottawa. That’s not just because of the many fires that the Liberal government is trying to put out – from SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet resignation followed by Gerald Butts’s sudden departure, to the Trans Mountain pipeline and the issues of Indigenous or women’s rights – not to mention the countless other irritants and distractions in the daily news.
The fundamental issue is the moral and ideological bankruptcy, and the embarrassing incompetence, of the government and its out-of-his-depth leader, Justin Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau’s father famously asked: “Who will speak for Canada?” It is certainly not his son. There is a paucity of strong national leadership and direction from the federal government, and meanwhile, we are witnessing a renaissance of Western Canada’s discontent – if not fury and despair, on the part of many Albertans – that gave rise to the Reform Party of Canada in the 1980s.
At the same time, Quebec Premier François Legault is testing how far he can push Mr. Trudeau with his assertive demands for his province, while the Prime Minister panders to extreme environmentalists by failing to support the Energy East pipeline. Far from pushing back as his father would have done, Mr. Trudeau meekly caves to Quebec’s whims, in the hopes of winning electoral support in the province – having forgotten, apparently, that his father swept Quebec at the height of the independence movement by standing up for Canada.
The role of the prime minister is not to cater to every minority activist group. It is to lead the country in the national interest.
Instead, Mr. Trudeau rests on hypocritical laurels. The avowed feminist and supporter of Indigenous rights throws his female Indigenous minister of justice over the side and demotes her to Veterans Affairs minister, after she allegedly did not seek a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
Mr. Trudeau has proven to not be ready for the big leagues. His government has allowed Canada to be outmanoeuvred by the United States into taking unprecedented heat from China over the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the United States’s request; the United States meanwhile, has gotten off virtually scot-free.
In exchange, the thanks Mr. Trudeau has received from U.S. President Donald Trump is the continued imposition of unreasonable tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, on the ludicrous basis that our raw materials are a threat to American national security. As we saw in the case of the North American free-trade agreement renegotiations, Mr. Trudeau negotiating with Mr. Trump is the equivalent of bringing a teaspoon to a knife fight. Sunny ways are of little use in international realpolitik.
Canadians want leadership from their prime minister, not nauseating doses of political correctness. They want vision and inspiration, unifying national policies and projects. We want a reason to be proud of our leaders and our country. So, now is the time for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to seize the high ground of Canadian politics and with it the moral leadership of the country.
Is Mr. Scheer the leader Canada needs? Perhaps the biggest criticism one hears about him is that he is unknown to most Canadians, and seems unable to get the media attention needed to correct this. But judging from the past few days, that may be about to change. He has thrust himself into the spotlight over the SNC-Lavalin affair. He has become a loud critic of the government’s lack of transparency around the important Criminal Code amendment that created these deferred prosecution agreements in the first place, which had been slipped discreetly into the omnibus federal budget bill – despite the Liberals’ election promises.
Is he too nice? Yes, he is nice – supposedly Canadians’ defining characteristic – and his perpetual smile raises doubts in some quarters.
But Mr. Scheer has been underestimated at every point in his career. He wasn’t even expected to win his party’s nomination in the riding of Regina—Qu’Appelle, but at age 25, he defeated NDP MP Lorne Nystrom – the longest-serving member of the House of Commons at the time – by 861 votes in the 2004 election. In 2011, he was chosen by his fellow MPs as the youngest Speaker in Canadian history. And in 2017, he narrowly won the Conservative leadership despite Maxime Bernier’s front-runner status.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, Shakespeare wrote, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. He also noted that some men have greatness thrust upon them. Mr. Scheer now has a chance to show how accurate the playwright was.