If you think Justin Trudeau is about to apologize just because the ethics commissioner says he broke the ethics law, you don’t know your man. Contrition is not his thing, unless it’s for historic misdeeds he had nothing to do with. But when it comes to misdeeds closer to home, he is never going to own up to them. Yes, he’ll take full responsibility. Yes, he accepts most of the report. Still, he has nothing to apologize for. “I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau is hoping that voters are weary of this scandal by now. It’s just talking heads. It lacks drama. There’s no smoking gun, no sex, no bags of cash and probably no further explosive revelations that will keep the story on the front page until election day. It’s highly unlikely anyone will face criminal charges or go to jail. Sure, people have learned that he’s not the open, transparent, guy he claimed he’d be. But they learned that months ago, and after the initial shock his fortunes gradually revived. Today, a Forum poll has him back neck-and-neck with Andrew Scheer – one of the dullest politicians who ever lived. Mr. Scheer would make a bowl of oatmeal look charismatic.
The cynicism of the electorate is good for Mr. Trudeau’s chances. I suspect most people have concluded by now that everything that happened in the SNC-Lavalin affair was just the system acting normally. And most people are right. The real news in the Ethics Commissioner’s report is not that Mr. Trudeau is ethically challenged. It’s who is on the insiders’ list, and how diligently they worked to protect their own. The list is a roster of gold star names: Kevin Lynch, Robert Prichard, Frank Iacobucci (the former Supreme Court justice) and many more.
Take Kevin Lynch, perhaps the most connected man in all of Canada. He is on a first-name basis with the most powerful bureaucrats and politicians in the country. He also happens to be chairman of the board of SNC-Lavalin, as well as the former clerk of the Privy Council, the top bureaucrat in the land. He knows how the machine works. Everyone returns his calls.
Mr. Lynch is a straight arrow. No one says he’s not. So are most of the men (for they are nearly all men) at the heart of Canada’s corporate-bureaucratic elite. Like Mr. Trudeau, they too believe that what is bad for Quebec Inc. is bad for Canada, and for all I know they’re right. The point is that it’s not their call to make. The matter is up to the attorney-general, no matter how stubborn, ignorant, or cruelly misinformed she or he may be. Like it or not, prosecutorial independence is central to the rule of law, because without it, the state can run over anyone it likes.
But the most disturbing sight on display in this report is the senior staff of the PMO plotting with SNC staff, senior executives from the Bank of Montreal, and former Supreme Court justices to order the world as they knew it should be ordered. And when Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to play along, Mr. Trudeau sacked her.
How could he think this wouldn’t touch him? Possibly because no one on his team ever thought to warn him. They just took it for granted that their team – the right team, obviously doing what was best for the country – would win. After all, all the best people were on their side.
For what it’s worth, Mr. Trudeau has been misleading at every stage of this story. He was misleading in February, when he said, in response to the Globe’s first story, that “the allegations reported in The Globe story are false” He was misleading when he told the ethics commissioner that he had no interest in trying to change Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s mind. His only motive, he claims, was to better understand her reasoning for not taking advantage of a deferred prosecution agreement. That must be why he got his minions to twist her arm up high behind her back.
But so what? Who cares about the details any more? Only pundits and political panels, whom nobody cares about in the dog days of summer. The PM’s team are calculating that this week’s headlines will melt away faster than a snowball in August. Besides, they’ll do a lot to change the subject. Gun crime! Relief for refugees! They will portray Mr. Trudeau at his caring and compassionate best.
In the last campaign they ran, Mr. Trudeau was someone who would do politics differently. “Transparency” was one of his vows, as I recall. But now, his best hope is to count on the cynicism of the public. Sure, he’s no one to be proud of. But what politician is? And for all his flaws, he’s probably no worse than all the rest of them.