Roundup: The abuse of “appearance”

Breaking! Ethics Commissioner wants to talk to Bill Morneau about that share sale! To which I immediately yawn and say, “Yeah, and?” Because we are beyond the point where any of these stories are actually advancing the story in a substantive manner, and we’re well past innuendo, and are now onto a full-on pile-on in the attempts to make something, anything, stick.

This attempt to try and create some issue around insider trading has been nothing short of ludicrous because none of the facts bear the slightest scrutiny, nor does any of their internal logic hold-up in the face of the other allegations. If he was really interested in “insider trading” (which isn’t actually possible from his position), why wouldn’t he wait to sell those shares until he tabled Bill C-27 and Morneau Shepell’s share prices spiked (temporarily)? But really, none of it makes adds up, and Andrew Coyne constructed a pretty good takedown of the allegation here. And Mary Dawson saying she’ll give Morneau a call sounds pretty pro forma here, given that this is in response to yet another of Nathan Cullen’s demands that she look into his dealings in the vague hope of her finding something, anything, that Cullen can use to any tactical advantage. But as both the opposition and some of the more mediocre journalists in the Gallery continue to carry on this campaign, it has the very definite potential to backfire – especially as Morneau is taking the gloves off now that his father is being dragged into the fray. As Terrence Corcoran points out, the Conservatives are the ones who are now acting unethically, not Morneau (and I’m sure you could add a couple of aforementioned journalists to this list, because their reporting on this has been anything but responsible).

But when this short thread from Howard Anglin was pointed out last night, it became clear to me where the real problem lies.

The problem here is not Bill Morneau – it’s Justin Trudeau, and the high-minded language he put into the mandate letters about being seen to be conduct the affairs without the appearance of conflict. What that turned out to be was an invitation for abuse. Because of the word “appearance,” all that anyone – opposition MP or mediocre journalist trying to make a big score – has to do is line up unrelated or conflated facts in a completely disingenuous manner and say “See! It looks like a conflict! This goes against the mandate letter!” Never mind that none of the allegations, whether it’s the cash-for-access (which wasn’t really cash for access) caterwauling months ago, or this Morneau nonsense now, bear up under the slightest bit of scrutiny – they are simply counting on it being the appearance of a conflict, and crying foul. We’re no longer dealing with issues of substance, but rather, the manufacture of optics in deliberately dishonest ways, because Justin Trudeau gave them an open invitation to. This is the state of our democratic discourse at the end of 2017. We should be embarrassed.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau and several other ministers are off to China, while government officials still struggle with the notion of free trade with that country.
  • Surprising no one, this government’s unfilled appointments has reached record levels, and no one can really figure out why.
  • There was good economic news of moderated growth and the lowest unemployment rate in a decade; Kevin Carmichael breaks down the meaning.
  • For World AIDS Day, the government finally released new prosecutorial guidelines to prevent the criminalization of those who don’t disclose their HIV status.
  • Here is a more in-depth look at the government’s plans – and legal dilemmas – when it comes to dealing with returnees from ISIS, not all of whom were fighters.
  • Here’s a closer look at the proposed Indigenous chapter that the government wants included in NAFTA; Mexico is excluding their Indigenous people from the talks.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has rebuked the (former) government of Yukon in their attempt to thwart a treaty with the local First Nations.
  • A Quebec judge has granted a temporary suspension of the province’s face-covering law, at least until the government can come up with proper guidelines.
  • A French and Italian consortium has put in a bid for our new warships.
  • The government is proposing changes to patented drug regulations in a bid to help lower prescription prices.
  • The government has finally made Phoenix training mandatory for public servants, so that maybe the can input their information correctly going forward.
  • The government announced that they won’t appeal that Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision striking down the $1000 deposit to run for federal office.
  • The province of Newfoundland & Labrador won’t start an inquiry into a search-and-rescue death because they’re waiting on a Senate report that keeps getting delayed.
  • An international agreement has been signed to prevent commercial fishing in the Arctic.
  • Susan Delacourt looks the differences between Justin Trudeau and his father, particularly when it comes to the issue of official apologies.
  • Colby Cosh gives a well-deserved mocking to the Alberta MLA who said that legalized cannabis will lead to communism like in China (no, really).
  • My weekend column looks at the legislative crunch in the Senate, and how the praise for independence turns to demands for a rubber stamp every holiday break.

2 thoughts on “Roundup: The abuse of “appearance”

  1. Chris Hall made what I thought was a very cogent and informative observation on CBC’s “The House” Saturday morning. He noted that the Conservative accusations of some kind of deliberate insider knowledge on the part Bill Morneau rested on the Canadian stock market dropping shortly thereafter, prompting suspicions that Morneau “got out” while the getting was good. Basically the old “post hoc ergo propter hoc” argument.

    What Hall astutely noted was that stock markets EVERYWHERE outside of Canada *also* experienced a noticeable drop on the same day, largely because of a change in oil prices. The idea that a) Morneau-Shepell shares could somehow influence stock markets around the world, or that b) the finance minister could somehow anticipate what would happen worldwide, is rather far-fetched. The inference is that the attack on the minister was not thought through very deeply, was a little too locally-focussed, and was relying on an audience of similar bent.

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