Roundup: Mary Dawson delivers a spanking

Outgoing Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released her report on the Prime Minister’s vacation to the Bahamas and the Aga Khan’s private island there last Christmas, and she determined that he had indeed broken four sections of the code. Reaction was swift – Trudeau quickly called a press conference to apologise and try and to take full responsibility, but stumbled in some of his responses. And soon after, both Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh called their own press conferences to condemn Trudeau and to rail about how out of touch he is, and so on.

First things first: The Canadian Press has five items of note from the report, and John Geddes offers three items of his own. Hay is being made – particularly from certain opposition politicians – that Trudeau is the first PM to have been found guilty of breaking these conflict of interest laws, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this current conflict of interest regime is only a decade old, and it’s not a lot of time for which there to be much to compare to. Aaron Wherry parses the report here, while Paul Wells offers his own bigger-picture look as to why this all matters.

This all having been said, I’m trying to digest the substance of the report, and some of it does rankle with me a bit, in particular the way in which Dawson parses how a friendship with someone like the Aga Khan should unfold, given the position that he holds. I also wonder if better context should have been applied to just what his Foundation’s dealings with the Canadian government are, because actual private interests aren’t being advanced here – nobody profits from this. A lot of what the Foundation does with Canadian aid money is do things like provide school books to Syrian refugees in camps in the Middle East, where they have the networks to deliver them. This isn’t nearly the same thing as accepting gifts from businessmen whose private interests and personal profits may rely on decisions made by the Canadian government, and I wonder if it’s helpful to treat those as being on an equal playing field. (Then again, maybe it is. I’m not an expert in this).

A couple of other thoughts – It is fair to ask why Trudeau and his team, who can be so focused on optics at times, were so blind to this one. But given that they’ve scored more than a few own-goals this last year with bad communications plans, that’s becoming clear that they’re not the masters at this that they sometimes appear to be. As for the lack of penalties in the Conflict of Interest legislation, we have to bear in mind that these are political actors that we are discussing, and merely naming and shaming them does have political consequences. If we got into games of demanding financial penalties or that public office holders be jailed for breaches, we change the political calculus of this ethics regime, and it would become an even bigger gong show than it is now, not to mention that it would make cooperation even less likely if they think there’s a jail sentence attached. And finally, there is a lot of smug sanctimony going around, but some caution had best be exercised, particularly by members of the opposition, when it comes to how the Aga Khan is portrayed in this. The Ismaili community already has their backs up over how he has been characterised to date, and those opposition parties could find themselves alienating an important voting bloc if they’re not careful.

Good reads:

  • In his year-ender with Global News, Trudeau defends Bill Morneau and recounts his advice to Morneau on the issue (which may or may not have helped things).
  • Trudeau also said that the thought of deadlocked NAFTA talks keeps him up at night.
  • The plan to give lifelong pensions back to disabled veterans was rolled out, but criticized as vague and confusing, and not really helping those less injured.
  • Catherine McKenna has told provinces that if they don’t have carbon pricing plans submitted by September 1st, the federal price kicks in January 1st 2019.
  • CRA has ended its battles against five single mothers over benefits (and apologized), but it took media attention for them to back down.
  • Health Canada has doubled the number of licenced cannabis producers over the second half of 2017. There will be market demand to meet.
  • There are still no measures to track missing and murdered Indigenous women.
  • Canada hasn’t added the names of any of its own terrorist travellers to the UN’s sanctions list.
  • Martin Patriquin looks at the cynicism at the root of Michelle Rempel’s crusade around female genital mutilation being “removed” from the citizenship guide.
  • Andrew Coyne asks a lot of questions of the PM in a (tongue-in-cheek) interview that never happened.

Odds and ends:

Senator Mike Duffy’s next court date in his attempt to sue the government will be in June.

Here are CTV’s picks for the 13 top moments in the House of Commons in 2017.

One thought on “Roundup: Mary Dawson delivers a spanking

  1. I think it’s fair to note that, right from the beginning, Routine Proceedings (RP) has been willfully blind to the possibility of law or ethics code violations in the case of Trudeau’s vacation stay on the Aga Khan’s island.

    On January 7, RP professed not to see “…where the actual conflict of interest is here.” Dale made clear he considered such concerns to be examples of the existence of ‘pearl-clutching, anti-elitist, tall poppy syndrome’ amongst Canadians, and “a lazy drive to push cheap outrage stories.”

    He said he couldn’t see “either the smoke or the fire.” And, because the Aga Khan Foundation does good works, any associated lobbying wasn’t a problem.

    So it went, month after month, with RP helpfully noting one day that “evidence” of a long-standing Trudeau friendship with the Aga Khan “will likely help alleviate any ethics concerns about his vacation.” And another day assuring us the fact that the Ethics Commissioner was looking into case shouldn’t be taken to mean “there will be anything to find.”

    Nothing to see here, folks; move along.

    On May 17, RP felt compelled to defend the Prime Minister’s honour as questions were mounted in the House. Such questioning, Dale said, amounted to a “new attempt to weave some kind of conspiracy theory in QP.”

    “It’s bad enough that they are tailoring QP to fit whatever headlines they find that morning, be it from the Globe or the CBC, but to try and stretch it into an attack on the prime minister’s credibility is disingenuous and a touch farcical.”

    With RP still trying to put lipstick on this particular prime ministerial pig in today’s blog, I think it’s time to ask just who is actually the one being “disingenuous and a touch farcical.”

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