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EDITORIAL: Politics as usual

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Sept. 11, 2019.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits to be introduced before speaking about the ethics commissioner report which found he breached ethics rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case regarding SNC-Lavalin, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Aug. 14. — Andrej Ivanov file photo

From the point of view of politics and pragmatism, you could say it was expected.

Looked at from the standpoint of ethics and accountability, on the other hand, it was a total abdication of responsibility.

Wednesday, the House of Commons Ethics Committee voted not to hear more from federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion and other officials about Dion’s report into the conduct of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Dion had found Trudeau guilty of violating federal conflict of interest legislation for his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Trudeau and the Liberals clearly hope they can make the whole situation disappear before the coming federal election.

Dion ruled that Trudeau improperly interfered in a decision by former federal attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who had refused to overturn a decision by one of her subordinates. The subordinate had decided that SNC-Lavalin would go through the normal prosecution process over charges of bribing foreign officials, instead of being allowed to use a deferred prosecution agreement to suspend the chance of receiving a criminal conviction from the charges. (That conviction would prohibit SNC-Lavalin from being able to bid on federal contracts for 10 years.)

The vote was five to four, with five of six Liberals on the committee voting to keep Dion from testifying. (The sole Liberal who voted in favour of hearing from Dion, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, said he voted to hear from Dion because he wanted to challenge the ethics commissioner on what Erskine-Smith claims the commissioner got “completely, completely wrong.”)

The Liberals argued that the two opposition parties were simply trying to milk the controversy for all that it was worth in the leadup to a federal election — that’s absolutely true, of course, but it isn’t actually a legitimate reason to block the testimony.

The whole situation has been a game of political brinksmanship. Jody Wilson-Raybould was released from the strictures of cabinet confidentiality to talk about some aspects of what she termed interference by members of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office (PCO) — but not to talk about everything involved.

The PCO wouldn’t supply documents to Dion when he was investigating the ethics complaint against Trudeau, and nine witnesses told Dion they had additional information on the case that they were bound not to discuss for reasons of cabinet confidentiality. No one, from Trudeau on down, was willing to release those witnesses from those cabinet confidentiality restrictions.

In other words, for the governing Liberals, the whole affair has been about navigating the political waters in the ways most advantageous for their own party. At least that was their hope, because that navigation now just looks ham-handed, self-interested and amateurish.

Trudeau and the Liberals clearly hope they can make the whole situation disappear before the coming federal election.

That may happen, but in the process, the Liberals have clearly demonstrated that their methods are politics as usual — scummy, self-serving and venal.

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