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POLITICS is a lot of luck and timing. Unfortunately, the federal Conservatives haven’t had either. The WE scandal that broke in the beginning of July couldn’t have come at a worse time for the party, desperate to take back power and form government again.
On July 5, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said his party wasn’t looking to force an election over the Liberal government’s $900-million deal with WE Charity. He says the Conservatives got what they wanted when the Liberals called off the deal and walked away from the program. But that was really just bravado. There’s no way they wanted to go into a snap election without a new leader at the helm. Andrew Scheer, who remains in place until the August decision, remains a liability and not an asset.
WE is a Toronto-based charity formed by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger in 1995. It was awarded a contract to run a $900-million student volunteer program meant to help youths during the COVID-19 pandemic but it has since backed away from that contract.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have family members involved with the charity. Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother were paid to speak for the organization. Morneau’s daughter worked for the foundation and Morneau also had travel costs paid for by WE. He has since paid back more than $41,000.
For his part, Trudeau has apologized. More importantly, he’s set to testify along with his chief of staff, Katie Telford, before the House of Commons finance committee today to explain their roles in the decision behind the partnership.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced in July he would launch an investigation into Trudeau. The investigation will be under the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act that prohibits public office holders from making decisions that further their own private interests or the interests of another person. Trudeau is being investigated under sections 7 and 21 of the act, which deal with giving someone preferential treatment and failing to recuse from a conflict of interest.
Normally, this kind of scandal during a minority government would mean the end is near for the Liberals.
But, earlier this week, Angus Reid’s latest polling numbers confirmed why the Conservatives are reluctant to push hard on the WE scandal and bring down the minority government.
According to the poll, Canadians weren’t happy with the actions of the Liberals but "more than half (56 per cent) say the scandal will ultimately not be the issue that threatens the viability of Trudeau’s minority."
They don’t call him "Teflon Trudeau" for nothing.
Also, not surprisingly, according to the poll, "Canadians’ core priorities continue to be the COVID-19 response, economy and health care." These priorities have been something the Liberals have addressed with programs such as CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) which provides $2,000 monthly to individuals who can’t work as a result of COVID-19. More than 21 million applications for CERB have been received by the Canada Revenue Agency since the program was announced.
That’s not to say Canadians are giving the Liberals a free ride. The polling numbers also show that those asked view the WE scandal as a serious issue and not overblown by the Conservatives or the media. But other issues are more important right now.
The Conservatives have no leader — that won’t change until August — and we’re still smack-dab in the middle of a pandemic and a heat wave in much of vote-rich Ontario and Quebec. This is no time for an election.
Luck and timing. The Conservatives just don’t seem to have either.
Shannon Sampert is a retired political scientist who works as a media consultant. She will return to the classroom in September to teach at the University of Manitoba.
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