November 12, 2019

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Political posturing derails SNC-Lavalin ethics probe

Editorial

There are three takeaways to be had from Wednesday’s report that the Liberal-controlled House of Commons ethics committee blocked an effort by opposition parties to restart the SNC-Lavalin investigation by calling ethics commissioner Mario Dion and nine other witnesses to testify.

It’s appalling.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

GRAHAM HUGHES / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

It’s unsurprising.

It’s meaningless.

Of course, the notion that any duly elected government would use its majority on a Commons committee to shut down efforts to fully investigate political wrongdoing should be a concern for all Canadians. Quite frankly, what the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did this week, in a blatant effort to shield the PM from further scrutiny over his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair, is unacceptable. It reeks of abuse of political power, and it’s a betrayal of the trust placed in Mr. Trudeau by the voting public before his sunny-ways electoral aspirations were replaced by the murky-misdeeds reality of his first term in office.

But the Liberals’ decision to throw a majority-vote roadblock in front of the opposition parties’ request for further hearings and testimony is anything but a shock. Mr. Trudeau has been defiant in his continuing evasion of accountability for the SNC-Lavalin mess, despite an unctuous utterance last week that attempted to simultaneously convey an acceptance of responsibility and a rejection of the ethics commissioner’s findings.

With a federal election looming in less than two months, SNC-Lavalin is a can of campaign-damaging worms the PM has no interest in reopening, despite the certain knowledge that the obstinance that has damaged his brand in most of Canada has only served to enhance his profile in vote-rich Quebec.

As well, Mr. Trudeau is correct in thinking that the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats have something other than a principled pursuit of justice in mind as they demand a second chance for the ethics committee to question Mr. Dion and other witnesses. Pure political opportunism is their primary motivation, and a protracted set of televised hearings would have the potential to embarrass the government and tarnish Mr. Trudeau’s re-election prospects more effectively than a month’s worth of TV, radio and online attack ads.

Which is why, in the end, the opposition parties’ demand for more hearings and the Liberals’ quick move to quash any such thing are essentially meaningless in Canada’s current political ebb and flow. As was ably demonstrated in the first go-round of SNC-Lavalin-related hearings, a regathering of the ethics committee to question Mr. Dion and others a second time would inevitably degenerate into the worst kind of political theatre, as both the government and the opposition seem to have fully embraced the tactics of insult-laden political gainsaying that have become Washington, D.C.’s preferred strategy for making sure nothing usefully legislative ever gets done in the U.S. Congress.

There are surely useful bits of information Mr. Dion and others could provide to help Canadians further understand who did what and why in the SNC-Lavalin mess. But subjecting them to the haranguing partisan charade of another ethics committee session would not bring any such findings to light.

The only thing such an enterprise would accomplish, sadly, is to deepen the cynicism and lack of interest so many Canadians are feeling about politics in this election season.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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