Saturday, December 3, 2016
Trudeau Cant Stop Shooting Himself In The Foot
Trudeau Cant Stop Shooting Himself In The Foot
The Liberals are on a bad roll, with nobody to blame but themselves. Through self-inflicted wounds, they’re causing their substantial political capital to drain away.
And they’re doing it at precisely the time they need that capital, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal brand equity, to allow them to make tough but necessary decisions on challenging policy files like carbon pricing, defence procurement, peacekeeping and electoral reform.
The prime minister has only himself to blame for the mawkish and fawning tone of his weekend tribute to Fidel Castro, which inspired merriment and scorn worldwide.
Trudeau was in trouble from the beginning of that statement, which opened with a reference to Castro as “Cuba’s longest-serving president” — as if he’d been somehow elected to lead a brutal communist dictatorship. This is the sort of thing that occasionally happens when a leader is eight time zones away, as Trudeau was in Madagascar, and a statement is put out in the middle of the night back home without being vetted by anyone.
When Trudeau praised “one of the world’s worst dictators,” Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose asked in question period Tuesday, “what was he thinking?”
At least Trudeau’s office got ahead of the story on Monday, by asking the governor general to attend a memorial service for Castro in Havana, while putting it out that the prime minister’s schedule did not permit him to attend the funeral of his father’s friend. If the PM’s office hadn’t acted quickly to kill the story, it would have followed Trudeau and the Liberals around in QP all week.
As it happens, there’s another story with a life of its own — the cash-for-access fundraising saga, a gift that keeps on giving thanks to the Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase, who have been producing serial scoops.
The latest installment in Tuesday’s edition of the Globe revealed that Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, attended a Toronto-area riding association fundraiser last April hosted by a downtown Toronto law firm whose guest list included representatives the Cannabis Friendly Business Association.
While the $150-per-person cocktail event was well within the legal limit of $1,525 per year, it again violated Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government guidelines, which state that “there should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access.” A Liberal spokesperson said the CFBA member donations “are now in the process of being returned to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest” between a registered lobby and the government.
As it happens, the task force on the legalization of marijuana, chaired by former Justice Minister Anne McClellan, is scheduled to deliver its recommendations to cabinet by Wednesday and she predicts the report will “engender a lot of interest.”
But that wasn’t the story line in question period Tuesday, where the opposition had one more freebie on fundraising. The Conservatives haven’t had so much fun in QP in ages. Tony Clement accused the Liberals of “taking money from the marijuana lobby, from Big Weed” and asserted that “all their claims about following the rules have gone up in smoke.” Blaine Calkins quipped that “we’re just trying to weed out the truth here.”
The pay-for-play story line began last April when Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould attended a $500 per person fundraiser at the Bay Street law firm Torys. Lawyers representing clients to her department got to socialize with the justice minister, who also names members of the legal profession to the bench.
While in the midst of pre-budget consultations in October, Finance Minister Bill Morneau was the guest at a $1,000 per person fundraiser attended by 15 people at the home of a wealthy Halifax businessman. All the right people were there, naturally. In November, he was the guest at a $500 per person fundraiser for a Liberal riding association in the Greater Toronto Area.
And then there’s Trudeau’s own attendance at a $1,500 per person fundraiser with wealthy Chinese and Chinese Canadian business leaders in Toronto last May. One of the prominent guests from the Chinese Canadian community, Shenglin Xian, was waiting for federal approval to start a new bank, which he received a couple of months later. (Which isn’t to say he actually discussed his bank application with the PM.)
A billionaire attendee from China, Zhang Bin, could not donate to the party as he was not a Canadian citizen. But he soon turned out to be one of two major donors of $750,000 to the Université de Montréal law faculty and $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. Another $50,000 will pay for a statue of the first PM Trudeau at the university. All in, $1 million.
Justin Trudeau stepped aside from the Trudeau Foundation board after becoming Liberal leader and is clearly at arms-length from its affairs, though hardly disinterested. He was instrumental in persuading then-PM Jean Chrétien to endow the Trudeau Foundation with $125 million in federal funding in 2002. No other former prime minister has a federally funded institute, library or think tank.
There’s no doubt that Trudeau is trying to set a higher standard of transparency in political fundraising, but in doing so he risks falling into a double standard when the Liberals fall short.
But a sense of perspective is also helpful. No one should think a cabinet minister can be bought for $1,500. Fundraising has also changed for the better. In the months before the 1997 election, the Chrétien Liberals wanted to raise another $1.5 million for their campaign in Quebec.
Chrétien hosted seven sit-down dinners for 10 people in the dining room of 24 Sussex, and the Liberals easily raised the $1.5 million, mostly in corporate donations. That could never happen today. It wouldn’t be legal.
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