A Happy Ways Fable: "You Knew I Was A Scorpion When You Met Me"
In the tale of the scorpion and the frog, a frog offers a lift across the river to a scorpion. Halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. With its dying breath the frog asks why the scorpion would sting him after such a generous favour. “But you knew I was a scorpion when you met me,” he replies as the pair both drown.
This fable came to mind this past week as the federal Liberal Party became immersed in a scandal that harkens back to the corruption of the Sponsorship Scandal under Jean Chretien. A scandal (on top of others in Justin Trudeau’s term) that threatens to confirm all the worst suspicions people had about the repentance of the Liberals under this PM.
Having bought into Happy Ways’ assurance that Liberal bagmen and sleazy Quebec politics is a thing of the past, the public is feeling the Liberal stinger in its back again. Could it have been that the man in the loud socks has actually been a scorpion all along? Is there any comeback from taking the Canadian people to the middle of the river on a fool’s errand once more?
It also challenges his biggest rival, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, to meet the moment. More on that in a moment.
The story: Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office are said to have pressured the former attorney-general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to have fraud and corruption charges dropped against SNC-Lavalin, the giant Quebec engineering and construction firm. When Wilson-Raybould balked, Trudeau fired her as AG.
Oh, did we mention Wilson-Raybould was also the first indigenous AG in Canadian history? And that her father has already called bull on the PM’s version of events?
So far, the Canadian public has yet to hear— from either side— a believable denial of the interference allegations against Trudeau. Wilson-Raybould is citing solicitor/ client privilege in her discussions with the prime minister. Trudeau, meanwhile, is saying he and his former BFFC (Best Friend Forever in Cabinet) had a nice chat in which Jody admitted it was all so much nonsense.
Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet colleagues were largely silent as the water rose over the head of the PM in mid-river. Their mouthpieces, however, have been describing her as if she’d just appeared in a Condi B. video. “It’s all about Jody” is the kindest summation of her character from the chattering class.
The Toronto Star— mouthpiece of Liberal orthodoxy— damned her with faint praise. "Even if Wilson-Raybould wasn’t quite up to snuff, even “difficult,” as unnamed government officials let on to various reporters, the prime minister could simply have left her in place until the next election. Other ministers have stumbled more badly than she ever did and stayed in their posts.”
It’s become clear that while the self-described feminist PM purred about his lovely relationship with his former AG he was intent on knee-capping a woman who resisted his orders.
So little surprise that she resigned from the cabinet Tuesday. And, like SNC, has hired a former Supreme Court justice to handle her brief. Trudeau feigned surprise. Party officials shrugged in dismay. The Star: “But there are ways to do this and ways not to do it. And demoting a minister for refusing to bend to political pressure brought to bear on behalf of a big corporation would certainly be the wrong way.”
While these fun ’n games unfold, another case of possible interference by the PMO grinds away with Vice Admiral Mark Norman’s trial on charges of leaking secret information. According to Norman’s lawyer Christine Mainville, this case may be a worse example of the PMO or Liberal grandees putting a thumb on the scales of justice. “By all appearances, this is a more direct influencing of the prosecution," Mainville said.
There are suggestions his office interfered in procurement of ships. His Nova Scotia wingman, Scott Brison, suddenly decided he has family matters to attend to and quit his seat. The Wilson-Raybould and Norman matters could morph into criminal issues for Trudeau. Of course, these cases might all prove misunderstandings. Sure.
Many disparaged Trudeau’s skimpy credentials for the PM job, but he must be credited for the HazMat job he and his advisors performed on the hulk of the moribund Liberal Party in the early years of the decade. While critics laughed, Trudeau divorced himself and the Liberal brand from the bagmen and bribers that caused the collapse of the Liberals to just 34 seats in 2011.
Yes, it was cringe-worthy to see the son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau paint smiley faces on his policies. But the public and media bought it. The dreaded ogre Stephen Harper was purged.
Having set so high a bar for himself, however, Trudeau fils was tempting fate— especially for one so inexperienced. Now, it has come home to roost. A pleasant demeanour can’t hide free trips from the Aga Khan, debacles in India, getting planted by Trump in the new trade talks and the current ham-handed attempts to silence critics and stubborn colleagues.
All are political disasters heading into an election. He now needs help from others. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been a gift from the day he was chosen party leader. A loss in the Burnaby by-election later this month would seal his fate.
That leaves Scheer. He has challenges as significant as those facing the PM. His impact on Canadians has been negligible so far. He failed to keep Maxime Bernier inside the Tory tent. He has yet to pin any critical issues on Trudeau. The former Speaker projects the image of a man still running for the job. A job he won’t have if he loses to Trudeau this fall.
Now he has a cudgel to use on Trudeau heading into the election this fall. He won’t have the excuse of no issue to fight on. He must engage the national media in a way he hasn’t so far. Being Joe Clark redux won’t cut it.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.