By Scott Costen
CANADIAN Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest scandal couldn’t come at a better time for him, or a worse one for his opponents.
A unique set of circumstances, most of them due to the ongoing pandemic, mean he will likely emerge with little lasting damage to his electoral viability.
WE Charity – an organization that paid Trudeau’s mother, wife, brother and half-brother for speaking engagements – was chosen in April to administer the C$912 million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG).
The CSSG is designed to help college and university students gain experience and earn money at a time when COVID-19 has greatly reduced the availability of summer jobs.
Trudeau has said Canada’s public service recommended the program be awarded to WE, which has since backed out.
But at least two parliamentary committees plan to study the Prime Minister’s involvement in outsourcing work that would normally be assigned to a government department.
Despite his close ties to WE, Trudeau did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision on the CSSG — nor did finance minister Bill Morneau, whose two daughters have direct links to the organization.
Both men are now being investigated by Canada’s ethics commissioner, Mario Dion.
It was Dion who, in August 2019, issued a report condemning Trudeau for breaking conflict-of-interest rules in the SNC Lavalin affair.
And it was Dion’s predecessor, Mary Dawson, who arrived at the same conclusion in December 2017 concerning two all-expenses-paid trips the Prime Minister and his family made to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Caribbean.
Like Trudeau’s earlier ethical imbroglios, the WE scandal is the product of political myopia, unbridled arrogance, or a healthy measure of both. Whatever the case, the odds are good he will escape relatively unscathed.
The Prime Minister has generated significant goodwill over his handling of the pandemic, which is much more contained in Canada than in the neighbouring United States.
He’s also reduced his political exposure by negotiating with the New Democratic Party (NDP) to limit House of Commons proceedings until the fall.
“Trudeau not only flattened the curve of COVID-19, he also flattened the political opposition,” columnist Michael Harris observed in The Tyee. “And that raises an important question: what will ultimately resonate with Canadians – another ethics scandal involving the PM, or his record during what is arguably the greatest peacetime crisis in the country’s history? I suspect it will be the latter.”
Also helping Trudeau is the loosening of public health orders across the country, which will find increasing numbers of people ditching political concerns in favour of beaches, campgrounds, and cottages.
Then there’s the return of professional sports in North America, something that may help voters forget about the WE scandal more than anything else.
Six of the seven Canadian National Hockey League teams are about to embark on a compressed race for the sport’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.
The country’s only Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association teams are also preparing to return to competition.
Early polls seem to confirm Trudeau will not be badly bruised by the WE affair.
The Angus Reid Institute reported July 13 that “Trudeau’s approval has dropped five points in the first reading of public opinion since questions arose regarding his government’s – and family’s – ties to the WE group of organizations.”
But that drop was attributed to “diminishing praise from non-Liberals.”
Liberal voters, who have already forgiven their leader for so much, still gave Trudeau a 91 per cent approval rating.
With a leaderless Conservative Party, a handcuffed House of Commons, and a distracted general public, this latest scandal is unlikely to take the wind out of the Prime Minister’s sails.
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