How much has the SNC-Lavalin scandal really changed the political landscape in Canada? I am not sure it really has that much. In fact, I am coming to the conclusion that it has shown that there has actually been no change. All it has really accomplished is to open the kimono and show that the same old practises and procedures are in place; that you do as you are told, that you don’t question power and you stay in line or you lose your place in line.
In fact, it is even tougher discipline here than it is in Britain from whence our democratic process evolved. Over there, a Cabinet Minister resigns when he or she disagrees with government policy, but they remain in Caucus as do backbenchers who vote against their Party. In Canada, you get booted all the way out. Backbenchers here, are not much more than trained seals. Their influence is highly controlled and rarely important except when it comes time to vote and then they are told how to vote. They are given little jobs to do, to make them feel useful and happy, and if they do them well, sometimes they get rewarded. There is no such thing as free speech in Parliament, or for that matter in Provincial legislatures. That may not be pleasant to hear, but it is a fact of political life. Not cynicism; reality.
The real failure of the Trudeau government was their promise that all this was going to change. Parliamentarians would have more influence, Cabinet Ministers would actually run their departments, the Senate would become independent and women would have equal power with men, to mention just a few of their promised reforms.
The Liberal Party recruited candidates with this mantra. You did not have to be particularly partisan. You were told you could speak your mind and be your own person. You were encouraged to speak truth to power and to stand up for what you believe in. Sunny ways indeed. The reality is that after nearly four years, it never really happened.
Trudeau’s first Cabinet may have been gender- neutral but the majority of power positions went to men. The so-called Independent Senate is a joke. Every “independent” Senator was appointed by a Liberal and when they vote, they support the Liberals 95 per cent of the time. That was not Senate reform, that was Senate takeover. Cabinet Ministers’ discretion was only respected when it was in sync with the PMO and backbenchers only read from briefing notes, carefully prepared by their masters. The backroom boys and girls in the PMO are just as strong and brutal and dictatorial as any of their predecessors. They wield far more power than their elected counterparts.
Unfortunately for the Liberal Party, some of their new members, albeit just a few of them, but ones who were considered “star recruits”, actually believed the Prime Minister when he said things would change and when they didn’t, they stood up to him. They did not always drink the Party Cool Aid and when it came to matters of principle or the rule of law, they did not play along to get along. That, my friends, is when the egg cracked wide open.
The system was exposed. Nothing had really changed. The Prime Minister was caught flat-footed for boasting about change that really never happened. His self-declared feminism was brought into serious question. He wanted these women who spoke out, to think and act like the good old boys. They didn’t. As well, his insistence that his Government was doing things differently; more transparently, more honestly and more inclusively, bit the dust and bit it hard.
That to me, is the real tragedy of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The scandal itself will be resolved one way or another, hopefully by the Courts and not by political interference. In our system, it is not for Government to decide who should be put on trial. But it will be resolved, and we will move on. One year from now SNC-Lavalin will just be another entry on a list of government scandals that have occurred over the course of history.
The bigger issue to me is that through this process, because two strong and principled women stood up to power, we have been exposed to how government and how parliament really works in this country and it is not a pretty picture. This is something that should not go away and should not be a footnote in history.
There is an election coming. It is time for a hard discussion about how to make our Parliament and our Government really work for the well-being of all Canadians. When dealing with the really important issues, issues like climate change, which only a fool would deny, issues that make SNC-Lavalin pale by comparison, we need a system that puts principles above special interests and effective solutions above partisan politics. We don’t have that now and until we take a serious look at reforming how Parliament works, we won’t.
That’s the way I see it anyway.
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