SNC and the PM are undermining Canada’s reputation as a global fighter against corruption ~ Robert Hurst



“We all paid bribes.”

So said a friend of mine, a retired engineer, a couple of weeks ago, suggesting Canadians are naïve when it comes to landing big construction projects overseas.

Perhaps SNC-Lavalin could teach a Master’s Class for Canadian innocents abroad.

The first lesson might be “How to Buy Hookers for Saadi Gaddafi.” The next lessons could be “How to Bribe Officials in Uganda, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Cambodia.” Lavalin’s misconduct in Asia and Africa has led to a 10-year ban by the World Bank.

Certainly the world is full of shady operators where kickbacks and payoffs are frequent. It’s a Third World problem.

Apparently it’s a First World problem too. At the new McGill Hospital in Montreal, Quebec authorities described a $10-million SNC-Lavalin bribe, as the “biggest corruption fraud in Canadian history.”

So why is the Prime Minister soft on this corporate misconduct? Justin Trudeau says it’s about saving jobs and protecting a national engineering icon.

Transparency International is a Berlin-based organization that tracks corruption around the world. In its 2018 survey, Canada ranks 9th, meaning that Canada is relatively free of corruption. The United States ranks 14th.

Corruption is a cancer on society. Besides armed conflict, there is no more insidious activity that rips a country apart than payoffs, bribes, kickbacks and nepotism. Corruption wrecks economies, ruins financial institutions, stifles initiative and, most seriously, destroys the rule of law. Those countries at the bottom of the Transparency International list, Somalia, Venezuela, and Afghanistan stink with corruption from bottom to top.

After it was caught, SNC-Lavalin fired its top executives and promised to be a Canadian white knight fighting illegality around the world. But Boy Scouts do not spend millions on lobbyists. Boy Scouts do not threaten to leave if they don’t get their way.  Boy Scouts do not hire operatives who force their way into the highest offices of the land.

This should have been an easy call between right and wrong for the Prime Minister. So why is Justin Trudeau so supportive of SNC-Lavalin?

SNC-Lavalin has showered the Liberal Party with campaign loot. But in that too, the engineering giant couldn’t get it right. The company has been forced to repay $110,000 in improper campaign contributions it made to the Liberals.

Last week the Canadian Press reported, “Quebec prosecutors are working with the RCMP on possible new criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, tied to a contract to refurbish Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge.”

Another insidious fact about corruption: it’s highly contagious, like measles. One wonders if the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and other government officials have been infected.

For decades, Canada has been a leader in the global fight against corruption. SNC-Lavalin is undermining that effort. So too is the Prime Minister.

Robert Hurst was President of CTV News for 10 years and lives on Peninsula Lake.  

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  1. I also wanted to post here the same comment I made on Hugh Mackenzie’s piece. The option to change the DPA law was perhaps an option last fall, but I think that ship has sailed too. The PM’s handling of this affair has now attracted the OECD’s attention, warning Canada as a signatory to its anit-corruption convention, its watching … with a reminder that “prosecutorial independence in foreign bribery cases” and that political factors — such as national economic interests and the identities of the company or individuals involved — should have no influence on the prosecution” Sounds a lot like the wording in our current DPA law.

    The last remaining option may be to quietly finish changes to the Integrity Regime, giving the government more flexibility in applying federal contract bans. But even that, given everyone watching and the optics involved, will be difficult to pull-off without political consequences (i.e. its only being done to benefit SNC).

    It’s too late for a PM apologize, he’s in too deep. Justin Trudeau has painted his government into a corner … looks like it will be up to Canadians in the fall to judge his actions. That’s the Canadian democratic system working as it should… the people get the final say.

  2. Comprehensive article. I don’t disagree but I wonder about the Conservatives’ role in SNC becoming so powerful. Sale of Candu? Hugh Segal’s loyalties? A little bit of the pot calling the kettle black. Clearly, we need to get our act together and insist on open and appropriate consequences for those who illegally bribe their way to winning contracts.

    • Hugh Holland on

      Yes Kathy. The real question is “If we could take politics out of it and had the Conservatives been in office at the time this case flared, would they have done anything different than the Liberals? Given their prior involvement with SNC, I doubt it. But we will never know.

      • All this throwback to Stephen Harper is beside the point, Mr. Holland. Justin Trudeau and his Liberals campaigned that they were going to be different. They were going to be open and accountable. They were going to have respect for their Cabinet when they make decisions. The “sunny ways” brand. This situation with SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould has shown that this was all just talk. When push came to shove, our “feminist” PM, “champion of our Indigenous people”, proved to be nothing of the sort.

  3. As a wag on CBC put it on Saturday afternoon: Remember everybody to turn your clocks ahead tonight; Justin Trudeau, run your party back several years. Ouch!!!

  4. Hugh Holland on

    Political theater at its best. In 2016, Conservative Lisa Raitt accused AG Wilson-Raybould of “spewing lies” in the House of Commons. In December 2017, NDP Charlies Angus called on Trudeau to fire AG Wilson-Raybould for completely bungling the Justice file. And Conservative Justice critic Rob Nicholson declared that Conservatives were “completely supportive” of the new provision allowing negotiated settlements rather than prosecutions of companies like SNC-Lavalin. My how things have changed. Could it be election time?

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