The Kielburger Affair is a fine old self-made mess for Justin Trudeau and his government, but what’s conspicuously missing is any real sense of peril. The media, ethics commissioner and House of Commons finance committee are on an archaeological expedition through the Kielburger-Trudeau-Liberal relationship and the Trudeau Liberals’ decision to outsource a program worth more than $900 million to the Kielburgers’ WE Charity. But it seems unlikely anything will surface that’s worse than the fairly simple, mostly undisputed facts: Government hands lucrative no-bid contract to the PM’s buddies. You either care or you don’t.
And it seems most Canadians don’t — or at least not much. Angus Reid’s first poll since this blew up found Trudeau’s approval rating had dropped all of five points, to 50 per cent. In February, it was 33 per cent. Among Liberal voters, over that time, Trudeau’s popularity grew six points to 91 per cent. Dissent in the Liberal caucus amounts to some not-for-attribution kvetching and a single named backbencher expressing mild, polite disappointment.
The idea that Trudeau might resign is out there in the wild, but pundits mostly roll their eyes at it. “Save the ‘resign’ call for bigger things,” CTV’s Don Martin suggested. How the heck big is big? Some of us thought the SNC-Lavalin affair was pretty bloody big — indeed much bigger than this bog-standard cronyism, if we’re ranking scandals, inasmuch as it involved corrupting Canada’s independent justice system. Never mind rolling eyes, Trudeau had out-and-out defenders in the punditocracy.
No one seems to be suggesting Finance Minister Bill Morneau — who, like Trudeau, conceded he should have recused himself due to personal conflicts from WE-related cabinet discussions, and who now faces his second ethics commissioner’s investigation — should suffer much. Bardish Chagger, minister of diversity and inclusion and youth, took finance committee members’ questions on Thursday, having earlier conceded she should have asked “more questions” about the WE contract. She said she wasn’t under instructions from the PMO on the WE file. But everyone knows who’s ultimately in charge of big-ticket items in Ottawa, and it’s not the minister of diversity and inclusion and youth.
Other countries’ prime ministers occasionally have to work at keeping their jobs. Not so much Canada’s. We look down our noses at Australia’s “leadership spills” as unconscionably chaotic, though they have ushered in a new prime minister a grand total of three times in 30 years. If only we had such chaos, PMs might at least be reminded occasionally they aren’t elected emperor in non-negotiable four-year chunks. Instead many of us blanch even at the idea of minority governance. So unstable!
Other countries’ ministers sometimes stand on points of principle, too, and not just over epochal events like the Iraq War or Brexit. Sajid Javid resigned as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer last year after Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on appointing Javid’s senior staff. “No self-respecting minister would accept those terms,” he said. Every Trudeau minister accepts those terms.
There is simply no culture of accountability in Ottawa — not for big stuff and not for small. When Trudeau headed off to Harrington Lake while advising everyone else to hide under the bed, it was considered gauche to complain. The National Post reported this week that Health Minister Patty Hajdu took four round trips in a government jet between Ottawa and Thunder Bay during the lockdown, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos was chauffeured six times to and from Quebec City. Ho hum. Another nothingburger.