Three strikes and you’re out…

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland

Canada needs a leader who is beyond reproach on ethical matters

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finds himself at the centre of yet another ethics controversy — his third such investigation in a nearly-five-year tenure as Canada’s head of government.

This time, the ethics commissioner is looking into why a $900 million no-bid contract for student volunteer grants was given to the WE Charity, an organization that members of the Trudeau family have had personal and professional relationships with, for years. While the contract has since been rescinded by the federal government, there are still questions as to how and why it was offered to that particular charity in the first place.

This latest investigation is not the first time that questions of ethics violations have been raised against Trudeau. In 2017, an ethics commissioner ruled that the Prime Minister had breached four sections of Canada’s conflict-of-interest laws, after he and his family took a vacation on the Aga Khan’s Caribbean island.

In 2019, Trudeau found himself embroiled in the SNC-Lavalin affair, as the federal election got underway. Former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould accused Trudeau of political interference and pressure for her to pursue a civil penalty, rather than a criminal conviction, against Montreal engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin.

And now this.

As before, Trudeau apologized for this conflict of interest. He said he was sorry for not recusing himself from cabinet discussions about awarding the WE Charity a multi-million-dollar contract, adding he should never have been part of the cabinet talks, given his family’s close personal ties to the charity.

“I deeply regret that I have brought my mother into this situation. It’s unfair to her, and I should have been thoughtful enough to recuse myself from this situation,” Trudeau said.

“I’m particularly sorry because not only has it created unnecessary controversy and issues, it also means that young people who are facing a difficult time right now, getting summer jobs, contributing to their communities, are going to have to wait a little longer before getting those opportunities to serve, and that’s frustrating,” he added.

But while he once again humbles himself on the altar of insincerity, once again, nothing changes. The trouble is he should have known better by this time.

Since this is the third time he has been caught in an ethical transgression, that make it three strikes against him. In baseball three strikes means you’re out. Perhaps the same rule should apply in politics.

First, Bloc Quebecois Leader Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, then Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre called for Trudeau to step aside in favor of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland while the ethics commissioner continues his investigation.

That may be good in the short term, but it could hamper Freeland should Trudeau decide to do what is right in the long-term and resign so the party could pick a new leader. As Acting Prime Minister, Freeland would have to relinquish that post if she wants to run for the permanent leadership.

And should Trudeau decide to step aside and call for a leadership race, Freeland would undoubtedly emerge as the clear front-runner. She is, without question, the most capable member of the cabinet, has proven herself capable of holding her own against such unpredictable adversaries as Donald Trump and has had much better rapport with provincial leaders than Trudeau himself. That’s why she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. And, in that position, she has done the lion’s share of the work in carrying Canada through this current crisis, while Trudeau has mostly basked in the limelight of his daily press conferences.

But that is unlikely to happen. Basking in the limelight while doling out billions of dollars in emergency aid has put Trudeau in a very favourable position as far as public opinion is concerned. Just before this latest scandal broke, the Liberals enjoyed a 12.5 percent lead over the Conservatives. Considering they won a minority government with fewer votes than the Conservatives, such numbers would assure them a comfortable majority. What’s more, all the current contenders for the Conservative leadership are somewhat challenged when it comes to speaking French. Without fluency in that language, they can effectively write-off Quebec and its 78 parliamentary seats.

Whether this latest scandal will affect the polling numbers remains to be seen. And with Canadians facing both a health and economic crisis at the same time, these considerations will outweigh any outrage over ethics violations.

But eventually this may catch up with them. It is not as if this scandal is a passing faux pas. No, it is part of a consistent pattern of ethical violations and abuse of office. And, even if the Liberal Party of Canada is complacent at this particular point in time, they have to consider what is the right and moral thing to do. And they will get a chance to wrestle with their conscience when the next Liberal Party Convention is held in November. What they need to realize is that Canada needs a leader who is beyond reproach when it comes to questions of ethics. A leader who is very capable and has proven herself on both the national and international stages. A leader who has handled every task handed her with the utmost precision, care and dedication. There is one person who fits that description, and that person is Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.