It was faintly amusing yesterday to watch the haste with which the Conservative Opposition backed away from the idea of trying to bring down the Liberal government in Ottawa over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s now rescinded plan to have a charity with ties to his family administer a $900-million summer student grant program.
The Conservatives were almost right for once. The way the deal was done didn’t pass the sniff test, and Mr. Trudeau’s justification that the WE Charity was the only one big enough to do the job was unpersuasive, as the protests from other charities established as soon as the idea was floated in late June.
But after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion agreeably launched an investigation Friday of the PM’s ties to WE, in response to letters of complaint from MPs Michael Barrett, a Conservative, and Charlie Angus, a New Democrat, someone in the Conservative strategic brain trust must have realized the implications of success.
As they say, be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.
Voters are actually looking pretty warmly right now on the minority Liberal government that Mr. Trudeau leads, thanks to its response to the COVID-19 crisis and the economic fallout from the countrywide lockout it made necessary. Indeed, Finance Minister Bill Morneau is scheduled to give us a little update on that Wednesday.
Notwithstanding Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre’s bold assertion this little whiff of a scandal could be enough to bring the government down, it seems unlikely it would worry voters very much.
Voters, after all, usually seem to have a high tolerance of such matters as long as they’re confident the place is being run reasonably competently, which the polls would suggest they do just now.
But Mr. Trudeau can hardly go to the Governor General and demand an election less than a year after the one that left his Liberals in a minority, can he? How convenient, then, if he could get the still-leaderless Opposition to set up a chance for him to recover a majority.
A year from now, after all, it’s unlikely his government will look quite as good as the full economic impact of the pandemic becomes more apparent, the various emergency payments run out, and voters start to compare our medical response to COVID-19 to that of other countries. By then as well, the new Conservative leader will have had a chance to get his ducks in a row.
While it’s unlikely the New Democrats would risk getting caught in the crossfire by co-operating in letting the Liberals mop the floor with the Conservatives right now, especially since they enjoy a little influence with the government due to its current precariousness, stranger things have happened.
A New Democrat, Mr. Angus, was one of the letter writers, after all, so you never know what might get into their caucus.
So when he was asked yesterday if Opposition might actually act on its threats to seek a motion of non-confidence, Mr. Poilievre practically shouted “No!”
“We don’t have to,” he went on hastily. “We already got what we asked for … “
Which was? And here his answer grew more hilarious, given what we have come to except from Canadian Conservatives these past few decades — … “which was for the government to cancel the program and redirect the funds through the professional public service and make it open and transparent for all organizations.” (Emphasis added.)
Well, indeed. There’s nothing more accountable and competent than a professional and disinterested public service, regardless of what Conservatives normally have to say about the topic of civil servants.
“What I said,” Mr. Poilievre hurried on, “was had they not done that, they could have engulfed themselves in such a serious scandal that it might have defeated their government.”
Whew! Crisis averted.