Oh Canada

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
8 March, 2019

Partisanship is a powerful and deadly drug. Canada is the latest in a too-lengthy list of places badly in need of rehab.

In response to harsh criticism of his involvement in and handling of a corruption scandal, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his Party’s supporters this week his policy agenda is too important to risk.

Canadian political parties have been too quick to identify the good of the party with the good of the country. As Canadian columnist Paul Wells put it, “a country gets into trouble when it turns every question into an electoral question.”

So what happened?

Last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau’s former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, testified that the Liberal Party hierarchy, from the Prime Minister down, pressured her to go easy on the politically powerful Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

Facing Canadian prosecution for bribery abroad, SNC-Lavalin threatened to shift its headquarters out of Quebec. With a Quebec election in the offing and a federal election to come, the loss of a corporate headquarters and jobs was too great a political threat. So the Liberals’ enforcers strongly suggested the Attorney-General enter into a more accommodating arrangement with the firm. Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet in mid-February.

This week, a second cabinet minister, Jane Philpott, stepped down over the same issue, saying she could not defend the Cabinet’s decisions as required under Cabinet responsibility without compromising herself, or the Constitution.

On Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau noted that he regretted Philpott’s decision, that his government was thinking hard about the SNC-Lavalin case, but that it is vitally important to the national interest the Liberals be re-elected.

In short, good Liberals should be happy to sweep the matter under the carpet to avoid letting the Conservative Party win the coming election.

No price of power is too high to pay if you have convinced yourself that the entire fate of the country is at stake. What is a little erosion of constitutional norms and the rule of law if the nation hangs in the balance?

The question should really be reversed: What is a nation if its political elite condones gross impropriety in pursuit of partisan interest?

We in New Zealand are fortunate nobody can credibly pretend a change in government portends the end of days.

But it is up to all of us never to allow our politicians to use partisan electoral ends to justify questionable policy means.

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