SNC-Lavalin, Justin Trudeau, and ‘banana republic’ politics

Justin Trudeau delivers a speech on February 28, 2019. Photo by Christinne Muschi/Reuters.

Commenting upon the prime minister’s response to the Ethics Commissioner’s report on political interference in the so-called ‘Lavalin-Gate Affair’, former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair characterized Justin Trudeau’s actions as “banana republic behaviour.” Perhaps not the most politically correct phrasing, but candid. Transparency International may well lower Canada’s Corruption Perception Index in their next report.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s Trudeau II Report — the first Trudeau Report released in 2017 found that Trudeau had violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he accepted vacation hospitality and transportation from family friend the Aga Khan, Imam of the Nizari Ismailis, known as the Order of Assassins during the Crusades — was clear. Dion’s Executive Summary describes the purpose of the investigation:

This report presents the findings of my examination under the Conflict of Interest Act of the conduct of the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. I sought to determine whether he used his position to seek to influence a decision of the Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, relating to a criminal prosecution involving SNC-Lavalin…
…I found that Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence, both directly and indirectly, her decision on whether she should overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement. Therefore, I find that Mr. Trudeau contravened section 9 of the Act.


No grey areas. Defendant guilty.

Reacting to the report, the Prime Minister said that while he disagrees with some of the conclusions, he fully accepts the report and takes responsibility “for everything that happened”.

Not surprisingly, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called for a criminal investigation by the RCMP. RCMP spokesperson Chantal Payette said in a statement to CBC News “The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required.” She concluded “It would be inappropriate for us to provide anymore comments on this matter at this time.” Some interpret the language to mean that criminal charges may be forthcoming. Any such charges would likely relate to obstruction of justice. The Conflict of Interest Act provides for limited monetary penalties.

Prime Minister Trudeau holds the shameful distinction amongst prime ministers of Canada to be the first found guilty of ethics violations; and this is his second. Although he has also probably issued more apologies on behalf of Canadians than any other PM, Canadians are not getting an apology for this. “What we did over the past year wasn’t good enough. But at the same time, I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs.” Mr. Trudeau it seems, gets to decide when it is okay to break the law.

This may have been to save jobs, as the Prime Minister has stated (although then-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce denied the threat to cut jobs) but it is a fact that Liberal interests are served by keeping Lavalin in a generous mood.

Scandal-ridden Lavalin and the Liberals have a history. In 2016 Lavalin signed a compliance agreement with the Federal Elections Commission relating to a Quebec Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC) investigation which determined that the company had used multiple employees to skirt corporate donation limits, topping up Liberal coffers by $118,000. It was further determined that of the nearly $2.3 million in registered contributions between 1993 and 2011 from donors prosecuted as a result of UPAC corruption investigations, $1.86 million (or 85%) went to the Liberal Party of Canada. The Globe and Mail reported in 2013 that the Liberals had out-raised all other parties combined by a ratio of 47-to-one among donors charged by UPAC.

SNC-Lavalin is in the construction business, in Montreal. Framed within the context of the Quebec Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Contracts in the Construction Industry (Charbonneau Commission), the Lavalin/Liberal optics get even worse.

The Charbonneau Commission report concluded that there was “widespread and deeply rooted” corruption and collusion in the awarding of public construction contracts in Quebec. Justice France Charbonneau concluded that the mafia and Hells Angels had worked its way deep into the industry. The Liberal Party, SNC-Lavalin, the construction industry, organized crime. Liberal spin doctors cringe trying to disconnect the dots.

Mulcair quoted Donald Trump, saying “When you are a celebrity you can get away with anything”, arguing that the PM “…sort of acts like a celebrity…” This was indeed celebrity politics, and the Trudeau brand managed to save the day on October 21. Almost six million Canadians cast a vote for corruption. The cult of celebrity, defined by Merriam Webster as “The tendency of people to care too much about famous people”, cloaked the prime minister in a teflon-like tinsel allure; which seemingly deflected voter attention from the reality of his ethically challenged track record.

President Teddy Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying “When they call the role in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty’”.

Corruption is a slippery slope.

Ken Grafton is a writer based in Wakefield, Quebec, just north of Ottawa. His background includes global executive level experience in engineering and telecommunications.

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