What Par­adise Pa­pers high­light is Lib­eral ar­ro­gance.


National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - KELLY MC­PAR­LAND

Ev­ery once in a while the big gro­cery store near me holds a “no-tax” sale: shop all day Satur­day and Sun­day and don’t pay the HST!

It gen­er­ally at­tracts a re­spectable crowd, which is un­der­stand­able. Every­one likes to avoid taxes. Per­haps that’s why I haven’t yet man­aged to fig­ure out why the “Par­adise Pa­pers” is be­ing treated as a shock­ing rev­e­la­tion. It’s a snappy name, ad­mit­tedly — way bet­ter than “a pile of le­gal pa­pers pil­fered from a law firm in Ber­muda” — but the ma­jor dis­cov­ery, as far as I can tell, is that the world con­tains a num­ber of lo­ca­tions that of­fer tax ad­van­tages to those able to use them. They’re called “tax havens.” Sorry to dis­ap­point any­one, but that’s about as shock­ing as the dis­cov­ery that there’s a hill in Ot­tawa with a build­ing on it called “Par­lia­ment.” You could have Googled “tax havens” at any time since Google was in­vented, and saved your­self the trou­ble.

If Cana­di­ans were do­ing il­le­gal things at these tax havens, it might in­deed be a story wor­thy of at­ten­tion. But so far the news re­ports, de­spite alarm­ing head­lines, have been care­ful to men­tion that no one has been caught break­ing any laws.

So what’s the deal? Re­ports in U.S. pub­li­ca­tions sug­gest there may have been some slip­pery op­er­a­tions go­ing on un­der cover of off­shore ac­counts — a big in­vestor in Twit­ter, for in­stance, seems to have links to a bank con­trolled by Moscow, which would add fur­ther tit­il­la­tion to the in­quiry into Rus­sia’s so­cial me­dia op­er­a­tions; and Saint Bono, for all his preach­ing, seems well ac­quainted with pro­tect­ing his money from in­quir­ing eyes — but few of the other news flashes are all that shock­ing. Turns out Ap­ple likes to shift money around to min­i­mize its taxes, which is such a big se­cret that Congress has been jaw­ing about it since at least 2013. The Euro­pean Union has been af­ter both Ap­ple and Ama­zon to pay bil­lions it claims are owed in back taxes.

The best any­one has come up with in­volv­ing Canada is the news that a rich friend of Justin Trudeau loaned some money a long time ago to an­other rich Trudeau friend, and some of it may have found its way to the Cay­man Is­lands. The rich lender, Stephen Bronf­man, says he is a “proud Cana­dian” who “has al­ways fully com­plied with all le­gal re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing with re­spect to taxes,” that he “has never funded nor used off­shore trusts,” and any Cana­dian trusts he holds “have paid all taxes on all their in­come to the Cana­dian govern­ment.”

If there is cause to dis­be­lieve this, I’m not aware of it. The only dis­cernible rea­son it’s been turned into head­lines is that Bronf­man is a mem­ber of a well-known fam­ily, he’s rich, he’s a pal of Trudeau and he’s a big fundraiser for the Lib­eral party. If any of those are crim­i­nal of­fences, there are a bunch of other wealthy Lib­er­als I could point out for the RCMP.

Un­less some new de­vel­op­ment arises, the Par­adise Pa­pers are in no way a Cana­dian scan­dal. What they are is an em­bar­rass­ment, as they fur­ther un­der­mine the fairy tale that our prime min­is­ter is at heart an or­di­nary guy who shares the same sort of ev­ery­day-guy hopes, ex­pe­ri­ences and as­pi­ra­tions as the bulk of Cana­di­ans. The prime min­is­ter’s im­age has been care­fully nur­tured by his team of pro­fes­sion­als, with great suc­cess. But it’s al­ways been false, and ob­serv­ably so. How many other Cana­di­ans have been born at 24 Sus­sex, grew up with a trust fund, and earned their big­gest pay­days by giv­ing pricey speeches trad­ing on their last name? Name one other per­son you know who he­li­copters to the Aga Khan’s pri­vate is­land to spend a few days at Christ­mas, and can le­git­i­mately pro­fess he was just vis­it­ing an old fam­ily friend.

There’s noth­ing il­le­gal or un­eth­i­cal about be­ing rich, or hav­ing wealthy friends, just as there’s noth­ing il­le­git­i­mate about do­ing busi­ness with banks that don’t hap­pen to be lo­cated in Canada. The oblo­quy comes from turn­ing the mere pos­ses­sion of wealth into a tar­get for envy and re­sent­ment, as if any­one who ac­cu­mu­lates more than the nor­mal amount of as­sets de­serves to be de­nounced, ridiculed and pub­licly de­graded. This is pre­cisely the trap the Lib­er­als fell into with Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau’s ill-fated tax re­form ef­fort, which was framed as an at­tack on greedy rich peo­ple us­ing fancy ac­count­ing tricks to avoid pay­ing their “fair share.” In re­al­ity, it was noth­ing more than an at­tempt to limit a pro­vi­sion that was be­ing in­creas­ingly used in a way the govern­ment hadn’t in­tended. But, hav­ing de­mo­nized a large body of or­di­nary peo­ple for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, the Lib­er­als left them­selves vul­ner­a­ble when it emerged that Morneau him­self was an en­thu­si­as­tic pa­tron of ac­coun­tants and their fancy schemes.

Now Trudeau has been caught again, this time by as­so­ci­a­tion with a mem­ber of the Bronf­man clan. If he con­sid­ers all rich peo­ple sus­pect, what’s he do­ing hang­ing out with one of the coun­try’s rich­est, in­no­cent as Bronf­man may be? When you curry re­sent­ment in others, it shouldn’t come as a sur­prise when you find your­self held to the same stan­dards. Op­po­si­tion mem­bers have en­joyed mak­ing this point, as they en­thu­si­as­ti­cally grill the prime min­is­ter and his fi­nance min­is­ter in ques­tion pe­riod about this lat­est ex­am­ple of the govern­ment’s dou­ble stan­dard.

It hasn’t been pleas­ant for the Lib­er­als. They’ve been squirm­ing un­com­fort­ably. Morneau is con­sid­ered so tainted the Toronto Star de­voted 4,000 words on the week­end to try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate his im­age.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no ev­i­dence that they’ve learned any­thing from it. One of the hall­marks of ar­ro­gance is a re­fusal to back­track from a glar­ing mis­take.


Stephen Bronf­man, left, with Justin Trudeau at a barn party in Prince Ed­ward Is­land in 2013.

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