Nobody should tolerate the Liberals' WE tricks
“There probably isn' t a smoking gun in these docs, but the Liberals on committee are certainly acting like there's one,” Andrew MacDougall, Stephen Harper's former press secretary, remarked on Twitter this week. He was referring to the pathetic, endless spectacle of Liberal members of two separate parliamentary committees — 21 hours of useless wrangling between them on Thursday — refusing to allow votes on motions concerning their party's WE Charity debacle.
Liberal members of the finance committee spent 11 hours on Thursday filibustering, moving hopeless amendments and otherwise avoiding a vote on a motion condemning heavy redactions in WE-related emails released in August.
Those redactions were numerous enough that Phillipe Dufresne, the independent parliamentary law clerk, and even Wayne Easter, the Liberal chair of the committee, expressed some concern. Now, however, Liberals will move heaven and earth to keep those black lines where they are — and they don't mind how ridiculous they look doing it.
To wit: Also on Thursday, Liberals on the ethics committee spent 10 hours avoiding a vote on a motion to have the Speakers' Spotlight booking agency release receipts of various Trudeaus' paid speaking appearances over the years. The proceedings saw Liberal MP Han Dong expound at length about racism directed against Asian Canadians during the pandemic. When opposition MPs objected on grounds of relevance, Liberal MP Greg Fergus accused them of performing “the micro-aggressions that a lot of Canadians of colour face.”
Absolutely hideous. It's like Twitter come to life.
“It is all about COVID right now, this is what is critical for Canadians,” Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan complained last week during another marathon ethics committee session.
How is this not “all about COVID”?
The government came up with a very weird sub-minimum-wage summer jobs program to help young Canadians weather the COVID storm, farmed it out to cronies, and then it all exploded into a thousand pieces. Trudeau apologized for not recusing himself, in light of appearance fees paid for WE events to his brother and mother; Morneau apologized for not recusing himself, in light of his daughter working for WE (!), and vanished in a puff of smoke.
It later turned out the Kielburger brothers, who run WE, needed this gig so badly that when it all fell apart, they shut down their screaming-tweens/voluntourism charity in Canada altogether. What else should an ethics committee be investigating?
It would almost be better if they were covering something up. It's certainly conceivable that they are. But as MacDougall says, it's equally conceivable they're just doing this for sport. They're doing it because this is what committees in Ottawa do. We're the government, we own this information, and you can't have it. And nobody besides the opposition parties really cares.
Maybe that's understandable: This sort of behaviour is hardly a Trudeau Liberal invention. In their early days in minority government, the Harper Conservatives actually codified and distributed procedures how to do this sort of thing. Nobody cared about that either. If people expect their politicians to act like asses, politicians won't suffer for acting like asses.
But when the asses are braying to keep information from Parliament, and thereby the Canadian people, people really should care. Canadian officialdom guards information as a matter of principle: it is closed by default, no matter how benign the information in principle is. It is immensely frustrating and undemocratic, not to mention costly. But it also obviously means that any non-benign information will be guarded even more zealously.
Veteran Canadian journalist Michael Petrou told an amazing tale on Twitter on Thursday with respect to his investigation into aid Canada provided to Libyan rebels way back in 2011. At the time, he appealed one of the redactions in documents he had received through an access-to-information request. This week, seven years later, his appeal was upheld … and the foreign affairs department refused to nix the redaction anyway.
The information in question wouldn't have caused Harper's government any grief in 2011, let alone Trudeau's in 2020. This is simply opacity for its own sake.
It doesn't have to be this way. Non-journalist Canadians are often incredulous when you tell them how much more forthcoming American officialdom is with harmless information, but it's night and day. Communications officers in the U.S. government generally exist to communicate with the public, not to intermediate between grown-adult journalists and grown-adult civil servants and politicians who are perfectly capable of calling each other's telephones. We could do that too, if we wanted. But governments don't want it, and nobody cares, so it doesn't happen.
Electoral reform remains Trudeau's signature broken promise, if only because he broke it so flamboyantly, so insultingly, and at such great expense. But at least he felt the need to humour the proportional representation fans who fell for his grift, setting up a committee and pretending to be interested in its findings. His promise to fix access-to-information procedures and timelines, his “open by default” pledge, didn't even get that. It got chucked behind a sofa and forgotten.
Flying this blind, Canadians are relying enormously on their politicians' honour, good intentions and backbone to stay on the straight and narrow. They should tune into the ethics or finance committee some day soon and ask themselves if that's wise.