Saturday, February 16, 2019

The 'Evolving' Story Of Justin And Jody

Evolving is one of those words I have never particularly cared for. It can, and should, of course, most be used when pertaining to the growth and change over time of various forms of life. Too often, however, it is used as a weasel word, one that is employed to try to suggest that the first answer was incomplete rather than a lie. For a good illustration of this tactic, read about Donald Trump's evolving justifications for a border wall.

In the Justin Trudeau SNC-Lavalin Jody-Wilson Raybould imboglio, I believe we are now witnessing a concerted effort on the part of the Prime Minister and his functionaries to 'evolve' their explanation of this sordid business. Consider, for example, what the country's doe-eyed leader had to say just the other day as he engaged in some victim-blaming:

According to this story, Justin was absolutely blind-sided by her unhappiness.

Now, that 'story' has 'evolved':

Presumably, this public admission was prompted by the Trudeau government's fear that Wilson-Raybould's version of events will soon be made known; hence, repeating his denial that he "directed" her on the SNC-Lavalin file would seem to be a safe bet, since she apparently specifically asked him whether this was the case. However, where the story falters and whose spin may give those prone to vertigo some problems is that he said, as shown in the first clip, that she did not express any concerns to him.

The two stories obviously can't both be true, unless we are to believe the question was asked and answered so casually that both went away whistling a happy tune. But for those of us who care to think and are not in the thrall of misplaced party loyalty, common sense dictates that the exchange must have been fuller, with her providing a context for the question (i.e., pressure from the PMO).

So the ostensibly corrupt machinations of the old Liberals continue apace. Somehow, I wonder whether this particular manifestation of diseased morality will ever be fully exposed to the light of day.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Just Who Was The DPA Enacted To Help?

If you watch the following interview with law professor Jennifer Quaid, you will find her take on the Omnibus Bill provision for the DPA (deferred prosecution agreement) that SNC-Lavalin salivates over very, very disturbing. Start at about the 1:40 mark. The big 'reveal' is at the 4-minute mark, when Quaid discusses what she claims is an open secret:

Of course, the Liberals denied any such assertion during yesterday's committee meeting, as they
... denounced Opposition suggestions that SNC-Lavalin had gotten the Liberal government to change the law to allow deferred prosecutions for companies like the Quebec engineering giant facing fraud charges.

In the closest thing to an explanation anyone on the government benches has offered for the change since the scandal broke last week, Boissonault said Canada adopted the legal change to allow deferred prosecutions for companies facing fraud charges to align with its trading allies and called Opposition allegations of political favouritism “specious.”
If the allegations are true, this is a far, far bigger scandal than simply trying to pressure Wilson-Raybould to go easy on SNC-Lavalin. It reeks of the rankest corruption imaginable.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Political Mushroom Cloud

An atomic usually bomb expands its destructive range outward, so it is perhaps understandable that Mr. Trudeau does not yet realize he has unleashed a weapon of mass destruction whose fallout will eventually land back on him.

And here is what The Tyee writes:
...certain Liberal pundits who evidently didn’t get the sunny-feminist-ways memo have been indulging in character assassination, running a whisper campaign that Wilson-Raybould is not a team player, is difficult — one even said on the CBC that she is reputed to be incompetent. This feels very familiar to many women across the country, now rolling their eyes, recognizing this for the stereotypical cheap shots against women who beg to differ.

Ah, the politics of symbolism. Perhaps Trudeau et al. forgot that the MP for Vancouver- Granville is a powerful political and professional actor in her own right. She has a heritage of illustrious politicians in the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. She has served as Crown Prosecutor in British Columbia, as a Treaty Commissioner, and as Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, places where competence and political acumen are valued. Her public contributions are likely far from over. She is not someone to be messed with and she’s nobody’s trophy.

UPDATED: Sounds Like A Version Of Victim-Blaming To Me

I doubt that this performance will endear Mr. Trudeau to women or indigenous communities:

UPDATE: Chantal Hebert explores the optics of Trudeau's take-no-prisoners strategy:
Trudeau may hope to tilt the balance of public opinion in his favour by undermining Wilson-Raybould’s credibility. But he should worry about a boomerang effect on his already damaged moral authority.

The optics of this prime minister attacking the integrity of a prominent Indigenous champion is already dismally poor. The fact that this crisis pits Trudeau against one of the highest-profile women in his caucus makes for a lethal political combination.

The last thing the prime minister needs at a time when he has bridges to repair with the Indigenous community is to give Canadian women — including some of those around him in the House of Commons — cause to close ranks behind Wilson-Raybould.

Monday, February 11, 2019

UPDATED: Where Is The Public Good In All Of This?

H/t Greg Perry

His fulminations about the need for a public inquiry notwithstanding, it should surprise no one that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer met with officials of SNC-Lavalin to discuss the criminal charges they were facing. But to simply accuse him of his obvious hypocrisy and dismiss the controversy of Justin Trudeau's alleged attempt to interfere with the pursuit of justice is surely to ignore the increasingly fetid odour emanating from his office.

Consider, for example, what Canada's top prosecutor has to say about political and corporate interference in prosecutorial decisions:
In Federal Court documents obtained by the Star, [Kathleen] Roussel responds to SNC-Lavalin, saying that it has no legal right or entitlement to any deal; that prosecutors are independent with broad discretion on how to proceed with charges; and that under the Constitution, prosecutors are free from political or judicial interference.

She says the law passed last year allowing for what is called “deferred prosecution agreements” (a new regime that was stuffed into an omnibus budget bill) [the very kind of bill the Liberals railed against while in opposition - funny how the perch of power changes one's perspective, eh?] is explicit about what factors prosecutors must not consider in corruption cases:

“The prosecutor must not consider the national economic interest, the potential effect on relations with a state other than Canada or the identity of the organization or individual involved” where an organization is charged under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, as in SNC-Lavalin’s case.

In other words, the the director of public prosecutions is arguing that, while the law sets out other criteria Roussel could consider when weighing the public interest, she’s not allowed by law to consider whether a company is too big to fail.
Implicit is that the administration of justice should be the guiding principle behind the pursuit of cases, neither corporate nor political considerations being part of the formula.
The written brief also takes a strong stand against any political interference in prosecutorial decisions, saying it “could erode the integrity of our system of prosecution.”
And it is integrity that should be our uppermost consideration. We have, in this country, the likely accurate perception that there are two kinds of justice: one for the powerful and entitled, and another for the rest of us. To willfully and cravenly defer prosecution on the basis of who the accused is would further erode public confidence in our institutions at a time when there are many forces, both within and without, committed to sowing division and disunity.

More cynicism is the last thing we need today. It is time for the Trudeau government to pull in its neoliberal horns, respect the independence of the federal prosecutor's office, and allow the corporate chips to fall where they may.

UPDATE: An interesting new development:
The federal ethics commissioner has launched an investigation into allegations that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the prime minister’s office to seek mediation instead of pursuing criminal charges against Quebec construction giant, SNC-Lavalin.

Mario Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, confirmed in a letter to two NDP MPs that he would probe allegations that became public last week.

In his letter, Dion says that based on the complaint by the two MPs, media reports and other information, he has “reason to believe” that a possible contravention of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act has occurred.

That section prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision of another person to improperly further another person’s private interests.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Shameful Behaviour Of Pharmaceuticals

Daniel Dale recently wrote a piece about how a provision in the new NAFTA could lead to higher drug costs in Canada.
Some Democrats are demanding a change to a rule that would require the U.S., Canada and Mexico to protect the intellectual property behind sophisticated and expensive drugs known as biologics for at least 10 years.

These Democrats, like Canada’s generic drug industry, warn that the new biologics rule would keep drug prices high by requiring citizens to wait longer before they can get their hands on lower-cost similar drugs known as biosimilars.
We would be wise to heed the warning.

If you have seen the Netflix documentary series Dirty Money, the episode on Valeant Pharmaceuticals is quite revealing, illustrating the rapacity of an industry whose interests lie in maximizing profits, often at the very real expense (literal and figurative) of the people it is supposed to serve. If you watch the episode, you will see that Valeant became little more than a hedge fund, buying up other drug companies for their patents, slashing R&D while at the same time rasing drug costs exorbitantly.

The following video is another story of pharmaceutical corporate greed, one that should serve as a wake-up call to all of us. It tells the tale of a drug that had been provided free of charge but is now available only for those who can pay $375,000 per year.

We are constantly told that business does things better. If that involves exploiting human misery, you will get no argument from me.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Some Habits Die Hard

In some ways, it is hard to believe that the old Liberal propensity for corrupt coziness with corporate chums has reasserted itself so quickly, barely three years into Mr. Trudeau's tenure. In other ways, it is not hard to believe at all. After all, old habits die hard.

Th latest allegation is that Trudeau tried to influence former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution for bribery of Libyan officials in order to secure business contracts. It is an allegation the Prime Minister stoutly denies, but the fact is that Wilson-Raybould was recently demoted to Veterans Affairs.

Cause and effect? The smell of a smoking gun is in the air.

First, there is what has been described as Trudeau's legalistic denial in response to reporters' and House of Commons' questions:
“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday in Vaughan. “Neither the current nor the previous attorney-general was directed by me or anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”
The new justice minister, David Lametti, repeated Trudeau's words in answering the charge of interference in the House.

So, are we simply jumping to judgement, based on little or no evidence? The Toronto Star doesn't think so.
And what communications, if any, did members of Trudeau’s office have with Wilson-Raybould and her office on this issue? These are questions that can’t simply be waved away with a carefully worded blanket denial. The Globe reported that the company lobbied federal officials more than 50 times since 2017 on “justice” and “law enforcement” issues, including 14 times with Trudeau’s closest advisers in the PMO.

What exactly did they discuss? Did it include the possibility of SNC-Lavalin benefitting from a so-called remediation agreement that would allow the company to avoid a criminal trial on serious fraud and corruption charges (and therefore remain eligible for lucrative government contracts)?

And what communications, if any, did members of Trudeau’s office have with Wilson-Raybould and her office on this issue?

These are questions that can’t simply be waved away with a carefully worded blanket denial.
Susan Delacourt finds Wilson-Raybould's silence on the matter quite telling:
... she didn’t have a thing to say in the wake of the Globe and Mail’s explosive story of how the former justice minister reportedly stood in the way of a deal to let SNC-Lavalin detour around prosecutions that could have blocked it from receiving government contracts for years to come.

“That is between me and the government as the government’s previous lawyer,” Wilson-Raybould was quoted as saying in the Globe’s scoop, as well as a cryptic, “I don’t have a comment on that,” in reply to more pointed questions about how she handled the SNC-Lavalin case.

Pro tip: “No comment” only works as a clever misdirection in fictionalized political journalism. In real life, it is often regarded as confirmation.
Did she speak truth to power?

Delacourt attended a Robbie Burns dinner last week in which Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes took jabs at her own government:
One of those jabs was aimed squarely at the ouster of Wilson-Raybould from the justice job, and a joke about how an Indigenous woman lost her post for doing it well and unsettling the “white man.”
None of which 'proves' these allegations. However, it is worth noting that SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec company, has had a long relationship with the Liberal Party of Canada, even when it was out of power:
SNC-Lavalin, many were reminding us on Thursday, was the same firm that was detouring around election laws for much of that decade to put roughly $110,000 in the party’s pocket in those lean years.
And so, an old pattern re-emerges. Coupled with Trudeau's stout defence and dismissal of allegations regarding his good friend and fundraiser Stephen Bronfman over what was revealed about offshore accounts in the Panama Papers, as well as the CRA foot-dragging in going after the big corporate cheats who operate such accounts, one can justifiably wonder whose interests the Prime Minister really is protecting.

This may rankle those who believe a Liberal government should never be criticized, given the poor alternatives, but to take such a position is to be willfully and woefully ignorant.

Lord knows we have enough of that already today.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Far Less Than Meets The Eye

The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

-Hubert Humphrey

By the above standard, Ontario is quickly heading for a damning assessment. Under the self-proclaimed "government for the people," the buffoonish thugs collectively known as the Doug Ford regime are moving quickly to make the province a decidedly inhospitable place for the vulnerable. With a tacit philosophy of short-term gain for long-term pain, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod is promising to clear a long waiting list for autism treatment by giving treatment dollars directly to families.
Macleod says the amount of funding will depend on the length of time a child will be in the program, and support will be targeted to lower and middle-income families.

A child entering the program at age two would be eligible to receive up to $140 000 for treatment, while a child entering the program at age seven would receive up to $55 000.
If you watch the following video, you will learn how wholly inadequate this funding model will be:

And here is another story that brings home the point equally poignantly:

Should you wish to learn more about the devastation this new policy will wreak for the 'ordinary folks' Ford purports to serve, please click here.

Today's Star editorial most succinctly sums up the bait-and-switch nature of the government's new approach:
All the government has done is to distribute the current $321-million budget for autism services among far more people. That means less support and services for everyone who is eligible. And not everyone is eligible anymore, since the government has decided to deny families with incomes over $250,000 the right to even access this aspect of publicly funded health care.
Increasingly, I suspect Ontarians are experiencing buyer's regret in their electoral choice. Unfortunately, by the time such remorse sets in, it is usually too late, and the damage done by reactionary voting is extensive and long-lasting.

Better luck next time, eh?