Trudeau dodges investigation
By Timothy Easling, Contributor
“We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny,” read the Liberals’ 2015 campaign platform. “Stephen Harper has used prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances. We will not.”
Despite a strong campaign promise of avoiding prorogation, something the Liberals consistently drove home as one of Harper’s grave misdeeds, the reigning minority government chose to prorogue Parliament and halt all committees looking into the Prime Minister’s third ethics violation (Parliament will resume with a speech from the throne and a confidence vote on September 23). The government also released 5000 pages of emails related to the scandal with a great deal of the content redacted/blacked-out; as a result of prorogation, the government will not have to provide revised documents or answers until the 23rd. However, even with the lack of information and carefully worded responses from those already interviewed by investigatory committees, contradictions in the story have already begun to arise.
“Here’s an email from the minister responsible for the department that granted the half billion dollars to her top bureaucrat, again, all the substance is blacked-out. And that would not be the first time…next page, blacked-out,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre as he tossed documents so redacted that the pages were simply black boxes with a white border. “This page, blacked-out. This page, blacked-out. This page, blacked-out. Why don’t we ask what’s in those pages at a parliamentary committee? Well, I’ll tell you why: Justin Trudeau shut down those parliamentary committees. When did he do it? The same day these documents became public. What a coincidence.”
The issue of the censoring itself is under some scrutiny. Per the finance committee’s request, any redactions were to be “made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons”; the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that such was the case. However, the law clerk, Philippe Dufresne, revealed in an email to David Gagnon, the finance committee clerk, that he was not permitted to do his job as intended since the Liberals had already censored the material prior to it coming to Dufresne: “The documents had already been redacted by the departments to protect personal information and on other grounds. As my office has not been given the opportunity to see the unredacted documents, we are not able to confirm whether those redactions are consistent with the order of the Committee.” Poilievre spoke to CBC about the issue: “The law clerk was tasked with combing through all the material and redacting any cabinet confidence or other information that needed to be kept from public view. Instead, the Trudeau government did its own redacting.” In short, the Liberals have chosen to ignore government protocols and procedures—a worrying trend for the minority government.
When Trudeau testified to a committee prior to the prorogation of Parliament, the Prime Minister offered little-to-no information despite such basic questions as the following from Poilievre: “I’m going to ask you again because nobody believes you when you say you don’t know how much money your family has got from the WE group. You’ve had a month to look into that. You knew you were going to testify here. Again, how much money total have your brother, mother, and spouse received from this organization? How much?” Instead of answering Poilievre’s question, Trudeau spoke—among other things—to the virtue of his mother “…she doesn’t have to rely on a husband or a son to support her because she does her own work, and I’m proud of the work she does[…]” Trudeau did mention that “that information has been publicly shared” but refused to state the dollar figure when pressed by Poilievre; Trudeau’s curious avoidance of providing an actual answer himself has led to speculation his family has received a lot more than a half a million dollars.
The WE organization is facing questions of its own. Although the group lobbied six different ministers’ offices and federal departments a total of 43 times for half-a-year, they only registered as a lobbyist in August; this figure is much lower than the actual total number of communications due to the fact that Craig and Marc Kielburger are technically volunteers for the organization. “For the past few years, our engagement with the government was about one to three percent of our overall budget. We thought engagement at the time was minimal. And if I thought that registration was required, we would have done it and it would have occurred,” WE Charity Executive Director Dalal Al-Waheidi said immediately upon registering.
The Kielburgers and other WE officials failed to provide all that was asked of them but expressed a willingness to oblige with the wanted information later. “That additional information had not been provided to the committee at the time that Justin Trudeau shut down Parliament,” Poilievre and Michael Barrett wrote to the Kielburgers. “However, given you both expressed your desire to provide members of Parliament with the information required, we urge you to not wait for the House of Commons to return in September.”
But instead of handing over the requested documents, a lawyer for WE, William McDowell, said “Mr. Poilievre’s letter amounts to politics, not proper process. The committees ceased to exist with the prorogation of Parliament. There is no committee to receive the documents…when there is a new committee, our clients will be pleased to communicate with the clerk of the new committee regarding the production of documents.”
Speaker’s Spotlight, the agency used to pay Trudeau’s family hundreds of thousands of dollars, was similarly asked to turn over requested documents, but does not appear to be doing so. The initial deadline was July 29, which the committee granted an extension “in good faith” to August 19. Trudeau prorogued Parliament the day before the deadline. Barrett commented, “The shuttering of the ethics committee does not hinder your ability to make this information public in order to bring clarity and transparency to government.”
An unethical media bias has also come to light. Amanda Alvaro, a CBC commentator who has defended Trudeau in the scandal, and her PR agency have received more than $40,000 from the government—violating the Journalistic Standards and Practices at the CBC: “it is important to mention any association, affiliation or specific interest a guest or commentator may have so the public can fully understand that person’s perspective.” Neither the Liberals nor the CBC have chosen to comment.