Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 20, 2019
Justin Trudeau’s ‘Just Watch Me!’ Moment
Justin Trudeau doesn’t apologize, at least for non-historical transgressions. His non-apology apologies tend to follow a formula: to assert his behaviour was “appropriate” and unimpeachable, to suggest “people can experience interactions differently” (and that his interpretation of the experience is the correct one), and then to wrap it all into a “teachable” moment.
But the prime minister’s flagrant “I can’t apologize” on Wednesday after he was found in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act for not the first, but the second time, established a breath-taking new level of righteous imperiousness, even for him. It even brings to mind his father’s defiant “Just watch me!” line during the 1970 October Crisis. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was responding at the time to a reporter’s question about how he planned to restore order in Quebec. Days later, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, leading to a police crack-down against dissidents—and a national controversy.
The subject under discussion now isn’t civil liberties. It’s another democracy bedrock: a justice system free from political interference. After conducting an independent investigation, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion released a damning report Wednesday that found the prime minister and his staff made a “flagrant attempt to influence” the judicial process in efforts to press justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson Raybould to halt criminal prosecution of the Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. Dion found Trudeau violated a section of the Act that prohibits public-office holders from using their position to try to influence a decision that would improperly further the private interests of a third party, in this case SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau’s response to the report suggested a haughty disregard on several levels—to the office of the ethics commissioner, to the Conflict of Interest Act, as well as to Canadians’ basic comprehension of what words mean. He “accepted” Dion’s report and took it “very seriously,” Trudeau said, while also saying that he disagreed with a central conclusion: “Where I disagree with the Commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper.” He delivered a generic: “What happened over the past year shouldn’t have happened.” And, for good measure, he said, “I take full responsibility,” calculated to be repeated in media headlines, which it was.
But not only did the Prime Minister not take any responsibility, he reframed his violation of the Conflict of Interest Act as a civic virtue, and a probable campaign-trail mantra: his job is “to stand up for Canadians and to defend their interests,” Trudeau said. And Canadian “interests,” by Trudeau’s own metric, equals jobs: “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs because that’s part of what Canadians expect me to do.” (Chatelaine)