What can we learn from the WE scandal?
A whole mess has happened between the end of July and today. The Trudeau government got caught handing over a $900 million cookie jar to WE Charity in the middle of a pandemic and responded by replacing Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a guy most of us have probably never heard of, in favour of Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a woman we’re all starting to hear an awful lot about. Then the Liberals turned the government off until September 23rd.
The general consensus is that this is a way to avoid the WE Scandal investigation and general bad vibes, but I dunno. It definitely seems like a coordinated move—Morneau’s resignation, Freeland’s appointment, and the proroguing happened within 48 hours—but I think there’s more to the Liberals’ strategy than just a deflection from controversy. We’re not just seeing the Liberals slip another punch from public opinion, they’re also working their way to the corner to tag in Freeland as their next leader. Morneau did his party duty by taking a hit for Trudeau, and his reward is support in a bid for Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). They’re also cycling Freeland through her next department after foreign affairs, where she helped build an imperialist puppet-gang called the Lima Group to fuck with South America in general and Venezuela in particular. Now she’ll learn how to pull a Chrétien when post-COVID austerity comes along so that we’re left unprepared for the next big hit from the climate crisis.
While these events might be a bummer, they do show us one of the Liberals’ greatest strengths: being so slippery they can keep sliding forwards even when they stumble.
It’s not a strength they’ve kept hidden. Despite promising electoral reform in Trudeau’s 2015 campaign, the Liberals tossed the idea away in 2017, citing a lack of public support, despite it being a major reason he won in the first place. Then in February 2019, we found out the Liberals pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution for bribery. Each time we found out the Liberals were lying, they kept on sliding until somehow we just seemed to stop caring. Each time we’re reminded the Liberals are corrupt, that they lie to our face then expect us to accept their apologies, we unfailingly find ourselves accepting.
The exception to this rule is the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests in early 2020. When Trudeau did the expected and told the protesters to stop getting in the way of the oil industry, the protesters did the unexpected and continued their occupation of an arterial railway line. This action succeeded in securing an agreement that no future projects could ever be approved without consent from the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs. It’s not a total win—the Coastal GasLink project is still going forwards, and the government could eventually just break the agreement—but it is a rare instance of the Liberals finding themselves unable to slip away from their own broken promises and instead having to actually do something to satisfy the public.
So perhaps it’s better to say that the Liberals keep getting away with these scandals not because they’re slippery, but because we let them. They’ll perform theatrics that shift blame to scapegoats like Morneau, or prevent investigation through the Parliamentary legerdemain of prorogation, all the while preparing new cast members like Freeland to keep the show going, because they know we won’t do anything about it. When we settle for the symbolic hand-wringing apologies, Cabinet shuffling, and some performed shame, the Liberals are more or less invincible. But when our response is material—when we show our frustration by directly affecting the country’s ability to function—then we force the government’s response to be material as well.
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