Chris Selley: Trudeau III: The Kielburger Affair — a sequel with extra banana flavour!
(Reprinted without permission. This is too good. It needs to be saved)
So where will Trudeau III rank, then, in the trilogy of Ethics Commissioner’s numbered reports into the wheelings and dealings of Canada’s 23rd prime minister? Trudeau I: Escape from Ottawa, was an audacious entrée. Lesser PMs might have balked at vacationing on any lavish private Caribbean island, lest they be seen as somewhat elitist, let alone on an island owned by the Aga Khan, whose foundation receives much support from Canadian taxpayers and was at the time in discussions to receive considerably more.
Alas, the central caper was unconvincing to many viewers. Trudeau’s guilt under the Conflict of Interest Act largely hinged on whether the Aga Khan was a “friend,” and thus free to lavish him with gifts. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson argued friends are people who speak to each other more than once every 30 years, but many Canadians felt she was being persnickety.
Trudeau II: Gadaffi’s Revenge, got surprisingly mixed reviews. The premise seemed scandalous. Trudeau and his senior aides were hellbent on arranging a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC Lavalin over bribery charges related to its operations in Libya. They refused to take “no” for an answer from then justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who foolishly believed prosecutorial independence was an actual thing; then lied about what they did; then excommunicated Wilson-Raybould for her impudence, along with then Treasury Board president Jane Philpott for having the temerity to support Wilson-Raybould. Trudeau’s right-hand man Gerald Butts was also among the casualties.
To many of us it was utterly compelling. But the world-weary sophisticates disagreed, rolling their eyes theatrically at our excitable naïveté. They said things like “this is a particularly Canadian scandal,” in the words of Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of journalism (God help us) at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus,” inasmuch as “not much happened.” It’s all about the media’s “Trump envy,” he — and others— argued: “The American media have the story of a generation. Why can’t we?”
“There’s no money, no sex and nothing illegal happened. This is what passes for a scandal in Canada,” Associated Press reported about a controversy that was precisely about illegal things allegedly happening. But who really needs an independent justice system, right? Yawn.
Now we have Trudeau III: The Kielburger Affair, which clearly took these negative reviews to heart. At deadline there was still no sex involved (oh please, let there not be any sex involved) but there is certainly money: a nearly $20-million sole-sourced contract to the WE Charity to administer nearly $1 billion in grants for volunteering opportunities for students struggling through the pandemic.
That was at least theoretically defensible. But not so much once it emerged that, contrary to what we had been told, the WE empire had paid Margaret Trudeau and Sacha Trudeau, mother and brother of Justin, respectively, a combined $352,000 in speaking fees for appearing at their events.
Since online news outlet Canadaland broke that story, the odour of banana has only intensified. Thanks in part to a very thorough timeline of Trudeau-Kielburger intersections published by iPolitics last week, Canadians learned or remembered just how tight the two clans really are: from generous donations to Trudeau’s leadership contest to Craig Kielburger’s appointment to the advisory board of the Leaders’ Debates Commission to various smaller but still generous government grants awarded to the WE empire over the years.
Then CTV reported that Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau had also pocketed $1,500 from WE, albeit before Justin was prime minister. Then Canadaland reported that Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s two daughters both had relationships with WE, as well: one had spoken at a WE event and was profiled on the organization’s website … until Friday, when the page mysteriously disappeared; Morneau’s other daughter, no joke, is currently on WE’s payroll! It boggles the mind that neither Morneau nor Trudeau saw fit to recuse themselves from Cabinet discussions on awarding WE the student-grants gig. But of course, if they recused themselves, WE might not get the gig.
Late on Thursday, a subtly devastating development arrived courtesy Le Devoir columnist Emilie Nicolas and former NHL star Theoren Fleury, both of whom took to Twitter to relate that when WE had asked them to speak at its events, it had told them it doesn’t pay fees for speakers.
Perhaps it was a miscommunication. Perhaps stars of a certain calibre warrant remuneration, whereas lesser bookings do not — except that Fleury in particular is a pretty big name. Certainly his name is much bigger than Sacha Trudeau’s, who is a reasonably accomplished journalist but who is best known for a jaw-dropping piece of Castro fan fiction in the Toronto Star (“combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is”) that might make Granma’s comment editor blush.
In the Liberal-WE nexus, however, it seems one name is much more equal than others: Trudeau, and never mind what comes before it. If this tale doesn’t grab Canadian viewers, maybe nothing will.