Re-printed without permission.
“The very rich are different from you and me.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
At this stage of the WE scandal it might be useful to go at it in a negative direction. By which I mean maybe it would be more efficient if we were to ask which leading members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet are not in some relationship with the Kielburgers, havenot been speakers at WE events, did not receive a complimentary vacation at WE’s hideously expensive ($4,000 per night) luxury resort in Kenya. Or do not have family members working for WE, or who have not forgotten they owe a woeful chunk of change to some arm of WE’s ever-so-numerous enterprises
Those we do know who are involved with it, up to their conflict of interest necks, are merely the No. 1 and No. 2 most powerful people in Canada. No less than the prime minister himself, and his finance minister.
And while it does not go to the conflict of interest elements of their weird and ever-unfolding story, still the most curious part of it is how these two leaders, in particular, could so carelessly and casually entangle the government they lead in doling out a billion dollars of the people’s money to two of their buddies. May as well call them that, the ties and the interconnections being so many.
Whatever shocks the public had about the prime minister’s complex involvement were just about wearing off when Finance Minister Bill Morneau threw himself with great brio into the story and set off a brand new series — the highlight of which, to use a phrase of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s, “all Canadians are now aware of.” It seems the minister forgot to pay WE back $41,000 for a family vacation.
“What were they thinking?” is the question everyone is asking. How could they be so obtuse, so blind and so careless.
I think it has a lot to do with distance. The distance between those who rule, who have lived with power and money all their lives, and those who are ruled — everyday citizens who keep this country running and have never breathed in the altitudes of the rich and powerful. Between those who have never or rarely faced challenge and those whose lives are in the most part defined by challenges.
The rich and powerful reside on a different plane, or to add a single letter, a different planet. Those long-possessed of great fortunes have lived a different life, one that has absolved them from the messy imperatives and daily humiliations faced by the ever-so-numerous people who are “just getting by.”
When everything comes easily, and it is felt as a right that everything should come easily, you do not think as do most everybody else. You possess, in another phrases of Fitzgerald’s, a “vast carelessness.”
In Morneau-Trudeau-land life is a smooth glide on a still lake, opportunities float by and all it takes is a lazy hand to pick them up as they drift by.
Go from Whistler snowboarding to leader of the country; simplest thing in the world. Jump from heading a corporation to being the finance minister of a great country. This is not the world of everyone else.
Everyone else doesn’t hop down to the private island of the Aga Khan. Everyone else doesn’t even know who the Aga Khan is.
Everyone else has never heard of a family vacation at a fulsomely plush resort in Kenya that produced an unpaid bill of $41,000.
Everyone else drops down to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and checks into the Far-From-The –Beach Motel, into the room next to the all-night grinding thunder of an ancient ice-machine ($80 a night and complimentary breakfast).
And $41,000? That’s the retirement fund of a lot of people. The number of people who can get out of a jam by scribbling their name on the bottom of a cheque for $41,000 is extremely scanty. Scarce as hen’s teeth is I believe the obliging measurement.
Real people worry about the end of the month. There are still people in this country who worry about the light bill, the heating bill, the phone bill — the monthly reminders of living close to the margin. They ration their phone calls, seek the bargain items in the supermarket, keep the thermostat low and practice a rigorous household economy.
So when people ask how our prime minister and his finance minister could have been so careless, the answer is simple: they had no idea they were being careless.
That’s what being exempt from the experiences of common life, the life of “everyone else,” leads to.
They were dealing within this special, secure and protected world of the well-off and powerful. And they were dealing with two others near their own class and standing, the celebrity brothers of WE, guests of Oprah, friends to the Clintons, the fraternal pied pipers of ME to WE.
Perhaps the question isn’t how could they have got into this mess? Rather, how could they not have? Entitlement is its own form of blindness.