If the objective was to go quietly into the night before the long summer recess, the Liberals have once again failed spectacularly. Ottawa has been abuzz with new and renewed controversy this week. Pictured is Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino in the House of Commons, June 14, 2023. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld
What is going on in Ottawa? The answer to the question is anyone’s guess.
No one can deny it’s been a rough ride for the governing Liberals in recent weeks but it appeared for a brief moment there was a light at the end of the tunnel, aka the summer recess, on the horizon.
With David Johnston announcing his resignation as special rapporteur last Friday, and the Trudeau government appearing to cede control to opposition parties to set the terms and conditions of a potential public inquiry into Chinese foreign interference, it looked as though it would be an anti-climactic end to a rowdy parliamentary session.
But if the objective was to go quietly into the night, the Liberals have once again failed spectacularly.
A quick recap of the week saw Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Public Safety, figuratively caught with his pants down when details emerged that his staff failed to inform him that Paul Bernardo would be transferred to a medium security prison earlier this month. Despite a heads up being sent to both the Prime Minister’s Office and Mendicino’s office, nothing was done to contain the bombshell story, or even inform the minister responsible for the portfolio, until after it was revealed through media reports.
Meanwhile, at the committee tasked with investigating Chinese foreign interference, CSIS director David Vigneault testified that former public safety minister Bill Blair’s office had been sent a briefing note containing information that Conservative MP Michael Chong was a target of the communist regime. Blair subsequently claimed the note did not reach him, and pleaded ignorance stating that “it might have been helpful if they sent me an email or a text or a phone call to alert me that there was a report that they intended I should see.”
On the international front, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland halted Canada’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) after the bank’s Canadian communications director claimed in a Twitter post that the AIIB was being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
Under the Trudeau government, Canada joined the AIIB in 2018 and has since pledged nearly $1 billion USD in capital. Concerns about Canada’s involvement in the bank had previously been raised by the Conservative opposition, and Global Affairs Canada warned that the Chinese intended to use the bank “to leverage its economic prowess to gain regional influence and export its model of governance around the world.”
What the Trudeau government has repeatedly failed to understand during their tenure is that taking credit for the good news announcements they make on the taxpayer dime also means being accountable for the decisions that come out of the departments they oversee – whether it’s an unforced error or not. The responsibility that comes with being a minister of the crown is immense, and mistakes do and will happen, but the Canadian public has generally shown themselves to be remarkably forgiving.
Trudeau may not be willing to hand out a punishment, but as we saw with the Johnston affair, you can run but you can’t hide. The truth however is you can’t beg for forgiveness if you fail to acknowledge your role in creating a problem. It is not an honourable, nor defensible position to be in, and it is a nasty legacy to leave behind for the once-rising stars of the Trudeau cabinet.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.