In 1975, Pierre Elliott Trudeau built a swimming pool. An avid swimmer, Trudeau liked the idea of such a thing in the prime minister’s official residence, and was further assuaged by the fact that a group of private donors would foot the $200,000 bill.
Yet the swimming pool came back to haunt him eight years later, just as Trudeau was readying his second exit from Canadian politics. As the Canadian Press reported, taxpayers actually footed $25,677.30 of the cost, mostly for the design and inspection of the pool, sauna and tunnel to the main house.
It wasn’t much, about $110,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars, but the added expense helped fuel the narrative of Trudeau as a swaggering spendthrift seemingly addicted to the taxpayer-funded trappings of power. “We pay for his nanny. We pay for his wine. We pay for his food,” as news host Tom Cherington put it in a 1984 interview with incoming Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney. “Are we going to have to pay for your nannies?”
Mulroney’s response—“No, no, no,” in that lounge act baritone of his—was pure blarney. Mere months later, Mulroney’s flacks turned themselves into knots trying to justify the nanny hired on the public dime. The nanny wasn’t a nanny, said Mulroney staff, but a person who “interfaces with the children in a habitual way.”
Some may cry hypocrisy, but there is a certain numbing comfort to be taken in Mulroney’s duplicity. It was confirmation yet again that despite politicians’ feverish proclamations to the contrary, addiction to the taxpayer-funded trappings of power is a decidedly non-partisan affair. Everyone does it, so much so that politicians of any stripe hardly suffer politically when they go against their word—often within weeks of taking power.
Which is exactly why it is difficult to even feign outrage at Justin Trudeau’s decision to allow Canadian taxpayers to pay for the care of his young brood. Yes, he made a show of giving his Universal Child Care Benefit cheque to charity, but so what? That was before the election, when he had a narrative to sell; now that he’s sold it, there is the very real issue of having people to interface with the children in a habitual way. Or, as Liberal spokesperson Kate Purchase defined Trudeau’s nannies, “two household employees who, in addition to performing other duties around the house, act as secondary caregivers to the three children.” Either way, they don’t come cheap.
My issue isn’t with Trudeau’s taxpayer-funded nannies. Rather, it’s with the the Liberal partisans who have come to defend and even elevate this kind of behaviour. Seemingly overnight, many Liberals partisans have transformed following October’s election. Once the purveyors of put-upon outrage at everything Stephen Harper-related, including the blinkless loyalty our former PM compelled from his subjects, they became oddly Harper-ish in their attacks against anyone who would dare critique Trudeau.
“The rest of the world is talking about security, the climate, Canadian media spent the day on two nannies,” wrote one prolific Liberal in a typically partisan tweet. She later added, “I hope to God that [mainstream media] gets slapped with more papers closing and the CBC could go as well.”
Attacking the media was once the sole jurisdiction of the Harper partisan, but with the change in government comes a change in perceived victimhood. It is frankly absurd to think that Liberal partisans wouldn’t have pitched a righteous fit had Stephen Harper hired nannies at taxpayer expense. The attack line writes itself: Harper, the author of lavish tax breaks to the one per cent, has taxpayer-funded child care—despite making roughly $340,000 a year and being unburdened by rent or mortgage.
It goes deeper than the care of Trudeau’s kids. During the election, the Liberals turfed Liberal campaign adviser Dan Gagnier when it came out that he was simultaneously on the payroll of TransCanada, the energy infrastructure giant currently lobbying to put various pipelines into Canadian soil. “The finance minister will be critical” for TransCanada fortunes, Gagnier wrote in a letter to the company. Coincidence or not, among the first hires by Finance Minister Bill Morneau: senior special assistant Sharan Kaur, a former communications specialist with … TransCanada.
And yesterday, as Liberal partisans decried so-called nannygate, came the news that Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr had hired a former vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers as his chief of staff.
There is nothing outwardly wrong with the hiring of former oil and gas executives to serve in two of the more important ministries in the land. Of course, Trudeau railed against Harper’s supposed proximity to Canada’s oilpatch, but that was before the election. Now there are pipelines to be built.
What’s infuriating is the silence emanating from the Liberal partisan camp on these hires. I couldn’t find a single example of a Liberal partisan critiquing the government for hiring former oil and gas executives. Had the Conservatives pulled the same stunt, we’d be hearing about the oil patch’s enduring influence over Harperland. But it’s crickets when a Liberal does it. Politicians are hypocritical by necessity. In their selective outrage, partisans are a far worse beast. They are hypocritical by design.