The SNC-Lavalin saga: 'Aarggh ... enough already!'

Letters to the editor, May 1, 2019: Readers weigh in on cheating for our kids, the politics of retirement and more

The ethics commissioner does have real power

In April, we opined that the SNC-Lavalin affair exposed an urgent need for ethical clarity in Ottawa that the federal ethics commissioner is insufficiently empowered to address. “The title of ethics commissioner is a bit of a misnomer,” our editorial quoted Emmett Macfarlane, a University of Waterloo political scientist, as saying.

Your editorial “Ottawa’s scarcity of ethics” contains several inaccuracies. While it is true that the Senate ethics officer can’t order any senator to do anything, it is incorrect to claim the ethics commissioner also can’t issue orders. In fact, the ethics commissioner can order anyone covered by the federal ethics laws he enforces to do anything needed to comply with the laws.

Secondly, the ethics commissioner’s title is not a misnomer (which the editorial claims), as the ethics commissioner’s mandate is not limited to preventing self-gain by politicians (which the editorial claims), but includes also preventing politicians and other public office holders doing anything improper to further anyone’s, or any entity’s, private interests.

In several past rulings, the ethics commissioner has defined “improper” as including violating any rule, standard, convention, principle, policy, code, law or regulation. As a result, the commissioner’s mandate is not, as the editorial inaccurately claims, “largely limited to narrow issues of gifts and transparency.” In fact, it covers the propriety of every aspect of how politicians and public office holders act when making every decision they make, and when trying to influence the decisions anyone else is making.

Finally, the SNC-Lavalin situation is not only a “political failure” that is Parliament’s problem to solve. It involves violations of key government ethics laws that the ethics commissioner is required to rule on, as well as possible violations of the Criminal Code provision prohibiting obstruction of justice that prosecutors will decide whether to pursue with prosecutions.

As MPs have clearly demonstrated, their “kangaroo court” committees made up of MPs are so rife with partisan conflicts of interest that they are incapable of investigating, let alone ruling, on this situation. These committees also have no mandate, legal or otherwise, to issue rulings on violations of federal ethics laws or the Criminal Code; nor does Parliament as a whole.

—Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch; adjunct professor of law and politics, University of Ottawa

I cheat for my kids—and so do you

In March, in the wake of the college admissions scandal that saw several high-profile celebrities charged with bribery, editor-at-large Scott Gilmore wrote about parents’ devotion to their kids—and their willingness to cross certain lines if it means their children can get ahead.

I would like to take exception to the article by Scott Gilmore. Sorry, but please keep me out of this misinformed nonsense. While raising my kids I never cheated anybody to gain favours for them. What kind of example would that set? The behaviour by those parents who tried to gain access for their children into big-name U.S. universities with bribes was totally reprehensible. In fact, they are harming their children. Society is not served well when parents show their kids that this is the way things are done in the world.
—Johanna van de Panne, Cochrane, Alta.

I am 52 years old and I have read the news daily since I was 10. This is the first time I have been compelled to respond in writing. Scott Gilmore’s column was the worst piece of drivel I have ever read. Does he really believe there is a moral equivalency between helping your kids get in to see a doctor and committing fraud to get your undeserving child into an Ivy League school? Or was he just trying to say something controversial in order to get read? There is a big difference between loving your children enough to create opportunities for them and sacrificing your integrity and their self-worth to attain undeserved rewards. One comes from a deep well of love and the other from a deep emptiness and a complete misunderstanding of what life is about.
—Steve Sullivan, Prince George, B.C.

Without a commitment to live by shared ethical values, society will just not work. Ethics matter immensely (“I cheat for my kids. So do you,” Parenting, May 2019). We should not cheat for our kids unless we want them to grow up believing that is how the world works, and if enough people believe that is how it works, that is how it will work.
—Maurice McGregor, Montreal

Champion of truth and justice to some, just plain wrong to others

In April, after Jody Wilson-Raybould was booted out of the Liberal caucus, Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes interviewed the former justice minister and attorney general about a controversial phone call with Canada’s top civil servant—and the dangers of blind loyalty.

I am one of many Canadians riveted by the continuing saga of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Like Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, I do not understand why an elected official in any political party must abide by the demand of “party loyalty.” When I vote, I vote for the principles and values espoused by my local candidate. However, my candidate, once elected, may have to vote against those personal principles and values if the party deems it so. Is that what we call representation and democracy?
—Michelle Pilon, Tiny, Ont.

Jody Wilson-Raybould should start her own Truth and Justice Party. I wish we could nominate her for PM. Too bad it doesn’t work that way.
—Joanne Streutker, Woodstock, Ont.

On the surface, the former attorney general and justice minister’s principled decision to respect the independence of the justice system seems worthy of universal support. Justin Trudeau may have removed Jody Wilson-Raybould from the attorney general’s office because she wasn’t doing a very good job. Brian Greenspan, a prominent lawyer, expressed doubts about her performance when he asked, “Did Jody Wilson-Raybould understand her role as attorney general?” Her doctor-assisted-death legislation has met with serious criticism from all sides on the issue. In September, Wilson-Raybould did not personally inform Trudeau that, in her opinion, SNC-Lavalin failed to qualify for a remediation agreement. She refused to consult with former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin. After federal lawyers had determined that there may have been a miscarriage of justice, she did not request a retrial for Glen Assoun. He had already served 17 years in prison and had to wait an additional 18 months because she did not act. The new attorney general, David Lametti, requested a retrial soon after taking office and, after a five-minute trial, Assoun was declared innocent. Wilson-Raybould cited her Indigenous roots in her statement before the Justice Committee. Indigenous issues, as truly valid as they are, have nothing in common with SNC-Lavalin. Maclean’s coverage of the SNC-Lavalin-related events has failed to present unbiased reporting by emphasizing a one-sided pro-Wilson-Raybould view. The cover of the April issue labelled Trudeau as “The Imposter,” and the following May issue cover portrayed Jane Philpott and Wilson-Raybould as crusaders for truth. This is not reporting; it’s editorializing.
—Brian Waddick, London, Ont.

Two of the most respected and awesome women in Canada on the cover and a magazine filled with facts that underline the dire straits that Canadian democracy is in! But I have to highlight Pam Palmater’s column. Thank you, Pam, for listing so many of Trudeau’s broken promises. I would only point out that your list deals only with Indigenous issues. If we add all the other broken promises, the PM could clearly be described with a rephrasing of NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s comment—Trudeau doesn’t give a f–k about democracy. Fuddle duddle, Mr. Prime Minister!
–Shane Nestruck, Winnipeg

Aarggh … enough already! When will we stop idolizing this person and her quest for truth? Time to move on and solve the issues of the day—like climate change, getting a fair price for our resources, and providing adequate health care and education for our citizens. Has nobody in the press ever run a business—even a small one—and had to deal with a difficult and somewhat grey situation? The “truth” is a shady lady and one who comes in many disguises. Let’s ask the questions nobody thought to ask Wilson-Raybould. What due diligence did she actually do on the issue, and what pros and cons did she weigh in considering prosecution versus a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA)? Why would she want to destroy one of Canada’s, and the world’s, best design and construction companies instead of rehabilitating it? Why, months before, had she introduced the notion of a DPA into our justice system, joining so many other countries in doing so? As a completely new entrant into politics, with no experience in the trenches, she may well have been unprepared for the rough and tumble world that it is. No, Wilson-Raybould is not my hero, and not my ideal of someone searching for a new “truth.” She needs to buy a french fry stand and run it for a year.
—Gary Whittaker, Montreal

Is Canada’s retirement age too low?

In February, contributing editor Peter Shawn Taylor opined that Canada’s retirement age was too low, and the federal Liberals should not have cancelled a plan to move eligibility for retirement benefits to 67 years of age.

I am troubled by the opinion of Peter Shawn Taylor, but I must admit that I have been expecting his point of view for a long time. While it is true that modern science has extended life expectancy, it has not necessarily improved the quality of those extra years. I wonder how Mr. Taylor will feel when arthritis sets in before he reaches 60, and when pain becomes his most loyal friend? It is all too easy to blame the Boomers for the burden on the retirement system, but he fails to consider that the same Boomers have been the biggest contributors to that system, through decades of paid taxes and deductions. We put money in the CPP in trust, expecting it to be invested and preserved as the pension fund it was supposed to be. He can’t blame the Boomers for those funds having been squandered by successive governments. And when, well before he reaches 65, Mr. Taylor is restructured out of his career, forced to join the gig economy with no benefits, paid vacations, statutory holidays or sick leave, how will he feel then? I have been in the job market for nearly half a century, and honestly, I’m tired of working. I need a break, and I think I deserve one.
—Jean Ouellette, Saugeen Shores, Ont.

I retired at 65 and could have kept going till 70 without a problem. I am now approaching 89, and I have worked hard at living on a modest pension, making my own bread, not smoking or drinking, continuing to take walks and finding things of interest to keep doing. People like me keep looking for ways to stay alive.
—Gordon Garrett, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Articles like Peter Shawn Taylor’s always reveal the ignorance of those who sit to make a living. I gladly retired at 65 because I worked a physical job, as a welder/fabricator/machinist. Too many days in my last year of work I broke blood vessels in my hands picking up metal parts. All a writer damages in his job is his butt and his gut. A writer can work into his 90s if he wants to, but those of us who do physical labour need to retire at 65. The retirement date should be set according to the level of physical requirements for the job, not just a particular age.
—Jim Chapman, Creston, B.C.

Reflecting on terror

In March, after the tragic mosque killings in New Zealand, contributing editor Terry Glavin wrote about the south Pacific nation’s heartening response to horror.

Your article about New Zealand’s mosque killings missed one of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s main points (“ ‘I want a heart that will be full of love and care and mercy and will forgive lavishly,’ ” New Zealand, May 2019). Travelling in New Zealand on an extended vacation, we were in Christchurch the week before the attack, and over the next few weeks witnessed the country’s response, so everything you reported resonated deeply with us. What your article didn’t mention was the PM’s brilliant decision to make the alleged gunman an un-person—do not mention his name, do not acknowledge him and, most important, do not give him the notoriety he seeks. Obviously, Canada and Canadians are not bound by New Zealand law or its policies, but your reporter must have known about the PM’s stance, which has been adopted and respected by virtually everyone in New Zealand and by all its media, so it seems Maclean’s has consciously chosen to disregard her plea. I am profoundly disappointed that you have not mentioned, and might even have been deliberately challenging, a key part of New Zealand’s response to this horrific act. Ardern has shown us what real leadership looks like. Maclean’s has not.
—Greg and Bonnie Taylor, Brighton, Ont.

Balsillie’s back

In April, John Lorinc wrote about Jim Balsillie’s emergence from retirement to fight for Canada’s tech sector—and do battle with the Sidewalk Labs project that could dominate part of Toronto’s waterfront.

Jim Balsillie should be recognized for his efforts to keep Canada, simply put, Canadian (“The titan behind the curtain,” Ontario, May 2019). He is trying to save us from a giveaway of our tech sector. Our Prime Minister, who obviously knows very little about it, has fallen for all the hoopla the Americans can come up with to sell Sidewalk Labs. Ottawa’s mantra seems to be, and always has been, to attract foreign investors with all sorts of “perks,” much to the loss of Canadian entrepreneurs. I hope Balsillie succeeds in this campaign.
—Del Horn, Nanaimo, B.C.

These letters appear in print in the June 2019 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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