Both the Calgary Sun, not generally seen as a real friend to the Liberals, and the Globe and Mail, which is much less antagonistic towards Justin Trudeau and his party, featured articles this week that warned him to avoid falling into the morass of perceived corruption that dogged Hillary Clinton through her disastrous election campaign. Mrs Clinton went into the campaign as an almost universally acknowledged “shoo-in” to become America’s first female president. It was her’s … not just her’s to lose, but her’s, period: it was her turn, it was a given … and then, in November 2016, it wasn’t.
The problem, Candice Malcolm says, in the Calgary Sun, was that “what really sunk her campaign — no, it wasn’t the Russians — was that allegations of political corruption followed her wherever she went … [and] … Then there was the Clinton Foundation, where Hillary and Bill Clinton seemed particularly shameless about how they raised money.” Tony Keller, writing in the Globe and Mail, adds that if he “were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I’d be carefully considering what made Ms. Clinton toxic for so many voters. A lot of it was about the economy. Much of it was out of her control. But some of it was her own handiwork. Exhibit A: Her fundraising, and that of the Clinton Foundation, the latter featuring foreign donors and vague but suspicious connections running from government to the foundation and back again.“
Mr Keller notes that “The amounts of cash involved are far smaller in Canada than in the United States because our political fundraising laws really are stricter than those down south. That’s been one of Mr. Trudeau’s defences and he’s not entirely wrong. But regardless of the amounts, the principles at stake are the same, as are the dangers for the Prime Minister. For a political leader, public trust is the oxygen of elected life. You can’t survive without it … [and] … A lot of U.S. voters came to believe Ms. Clinton represented corruption in politics. The charge was hugely overblown, and relative to Mr. Trump, who loudly celebrates his conflicts of interest, it was absurd. But it had something to it and it stuck.” Ms Malcolm then exposes a suspicious trail involving Zhang Bin, an advisor to the Chinese Communist government, and Chinese banker Shenglin Xian and large donations Prime Minister Trudeau’s foundation and the apparent link between “cash for access” and the approval of Mr Xian’s bank. She says that “Alongside wining-and-dining elite businessmen, Trudeau’s family charity, much like the Clinton’s, started wheeling-and-dealing in foreign donations … [and] … An exclusive report by Postmedia found foreign donations to the Trudeau foundation have grown ten-fold since Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party … [and] … In 2016, the Trudeau Foundation raised $535,000 from foreign contributors, compared to $196,000 from Canadians. (The Foundation says the majority of these foreign donations are from Canadians living abroad).“
Let me be very, very clear: I do not doubt Prime Minister Trudeau’s personal honesty; nor so I actually think he is smart enough, devious enough to manage a “cash for access” scheme. The “cash for access” scandal is, as Professor Tom Flanagan says, something that all parties, Conservatives, too, both nationally and provincially, have always done. Prime Minister Trudeau is, rightfully, being hammered not for schmoozing with the wealthy, but, rather, for his own person hypocrisy about the issue. But the Trudeau foundation is a bit different and a bit more dangerous. I think the Trudeau Foundation was set up, using $125 Million of Canadian public (taxpayers’) money “donated” by then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, as a mechanism to perpetuate a Liberal icon and to provide a sinecure for Justin Trudeau and, thereby, to help him shelter some of his substantial family wealth from zealous tax collectors; and he is rather like an employee … something akin to a Disneyland Princess who gets trotted out to pose with the paying customers. But the warnings from Candice Malcolm and Tony Keller are valid and Prime Minister Trudeau should pay heed. Americans forgave Donald Trump for his great wealth and tax evasion and a hundred other faults because he spoke to them about their own fears. They did not forgive Mrs Clinton because, I think, she talked at them, not with them, and she talked about people and issues that working class Americans thought had already received enough attention and even special treatment.
Justin Trudeau is perceived, already, as a pampered, privileged “trust fund kid” who, despite the rhetoric, doesn’t really understand middle class, much less working class Canadians. Prime Minister Trudeau won, in 2015, in large measure because Canadian were tired of Prime Minister Harper, and because he is genuinely “nice,” but not because Canadians think he is, in any way, “one of them.” He could lose, as Hillary Clinton lost, if Canadians decide that he is using his high office to feather his own already substantial nest with “dirty” foreign money while he sells out Canadians’ interests. It may be unfair but the media have this bit between their teeth and they are not likely to just let it go away.
The HUGE political risk is that Canadians will remember this …
… and remember why the Liberal brand has, so often, been tainted with scandal and corruption, and then begin to believe that Justin Trudeau and his team are made of the same stuff …
Don’t get me wrong. I do not like Prime Minister Trudeau; I think electing him, personally, and his Liberal government, was a mistake. I don’t think he or they are ready to lead Canada, but I want to see him defeated on policy grounds by a first rate team looks a lot like like this …
… a Conservative team that wins because it offers a better suite of policies in, literally dozens of areas ~ policies that resonate with and excite Canadians from coast to coast to coast, on farms, in towns, small and large, and in the suburbs and in our big cities, too. I want to see Prime Minister Trudeau tossed on to the political scrap heap, but for policy cause, not for this sort of thing.
He can and should stop the bleeding, quickly and completely, before it consumes him and his government. As Mr Keller says, “To avoid even the perception of conflict of interest, Mr. Trudeau can announce that the foundation will have no connection to him, his family or his government. That means no family or government appointees. Make it clear that the foundation’s work is entirely about the former PM’s legacy – and has no connection to the current PM.” If he doesn’t do that then parliament’s Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, may force his hand.
Prime Minister Trudeau has walked (or been led or even pushed) into a minefield, but there is a fairly safe, easy, open and honest way out … even if he must eat a little crow.