Friday 8 March 2019

The Laurentian Elite

Jen Gerson nails Trudeau's problem, and Canada's problem, in the New York Times.
Mr. Trudeau came to power in 2015 on the promise of a new, revitalized Liberal Party, removed from the stale old boys’ club of yore. The party, though it imagines itself as representing the quintessential ideals of Canadiana, has a long track record of corruption and chicanery, particularly in Quebec.
With an electoral base in the country’s most heavily populated regions, like Quebec, the Liberals have enjoyed many decades in power. It is not without merit that they are referred to, derisively, as Canada’s Natural Governing Party.
Power brings with it certain habits. This is true everywhere, but in a democratic country with a population the size of California spread across a gigantic landmass, influence runs in a geographic network that we describe in shorthand as the Laurentian Elite, after the St. Lawrence River that runs through eastern Canada. Mr. Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is very much a creature of this elite.
And so is SNC-Lavalin. Not just any company gets its calls taken by the prime minister’s office. Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a crown jewel in the Quebec corporate firmament. The company’s lobbyists have long ties in both Conservative and Liberal governments. Its lawyers include a former Supreme Court justice. A retired senior federal official is on its board. One of its corporate directors also sits on the board of the Trudeau Foundation. Quebec’s public pension funds own about 20 percent of SNC-Lavalin’s shares.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was the first First Nations person to be appointed justice minister. She is a member of Parliament from Vancouver, British Columbia, to boot. By virtue of this background, she is not someone who has been historically well represented in the cozy corridors of Canadian power. Why should she care about SNC-Lavalin? Why would she stake her independence and her reputation on the company’s survival?

It’s no coincidence that she was replaced at the justice ministry by David Lametti, a member of Parliament from Montreal who even now has not ruled out saving SNC-Lavalin with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. The rule of law is a very grand Canadian virtue until, it seems, it proves to be a barrier to Liberal electoral prospects in Quebec. It is a small country, after all.
Three decades ago, Preston Manning campaigned against a Canada that looks like this. Canada still looks like this.

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