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OPINION: A Canadian scandal that covers all the bases

Politics can be unforgiving. Politicians come and go. The sepia state does not.
Michael Atkins, president, Northern Ontario Business

Let's be clear. The SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal runs deep and is not limited to one event involving Muammar Gaddafi and Libya. As Chrystia Freeland, our foreign minister, is fond of saying, we are punching well above our weight on this one.

It's been a while since a scandal has covered so many bases. If you are an identity politics aficionado, this imbroglio covers women, Indigenous peoples, Québec sovereignty and Alberta outrage.

Depending on your perspective, the prime minister, in one fell swoop, has wrecked his feminist bona fides by firing a female cabinet minister for standing up to him, hobbled  his Indigenous reconciliation initiatives because she is also Aboriginal, and been disproportionately concerned about jobs in Québec, which means he obviously cares little for jobs in Alberta.

Much of this is a stretch but understandable given the prime minister's proclivity for announcing with regularity his immaculate conception (free from original sin). It turns out Justin is normal. He has a temper (a piker compared to Paul Martin); has poor people skills when he doesn't get his way, not unlike his ex-attorney general; seems highly motivated to get re-elected; and is prepared to do weaselly things if necessary (a rank amateur compared to Stephen Harper, who prorogued Parliament conveniently more than once).

The real problem with Justin is that he isn't authentic. That's why he is suffering so much.

Let's compare him to Donald Trump. Trump is a crook, a misogynist, a compulsive liar, intellectually lazy, uninterested in public policy, a bully and not very smart. He continues to be popular with 40 to 45 per cent of the American people.

Let's compare him to Doug Ford. Doug Ford got caught trying to put his unqualified friend in charge of the OPP because he wanted a big-screen TV in his van and someone to talk to when he travelled. When confronted with the obvious, he hid from Question Period for days, and when he came back he started screaming about the opposition playing politics with his decisions. Crazy, really, but I doubt he's paid any serious popularity price.

The reason is that just like Trump, Ford is authentic. He is who he is and doesn't pretend to be something else.

More concerning with this scandal is the behaviour of Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council. He's chippy and defensive. And what's this business about not wearing a wire? Too much Netflix?

In America, this is called the deep state. In Canada, let's call it the sepia state. Very interesting: the current top civil servant in the land is taking calls from the former top civil servant in the land (Kevin Lynch), who happens to be the chair of SNC-Lavalin. The appointment of Mr. Lynch on Jan. 1, 2018 was no doubt made with that call in mind, given Kevin brings no serious experience otherwise to chair a multibillion-dollar engineering company.

I met Mr. Lynch in the mid-’90s a couple of times (not alone) when the magazine industry was fighting an American attempt to dismantle our cultural laws protecting national magazines. I was on the road with John Tory, who was president of Rogers Media at the time. More arresting than Kevin Lynch was a call John took at the corner of Wellington and Metcalf. It was from Joe Clark. He was the newly installed leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, for the second time, and he was calling John to see if he could scare up some airline points so he could actually fly around the country. The party was broke and John had the best Conservative Rolodex.

Politics can be unforgiving. Politicians come and go. 

The sepia state does not.

My hunch is that the Liberals led by Michael Wernick are more worried what witnesses in any upcoming trial will have to say about who else is involved in the payoff trail than any job loss in Québec. Remember: where international Canadian companies go, so goes the federal government (Export Development Bank, etc.).

There's more here than meets the eye. If there isn't, this is the most incredibly incompetent, misguided, amateurish meltdown of a federal government in living memory.