Dark Clouds Over Ottawa; It’s Chilly at the Remai

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I suppose there’s little point in complaining about the weather, whether it’s the recent deep freeze in Saskatoon or the storm twisting over Ottawa. 

But I will anyway.

It was the coldest February I can remember, and I am sick to death of pulling on long underwear, heavy pants, two pairs of socks, my ugly (but very warm) hiking boots, three layers of shirts and sweaters, a puffy coat with a hood, scarf and gloves every damn time I go outside. I’ve reached the state of automatonia (not a word? Too bad! I’m grumpy, and I feel like making stuff up). 

One thing I will say is that Environment Canada has been spot on with their dreadful forecasts, although I suppose high-pressure systems do bring a degree of certainty with them. They’ve been depressingly perfect and as clear as new ice.

Which is more than I can say for our politicians. What the heck is going on, my sunny friends?

A couple of weeks ago, I weighed in on the SNC-Lavalin situation and the vagueness emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). I was hardly alone. Did we pressure then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, or did we direct her not to prosecute? Or did we just sort of suggest that trampling the rule of law would be a good idea? 

Finally, last week, she was able to speak on the case in front of the House of Commons justice committee. 

She said there was “a consistent and sustained effort by many people in the government” including the PMO, the privy council and the prime minister, “to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion” in her role as attorney general. She had in hand contemporaneous notes and other items of referral to back up her statement. 

 So . . . yes, we pressured her, then demoted her, then waited for her step down from cabinet. 

After all of that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he “completely disagrees” with her version of events. I want to see his contemporaneous notes. Now. 

Closer to home and in the same general vein, the rRemai mModern (that logo: really?) is in the news again. I was a little surprised at the hoohah. Things seemed to be going fairly smoothly. 

The gallery, you will recall, took endless shots when the city decided to build it (under a different mayor and council); more of the same during its endless construction; and even more ammunition was expended over its lofty goals, enormous operating budget and admission prices.

Everyone calmed down when the art gallery made the pages of myriad publications. It gave our little city in the middle of more or less nowhere a presence. We love it when people pay attention to YXE, and of course, rightly so. We’re beautiful.

Then the CEO, Gregory Burke, dropped the first bombshell; he’s leaving for Auckland, which undoubtedly has a better climate (see above) and, of course, New Zealand is his home. 

Then two members, at least, of the gallery board were informed that their services will no longer be required. The rest of the executives lined up to dash out the door after them.

And no one knows why. Well, except mayor and council. Except that the outgoing board members have suggested that political interference has occurred. 

I’m sure most of us realize that in most cases, personnel issues should not be aired in public. It also makes sense that repopulating the board occurred in camera; sharing people’s intentions and resumes would be uncool, to put it mildly.

However. This is a city-owned facility with a board that exists at arm’s-length, or so I understand it. This is an outrageously expensive facility with a reputation that extends outside our limited borders. Should there not be a bit more transparency than what we are getting? 

Phil Tank, the StarPhoenix man on the case, is as far as I know the only journalist in council chambers with a constant eye on our elected officials. 

“(Mayor Charlie) Clark declined an opportunity to deny outright that there had been political interference,” he wrote last week.

 “Clark said he was reluctant to answer questions due to the confidential process of volunteer board appointments. He walked away from reporters seeking further comment.”

If Clark’s body language is any indication, there’s a spectacular amount of tension over this situation. With respect, to both Clark and to the outgoing board members, I can’t speculate about what is going on. Anything said could be interpreted as me knowing something I don’t know and I certainly don’t want to impugn anyone’s reputation, even inadvertently or by example.

But taxpayers deserve more than this, if at all possible, and reporters (in our stead) do not deserve the mayor walking away from a scrum before any questions were answered. He did deny political interference, and issues around a municipal board pale in comparison with throwing out the rule of law; but questions remain.

Politicians occasionally dive behind doors claiming confidentiality when sometimes the truth would suffice. Is this such a case?

I fear that clear ice has been replaced with depositing fog in our cold-shouldered country, by those who promised us the sun.