On a cold winter day, fortified with a bowl of popcorn and tasty beverage, I nestled into an armchair and prepared to watch the clowns and verbal acrobats performing under the circus big top.
With remote control in hand, I flipped between two channels, each of which was televising judicial committees charged with investigating allegations of political wrongdoing.
I know you are probably thinking I should get a life, and you are probably right. But the ghost of the philosopher Plato was whispering in my ear: “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”
On one channel, a parliamentary committee was hearing testimony from Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding the alleged pressure and veiled threats she faced as attorney general by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Liberal caucus members and the Clerk of the Privy Council.
On the other channel was a congressional committee hearing testimony from Michael Cohen, President Trump’s lawyer/fixer, speaking of his participation in the president’s alleged illegal acts.
The startling difference between the two hearings was the decorum, or lack thereof. The Canadian committee chair was solicitous of Wilson-Raybould’s well-being, and throughout the process kept asking her if she needed to take a break.
The American committee chair started the hearing by telling Cohen if he lied to the committee that he, the chair, would personally nail him to the cross. Ouch!
It really showcased the presumptive image of pleasant and nice Canadians and arrogant bullish Americans. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all Canadians are pleasant and nice nor that all Americans are arrogant, bullying, but the conduct of the two entities during these meetings dramatically differed.
Amazingly, the Canadian committee does not require those giving testimony to be under oath with the penalty of perjury dangling over their heads, but rather relies on contempt of parliament charges as a cudgel. The Americans require people to be sworn in and be subject to severe penalties for perjury, as well as a penalty for lying to Congress.
Cohen read an opening statement maligning the president, calling him a liar, racist and con artist. Wilson-Reybound’s statement was professional and focused on her concerns about attempted political interference and the value of judicial independence.
Cohen declined to answer some questions citing confidentially due to ongoing investigations. Wilson-Raybould declined only due to solicitor-client privilege that the government would not waive. So much for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The Republican committee members did not question Cohen on the alleged activities of the president, but viciously attacked him personally, calling him a convicted liar, felon and alleging that his testimony was purely out of spite for the president not giving him a cushy position at the White House.
It appeared their job was to circle the wagons around the president rather than uphold the laws of their land.
The Canadian Liberal committee members’ only line of attack was to foolishly question Wilson-Raybould as to why she did not resign from cabinet when the alleged attempt at interference was occurring.
She responded that she was doing her job, which was to protect the independence of the director of public prosecutions and to prevent politicians from manipulating the judicial system for personal or political gain. And she did her job well.
In fact, she was so good that she was relieved from her duties as attorney general, making the veiled threat that her job was on the line if she didn’t submit to the will of government a reality.
At the Canadian hearing, no one is accused of being untruthful; they just have “conflicting perspectives” on what was said. However, it is hard to take at face value anything that is said when the committee chair and some of the committee members exhibit their close “how’s the wife and kids” relationship with the person testifying.
What these hearings had in common were allegations of wrongdoing by their respective country’s leader. What differed is the American system failed dismally when Republican representatives refused to provide oversight on their leader fearing personal political repercussions if they did their elected duty.
In the Canadian system, we hold out hope that strong Liberals will be prepared to stand up to their party leader when the need arises and bear the consequences of their action.
What came out of all this was a feeling that not all is lost in our country.
Wilson-Raybould left viewers with a sense that there is still some honesty and honour left in some that serve in government. It was reinforced when one of Trudeau’s most trusted ministers, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, subsequently resigned from cabinet, citing loss of confidence in the government because of the SNC-Lavalin borderline obstruction of justice debacle.
“I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations,” Philpott stated. “There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Both women gave up high-profile positions, and possibly damaged their careers, to do what was right rather than bow to political expediency.
With all this strength and conviction, women still have a harder time rising to the pinnacle of party politics, partly because of the “old boys” mentality and the backroom boys found in every political party.
Maybe it is time for the major political parties to get rid of the old backroom boys and give some of these women a chance to lead.
One only needs to be reminded of the challenges and successes of the formidable Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom, to know women can do the job and will put the good of the country before the good of the party.
Yet we still have not had a woman leader at the federal level to elect as prime minister. (Kim Campbell doesn’t count, as her short stint as prime minister was through the end-of-term shuffling of party leadership rather than support in a general election.)
All of this is happening because the federal government was lobbied to save a mega corporation from standing trial in a criminal court on corruption charges, because if convicted, the corporation would be unable continue to milk the public purse through federal contracts.
And the ballyhoo about a loss of 9,000 jobs in Quebec pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of oil patch jobs lost in Western Canada and the possibility of more job losses to come because of the carbon tax initiative.
So my response to the philosopher quoted above is: Too late Plato, I already am.