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Trudeau Runs The Risk Of Leaving A Legacy Defined By Arrogance

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With the passage of time, arrogance tends to afflict many governments democratically elected by a population yearning to replace uncaring or autocratic regimes with more empathetic ones in the hope that they might listen more and dictate less. In its dying days, if not long before then, the Harper government had fallen victim to, and had made Canadians victims of, such arrogance.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, March 21, 2017. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The Trudeau government came in on a promise to be a breath of fresh air. Nationally and internationally, on many fronts, it hasn't disappointed. But lately it feels as though it may be on its way to becoming a casualty of arrogance, if it already hasn't. The Liberals' most recent I-don't-have-to-answer flashpoint came in the prime minister's refusal to answer a question about his party's dealings with Data Science, a company owned by his friend Tom Pitfield, which the Liberal Party had hired to manage its voter database. Pitfield's spouse, Anna Gainey, is the president of the Liberal Party (she had recused herself from any decisions regarding Data Science).

To be fair, political parties are not subject to the rigorous regime of conflict-of-interest and ethics rules that govern the government. There may not have been anything untoward or improper in the Pitfield case. But for a public legitimately hungering for more transparency from their political parties and governments, the Pitfield arrangement doesn't pass the sniff test. Trudeau should have responded to the question head on -- being the prime minister and leader of the party, he is accountable for the actions of both.

It all started with the government's convoluted effort at electoral reform. For many months before the effort came to an ignominious demise, the government's point person, minister Maryam Monsef, lectured and belittled many that raised questions about the government's plans or the honesty of its intentions.


The "cash for access" scandal was of the prime minister's own making. The practice violated his own directions to his ministers on conflict of interest and the ethics of providing access for money. It started with Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould holding an invitation-only reception at a private Toronto law firm.

It proceeded despite many, including this writer, publicly urging her and the prime minister to cancel it. Then the "cash for access" debacle spiraled into a serious headache for the government while its arrogance -- and more charitably speaking, its tone deafness -- was on full display day after day in the government House Leader Bardish Chagger's indefensible defence of the government's refusal to change course. (Although she did subsequently confess to being wrong about insisting that the discussion of "cash for access" didn't belong in the House.)

The government doesn't seem to be learning anything from its many mistakes.

The prime minister's ill-advised trip to the Aga Khan's island was another example of the PMO's willful blindness to the reality and perception of impropriety. The recent foreign trips of the Liberal Parliamentary Secretary MP Kamal Khera -- to Tanzania, financed by World Vision Canada and Arif Virani; and to the United Kingdom, financed by the Trudeau Foundation -- have violated the prime minister's guidelines for parliamentarians paying outside groups paying for their travel. The government doesn't seem to be learning anything from its many mistakes.

There was the non-consensual -- unilateral -- attempt change the rules of debate in the House of Commons that culminated in the Elbowgate saga when a furious prime minister physically intervened to "hasten" a Commons vote. The government had to abandon that ill-advised course of action, but only after it was clear that the Opposition and the country detected (and rejected) its implicit arrogance and autocracy.

The way the government recently began the latest attempt to change the rules by which the House of Commons -- the Peoples' House -- governs itself shows it didn't learn anything from the circumstances that gave us the infamous Elbowgate. The government handed a discussion paper of some possible changes to the procedure and House Affairs committee, with a Liberal majority, to make recommendations.

house of commons canada
(Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images)

The details of the discussion paper are irrelevant insofar as the arrogance of it all may be concerned. And the arrogance, say opposition parties, lies in the government trying to change procedure by majority rather than by consensus; since the confederation -- and more recently, under Jean Chretien -- the House rules have always been changed by consensus, they say.

One's mind goes back to arrogant Harper-era shenanigans such as the 'Fair' Elections Act. That was arrogance fuelled by the "we-know-better" attitude of the Harper regime, particularly in its later years. If one is not misreading its actions or omissions, there seems to be a similar degree of willful blindness and tone deafness in the aforementioned moves of the Trudeau government.

Carelessness, willful blindness and tone deafness are the precursors and hallmarks of the arrogance of power; those perched atop the power pyramid start feeling unbound and untouchable by rules that they once pledged to cherish. That is arrogance, precisely. If the prime minister is not careful, he and his government are in danger of arrogance engulfing and defining them.

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