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Mr. Trudeau Beware, The Arrogance of Power Can Befall Any Government!

Ujjal Dosanjh on Friday, 31 March 2017

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 caring and empathetic ones that might listen more and dictate less. In its dying days, if not long before then, the Harper government had become a victim or had made Canadians victims of such arrogance.     

Trudeau government came in on such a promise of being a breath of fresh air. Nationally and internationally, on many fronts, it hasn't disappointed.  But lately it feels that, if not already there, it may be on its way to suffering from a fair degree of arrogance. The most recent I-don't-have-to -answer flash came in the Prime Minister's refusal to answer the question about cronyism in his friend Tom Pitfield's company , Data Science, being hired by the Liberal Party to manage its data base. Pitfield's spouse Anna Gainey is the president of the Liberal Party and she had recused herself from the decisions regarding Data Science. And at any rate, 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 the political parties and governments, the Pitfield arrangement doesn't pass the smell test. Trudeau needed to respond to the question head on; being the prime minister and leader of the Party he is accountable for the actions of both.

It had started with the government's much touted and 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 ethics of providing access for money. It started with the Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould holding a by invitation only reception at a private Toronto law firm. It proceeded despite many, including the writer, publicly urging her and the prime minister to cancel it. Then the "cash for access" spiralled into a serious headache for the government while its arrogance, 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 subsequently did confess to being wrong for insisting that the discussion of the "cash for access" didn't belong in the House.

The Prime Minister's ill advised trip to the Aga Khan's island was another example of the PMO's wilful blindness to the reality and perception of impropriety. The recent foreign trips of the Liberal Parliamentary Secretaries, MPs Kamal Khera to Tanzania financed by World Vision Canada and Arif Virani to the United Kingdom financed by the Trudeau Foundation, have violated the Prime Ministers Guidelines for the 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 Elbow-gate 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 it recently began the latest attempt to change the rules by which the House of Commons, the Peoples' House, governs itself shows the government didn't learn anything from the circumstances that gave us the infamous Elbow-gate. The government handed a discussion paper of some possible changes to the Procedure and House Affairs committee with a Liberal majority to make recommendations. The details of the discussion paper are irrelevant in so far as the arrogance of it all may be concerned. And the arrogance, say all the opposition parties, lies in the government trying to do this by majority rather than by consensus; since the confederation--more recently under Jean Chretien, the House rules have always been changed by consensus, they say.

One's mind goes back to the arrogant shenanigans such as the 'Fair' Elections Act of the Harper era. 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 fair degree of wilful blindness and tone deafness in the aforementioned and several other moves of the Trudeau government.

Carelessness, wilful blindness and certain tone deafness are the precursors and hallmarks of 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.   

Ujjal Dosanjh is a former NDP premier of British Columbia and a former federal Liberal health minister. He represented Vancouver-Kensington in the B.C. legislature from 1991 to 2001 and represented Vancouver South in Parliament from 2004 to 2011. He's also the author of Journey Afer Midnight: India, Canada, and the Road Beyond. This column initially appeared on his blog.






Ujjal Dosanjh