The reaction of Skeena-Bulkley Valley election candidates to the federal ethics commissioner’s finding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated ethics laws was swift.
Moments after the announcement, Taylor Bachrach, the NDP candidate and current Smithers Mayor posted on Facebook.
“I’m proud it was our party — and our MP in particular — that requested the commissioner’s investigation and held the government to account for its actions,” Bachrach said. “It’s a legacy, I will work hard to uphold.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s ethics watchdog declared Aug. 14
Mario Dion, the commissioner, concluded that Trudeau’s attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould on the matter contravened section 9 of the act, which prohibits public office holders from using their position to try to influence a decision that would improperly further the private interests of a third party.
“It’s deeply troubling and it shows in many ways that the prime minister is willing to overlook basic ethics and, in fact, Canadian law to help his well-connected friends and it shows there’s one set of rules for the corporations close to the prime minister and there’s another set of rules for ordinary Canadians and I don’t think that washes,” Bachrach said.
The Liberal candidate, former Fort St. James town councillor Dave Birdi, echoed Trudeau’s explanation that he was simply acting in the best interests of Canadian jobs.
“It’s the responsibility of any prime minister to stand up for people’s jobs and livelihoods across the country, while upholding the rule of law,” he said via email. “The prime minister accepted the ethics commissioner’s report and took full responsibility for everything that happened.
Conservative candidate Claire Rattée was in the middle of creating a video on the subject when she spoke with Black Press Media.
“I think it’s completely unsurprising,” she said. “When the news first came out six months ago that there may have been inappropriate pressure, my personal feeling was that absolutely there was. We have a prime minister that violated the Conflict of Interest Act, this is now the second time in just four years.
“I think what’s really troubling for Canadians is that 1. he’s continually lied to Canadians and that’s just not acceptable… but also when you look at their election platform in the previous federal election this was supposed to all [be] sunny ways and ‘we’re going to do politics differently’ and it seems to me that his idea of sunny ways is that he’s above the law and he can operate with immunity because he’s the prime minister.”
Rattée believes the development enhances her own chances.
“When you look at how frustrated people are in the north feeling under-represented, we’ve continually elected an MP under the NDP banner and we wonder why nothing gets done,” she said. “We need to elect someone who actually has a shot at being in government, of being in power, of being able to actually do something for our riding. I think that Nathan was a great MP, I think that he’s a great person, but when you run under the banner of a party that will never hold power, you’re very limited.”
However Bachrach says an argument of poor representation is invalid.
“This riding has been exceptionally well-represented for the last 15 years by a representative and a party that haven’t formed the government so I don’t think that argument holds any weight at all.”
Birdi also believes it does not change the local election landscape saying it’s time to put this issue behind and concentrate on the Liberal’s economic record. He cited statistics from April that showed creation of 106,500 new jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent, which, he said, is near a 40-year low.
“I am going to engage the electors on their ideas of building on this foundation for economic growth,” he said. “I am committed to working with the federal government to strengthen the middle class, create well-paying new jobs, and offer real help for families right here in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley region.”
Mike Sawyer, running for the Green Party, in addition to strongly condemning Trudeau’s actions, said, in his view, they could amount to criminal acts.
“The finding by federal ethics commissioner that the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act in the SNC-Lavalin scandal indicates that Trudeau may be guilty of obstruction of justice, a very serious criminal offence with penalties of imprisonment for up to 10 years.”
He said he found Trudeau’s actions to be contrary to principles of democracy.
“In a country where we profess to believe in good government and the rule of law, Trudeau’s action in the SNC-Lavalin are offensive, unacceptable and should be subject to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
“Politicians should not be above the law; to do otherwise makes a mockery of our legal institutions and undermines our democracy.”
Sawyer believes the finding could turn the tide of the election and have spin-off benefits for the Greens.
”I think it will seriously undermine the Liberal’s chances at forming the next government and increase the likelihood of a Conservative minority government,” he said. “The people who flee the liberals will likely go to the NDP or quite possibly the Greens.”
Jody Craven, the People’s Party of Canada candidate also thinks criminal prosecution should be pursued.
“Everyone knew he was guilty or was trying to cover it up — isn’t that a crime?”
Craven said going forward he hopes Trudeau is not given special treatment by any future investigations — criminal or otherwise — into his wrongdoings surrounding SNC-Lavalin.
“I honestly think him and … anyone who knew they were helping him try to influence Wilson-Raybould should be investigated to the full extent of the legal system… we have a Charter of Rights and they apply to every citizen. No one is above the law, not even Trudeau, and I think that’s what we need to remember in this situation and moving forward.”
Craven, a candidate in a relatively new party that formed just under a year ago, said what Canadians really want come October is a change from the status quo.
“If Maxime Bernier was leader of the Conservative Party we wouldn’t be having this conversation because it’d be no contest.
“We need someone in there that will work for the people and not for the one per cent-ers.”
Rod Taylor, candidate for and leader of the Christian Heritage Party, also condemned Trudeau.
“The PM, in a show of arrogant disdain for the serious conclusions of the Ethics Commissioner, refused to even apologize for the breach, while trying to appear honest and humble,” he said via email.
“PM Trudeau admitted that “some things happened that shouldn’t have happened” but clung to the tired excuse that what he did was motivated by his concern for Canadian jobs. That flimsy effort to avoid the heat and to avoid the consequences of his actions should have every Canadian riled up. In a country that claims to respect the “rule of law,” the PM cannot claim an exception.”
Taylor suggested the specific affair was a symptom of a culture of corruption in Canadian politics citing the prosecution of Normand Morin, a former SNC-Lavalin vice-president for an illegal election financing scheme that funnelled more than $117,000 into Liberal and Conservative coffers.
“The Liberals and their leftist friends in the NDP like to talk about “getting big money out of politics,” but this and other schemes show that what they really want is to put your money into their partisan campaigns,” he said. Wild spending now by the Liberals is just another effort to buy votes with your hard-earned tax dollars. After the 2015 election, taxpayers were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars into the party coffers of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP. The abuse of the system by the big parties—though not technically illegal—is certainly unethical. Members of CHP Canada and other smaller parties are forced, against their will, to contribute through their taxes to the big parties with which they disagree.
With files from Aman Parhar