Opinion: Politicians exploiting the pandemic’s free pass to free spending

Pandemic spending free pass

The pandemic has given our politicians a joyride, a field day, a licence, a leash with no tug.

They can furrow their brows and proclaim stress all they want and point to the unprecedented challenge and the uncertain times and pledge we are all in this together. Right, right, right.

But the evidence lately would convict them on any charge of taking advantage of a system they run. Their system permits them these days to disburse money as an exercise with no consequence.

At our senior levels of government, this exercise has been weaponized to make them popular, because let’s face it, too few of us have too much money. Why would someone giving us money – our money, it should be noted – be anything other than all things wonderful? And who in public life would be so self-destructive in these circumstances to suggest the tap be twisted shut?

But the other side of the coin in this benevolent service has been self-service, including a grand cover for monkey business – like their preservation or manipulation. It has been their form of pandemic insurance.

In John Horgan’s case, it meant an election call no one really needed but he really wanted. Like napalm on the beach in that memorable Robert Duvall line from Apocalypse Now, it smelled of victory. The election was one part salvation, one part salivation.

In Justin Trudeau’s case, meanwhile, the pandemic meant liberty to perform a stunt to defy a rational investigation into an irrational scandal by threatening an election no one really needed (but his party might also have really wanted). His principal goal was to defuse the bomb that still lay with the lit fuse, the WE escapade. For the time being, they dodged an explosion.

Need we delve into the devil in the details?

The $912 million program proposal, since slayed, to pay young people to be volunteers and cycle the funds through an organization with prime ministerial familial conflicts galore had the odour of a bag of hockey gear on a sunny afternoon in a compact car.

The opposition sensed opportunism. It wanted to establish a Commons committee on “corruption” on the controversy. Trudeau, taking a page from his father’s propensity for political judo, said the threat of this committee was worthy of a confidence vote in the minority government and that, hey, if he lost, we’ll just have an election to settle it.

The move worked, and the opposition, or enough of it, settled down.

About the last thing the federal New Democrats want in this halcyon period of supporting Trudeau while feasting on a hefty leg of pork barrel is to evaporate electorally. This is as good as it gets for the federal NDP any time soon, and the difference between Burnaby’s Jagmeet Singh holding the leadership and Vancouver’s Adrian Dix seeking it.

Trudeau stared them down, won his confidence vote, and deferred the investigation of the WE mess for now, but not forever. For now seems good enough in this era.

Without the pandemic, Trudeau would be in a vice grip. The public health tragedy was the best thing that could happen to him, as it was with Horgan – an excuse to ignore the revenue line in the income statement and ignore even more the expense line in it. It has been an occasion to ride the coattails of science’s guidance to perform the political art of accelerating social engineering.

In Horgan’s case, he was able to apply for a four-year permit; in Trudeau’s, the longer he waits, the less happily his tale may end.

The Trudeau brand is a delicate flower. There will come a time, maybe not right away but eventually, when benevolence runs its course, when bills come due, when outcomes of expenditures are apparent, and we may wonder if what he did was really worth it.

Then, I suspect, he will disappear. He would have left on top before the last election, but because he does not want to leave on the bottom, he might not wish to wait for an election two years away. Generosity is easy in these shoes, vision not so.

What is worth wondering is whether Chrystia Freeland will really want to haul his baggage into a campaign. What she might have to overcome might make her want to return to journalism. Well, OK, I exaggerate. 

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

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