Tawdry kick off to an electoral campaign debate

di Joe Volpe del 26 August 2019

TORONTO - As Canadians we live in “our own little world” – oblivious to what is happening around us, indeed, to what we have ourselves done to define our own society. Who’s to blame?

Increasingly, it seems, both our political leadership (no distinction among parties) and reporting of what passes for “issues of interest to Canadians” seeps deeper into irrelevant quagmires. Maybe it is a politically motivated strategy of keeping the public “ignorant of the facts”.

We are about to enter a formal electoral period, with a first (arguably only) debate on the issues to take place a full six weeks before the election date itself. To what are we being asked to turn our attention?

Two for starters: (1) people’s views on what others think of non-heterosexual marriages, and (2) whether the public thinks the notorious SNC Lavalin-related debacle will influence the public’s electoral preferences.

Oh Please! It’s been 14 years since the debate on the “legalization” of gay-lesbian marriages and the attendant social-cultural-legal benefits that flow from both the Supreme Court decision and the resulting passage of the enabling legislation in the Parliament of Canada.

Was the debate “tough”? Should anyone expect di±erently in a Parliamentary context? Once the discussion is over, respect for democratic institutions demands we accept processes that led to the Law. Fourteen years ago, a pastor from the pulpit of a church in my riding intoned he would throw me o± the premises if I dared show my face given the way I voted.

I have grown to appreciate the acumen and oratory of Italy’s current prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte. He practises politics in a veritable cauldron of intrigue and issues on whose solutions depend regional, national and European economies and social attitudes. He is fond of saying, rather humbly, “issues matter, personalities are expendable”.

He comes from one of the most socially conservative regions of Italy. That region, Puglia, where I was born, saw the emergence of a political personality, Nikki Vendola, the first openly gay politician to seek o³ce, forty-four years ago. He was elected over and over again on the strength of his persuasive handling of issues, advocacy for the underprivileged and for solid economic management. He became Premier.

Think anyone from there cares what people say about one’s sexual orientation? Vendola is now married to a former page of the Canadian Parliament. If memory serves, the lad was present when the debate on marriage took place 14 years ago. As of two years ago, the two were living together in Montreal.

I was disappointed to see one of my former cabinet colleagues embroiled in a phoney, trumped-up debate about what one of his political rivals said in the House of Commons fourteen years ago. One supposes that the bright lights in the Party War Room – strategy central - deemed it crucial to electoral success that the issue of “ethics and morality” (of others) be the focus to sway voters.

Which brings us to the second issue: the handling of the SNC Lavalin scandal. Pollsters have been tripping head over heels to discern whether the public will be influenced by the Prime Minister’s handling of “the scandal” and the ethical/ legal issues it laid bare. Apparently not, is their finding.

The stock market and international ratings agencies have a different view. Shares in SNC Lavalin on Friday closed at $16.47 each – a fourteen year low - only 30% of their highest value in the 52-week period, when they closed as high as $54.14. Put di±erently, if you had invested $1,000.00, at that peak period, in SNC Lavalin, you are now a proud owner of only $300.00.

If you are the Government of Quebec (through the Caisse de Depots et Investissements) its biggest shareholder, you might be concerned.

The company has been battered by negative press, findings of bribery and corruption, debarment from World Bank infrastructure projects internationally, resignations and dismissals of Sta± and Board members whose attachment to ethical/ legal behaviour seems to have been superficial at best.

At its best during that 52-week period, SNC Lavalin had a market capitalization of $16.38 Billion. Wednesday, according to Bloomberg listings the “Market Cap” stood at $2.89 Billion, a mere 17.6% of its 52-week high.

The “Scandal” broke when it was made public that the company, facing conviction in Court on a series of charges, was also facing debarment from Federal infrastructure programs for ten years, if it did not get a “deferred prosecution agreement” – a “get out of jail” card.

A full court press was put on the Canadian government, and in particular on MPs, from Quebec, to essentially ignore the law and give SNC Lavalin “a free pass”. So far, the Government has not demonstrated great ability to reassure the Market that the company’s future in Canada is aglow with optimism.

A couple of Cabinet Ministers are roadkill as a result of the ethics debate that still prevails. Jobs may or may not be at stake.

Better to talk about what a 25-year old said 14 years ago while getting his feet wet in the House of Commons.

Poor us.

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