The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Putting the “WE” Contract in Context

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There are many things that can be said about the Trudeau government’s handling of a proposed contract to the well-known “WE” charity. Clearly it was an ill-advised move. And clearly the apparent failure to follow standard protocols has opened the door to accusations of real or perceived conflict of interest. But the current media and opposition uproar over this debacle is also clearly out of proportion to the alleged crime.

Context is as important in politics as it is in life. Seen in the context of Canadian conflict of interest scandals, this is a minnow in a sea of sharks. Yet the media appear to have short memories. Perhaps the need to sell papers in the middle of summer, with no other crisis on the horizon except the endless pandemic reporting, has played a part. Perhaps the non-event that is the Conservative leadership race has made them desperate for other stories to tell. Whatever the reason, Canadians who are actually following this story, (and there must be some, since Justin Trudeau’s high standings in public opinion due to his competent handling of the pandemic have now fallen more than five percentage points) are being led to believe that this is a scandal of major import, when it clearly is not.

Even more egregious is the growing media tendency to portray this incident as one of a long line of Liberal conflict of interest scandals, typical of the party whenever it is in power. Perhaps the most outrageous of these attempts to re-write history is one by Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, who not only advanced this problematic argument, but then went on to claim that this was something Conservatives almost never do.[1] Ibbitson is a columnist, not a reporter, and entitled to his views. He may or may not be right in concluding that when Liberals stray into this minefield they believe they are “acting in the best interests of the country.” But he is clearly wrong to claim that “for the most part, (with the exception of certain senators), Conservatives don’t land in this kind of trouble.”  Apparently Mr. Ibbitson could use a fact-checker.

Here are some prominent Conservative names associated with recent conflict of interest scandals (and in some cases criminal activities) related to personal benefit and misuse of public funds: Andre Bisonnette, Sinclair Stevens, Roch LaSalle and Suzanne Blais-Grenier (Mulroney cabinet ministers), Michel Gravel, Michel Cote and Richard Grise (Mulroney MPs.) Then there was Andree Champagne, Brian Mulroney’s cabinet minister for Youth, who wrote a letter suggesting government funding programs should be used to recruit young Canadians to the Tory party.[2] Not to be outdone, Mulroney backbencher Marcel Tremblay wrote to Conservative supporters in Quebec suggesting that $1 billion in untendered government contracts would be issued to firms making contributions to the party.  Although Mr Mulroney was already out of office when the Airbus scandal unfolded, it is difficult to believe that Mr Ibbitson failed to remember the many mysterious brown envelopes of cash the former prime minister was obliged to explain.

The numbers speak for themselves. In seven years Mr. Mulroney saw a total of eleven cabinet ministers resign in disgrace over conflict of interest charges and/or corruption. By contrast, in fifteen years in power the (Pierre) Trudeau Liberals saw four cabinet ministers resign under a cloud, none for accusations of conflict of interest or personal gain. In fact, Mr Mulroney’s dubious record was only equalled or exceeded by that of another Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker. Then there is the legendary Pacific Scandal (involving bribes to numerous cabinet ministers), a conflict of interest debacle that toppled the government of our first  Conservative prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.   

Clearly Liberals do not have a monopoly on conflicts of interest. Would Canadians prefer them to result from a belief in the best interests of the country, or greed and self interest?         

[1] John Ibbiston. ‘Scandals Can’t Shake the Liberals’ Sense of Entitlement”. Globe and Mail. July 11, 2020

[2] For more detail on individual cases, see for example:;;