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Sunday, August 25, 2019

SNC-Lavalin scandal indicative of corporate culture, politics

Bribery. Corruption. Words now equally as applicable to the federal government as they are to SNC-Lavalin (and most other large corporations that make a business of lobbying weak politicians).

Trudeau is under scrutiny now for allegations the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould, at the time justice minister and attorney general, to essentially drop charges against SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based engineering and construction firm.

Equally troubling, the way to circumvent the criminal charges related to bribery of government officials in Libya – and not Lavalin’s first rodeo – was a so-called “remediation agreement” inserted under the radar as part of the 2018 budget omnibus bill. The new option would see a company pay fines to compensate for any wrongdoings, without admitting to such wrongdoings, facing a trial or legal convictions.

The company seems to have spent a few years lobbying for the deferred prosecution option to be included in the Criminal Code. The efforts paid off. Surely because of the inherent value of the legal option, not because it donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberals over the years, including more than $100,000 it later admitted was illegal and the party had to return.

Of course, the fact the company is based in Quebec and the fates of thousands of employees would be up in the air if it were forced to shut down because of a conviction didn’t come into play, either. Particularly as it’s an election year.

The growing scandal emerged after Wilson-Raybould was demoted in a cabinet shuffle, with speculation arising that was the result of her refusal to a soft-ball treatment of Lavalin despite pressure from the PMO. This week, she resigned from cabinet entirely and retained the services of a former Supreme Court judge.

Something is brewing, and that something isn’t anything good.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is commonplace; corporate greed, intense lobbying, politicians for sale and zero accountability – it’s a combination we’ve seen many times. Successive politicians campaign on cleaning up the past, closing loopholes and governing differently. In the end, they all disappoint, and then the system disappoints us even more by failing to jail or even punish them remotely in line with the crimes they’ve committed.

While the details of the SNC-Lavalin issue have yet to be known, we have a good idea where this leads. And we can be pretty sure, no matter how many mea culpas may surface, that there will be no substantial changes made to protect the public against unethical, illegal corporate actions or the self-interested politicians who back them.

We need only look at the United States to see a system corrupted by large donors, lobbyists and groups attempting to bypass the intent of democratic principles.

The goal of such politicians is to avoid being indicted for their offenses and to fool enough of the electorate in order to stay in power at least long enough to collect a pension and latch on to the public teat indefinitely, ideally double-dipping with a patronage appointment. Better still if there’s corporate money continuing to line their pockets, shifting from campaign donations to plum board appointments or lobbying gigs that skirt laughingly inadequate regulations – ethics being only a suggestion.

A harsh outlook on our political system? Perhaps, but a certain skepticism – a great deal of it, actually – is what’s needed rather than the apathy and inattentiveness politicians and bureaucrats count on to let them get away with poor governance and equally poor conduct.

Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

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