The Teflon Prime Minister gave us an act of contrition that was positively Biblical Thursday. Too bad it was the wrong chapter and verse.
In an unusual 8 a.m. Ottawa time press conference (you don’t usually make big statements when half the country is still asleep), Prime Minister Selfie tried to put an end to the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has plagued his government for weeks. I think it is fair to say he didn’t succeed.
He had flown back to Ottawa Tuesday, cancelling public events, to confer with advisors. Media reports indicated there would be a statement of contrition, or as most people would put it, an apology.
I wrote about repentance and forgiveness on Wednesday, and I expected there to be some of that in the statement. A sincere apology is one of the best ways to end a political crisis. An apology a month ago would have put the issue to rest. Issuing one late would be better than never.
However, instead of displaying a New Testament understanding of sin and repentance, Prime Minister Selfie instead took us back to the Old Testament, to the Book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden. In essence he said:” Don’t blame me, the woman made me do it.”
His former Attorney General is at fault he told us. He and his officials kept pressuring her on the file because they knew that the government could intervene in the court case in question up until the time there was a verdict. That the Attorney General had said her decision was final was irrelevant since changes still could be made. God didn’t buy it when Adam blamed Eve – will Canada buy this story?
To rephrase the situation, the man who bills himself as a feminist Prime Minister doesn’t understand that “no means no.” Despite the Attorney General saying her decision was final, he and his officials kept trying to get her to change her mind. Where was his much-vaunted respect for women in a situation where he wasn’t getting his own way?
If you haven’t heard them, the details of the scandal are public; I won’t repeat them here. You can find them easily enough online. Looking at it as a matter of policy, perhaps it shouldn’t be a scandal, though there are a number of unsavory allegations regarding SNC-Lavalin before the courts. Being seen to help them, even if politically astute, would tarnish this Prime Minister’s image. When image is apparently all you have, maintaining it is a priority.
The Prime Minister might have been better off avoiding questions after his statement. It is easy to sound good when talking about protecting jobs. It is easy to tell people you regret the breakdown in communications in your office that led to the scandal. It is especially easy when your previous job was as a drama teacher. You know how to sound sincere.
Answering reporters’ questions is where the Prime Minister sounded much less Prime Ministerial. The fawning media horde of 2015 now ask much harder questions. Among those was whether the Prime Minister felt he had something to apologize for.
He couldn’t give a direct answer of course, but the meaning was clear: No.
I don’t know what happened to the act of contrition that everyone expected. This was not a rephrasing of Psalm 51:17 (My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise). There was defiance, not apology. Is it possible he really doesn’t understand why it looks like he and his government are ethically challenged? Cabinet ministers in Canada rarely resign, and when they do, they don’t usually cite the Prime Minister’s lack of ethics as the reason. For that to happen twice in a month is unprecedented.
Our leaders are human and fallible, just as we all are. When they make mistakes, it isn’t the end of the world. We and they can learn and move on. But to learn from our mistakes we first must acknowledge them.
I didn’t hear that happen. I didn’t hear contrition, I heard defensiveness. That rarely produces positive long-term results.
At this point it appears the Prime Minister is hoping the story will be old news by the time Canadians vote in October. If he doesn’t change his approach to ethical issues it isn’t going to go away.