Home Page News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Advertising Subscribe Reuse & Permissions
Hill Times Events Hill Times Books Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now

The perils of political hypocrisy

By Tim Powers      

From electoral reform to Bombardier bailouts, the Liberals and Conservatives both stumbled on it last week.

In herself being hosted on vacation by a wealthy businessman, Rona Ambrose, leader of the official opposition Conservatives, has imposed political limitations on her party’s critique of the prime minister’s lifestyle. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

OTTAWA—Hypocrisy is alive and well in our body politic. Is it any wonder carnival-barking outsiders like Kevin O’Leary get so much attention? By simply purporting not to be a standard politician, you can come across as a winner.

In the past week we have seen some great displays of false moralizing: 1) the Liberals placing the blame on others for failing to deliver on electoral reform; 2) opposition members criticizing the government for investing in Bombardier while in the past having done the same, and; 3) the leader of the official opposition having to backpedal after chastising the prime minister for elite exclusive vacations.

It took some major chutzpah to argue as Newfoundland Liberal MP Nick Whalen did last week that, “I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re keeping our promise of not making a change if it doesn’t have the broad support of Canadians.” Whalen made those comments on a local CBC radio station in Newfoundland. He must have been the only Canadian who heard Justin Trudeau add a qualifier to his false promise that 2015 was going to be the last election fought under the first-past-the-post system. Whalen may have thought he was being a good soldier for the prime minister; instead he was throwing fuel on a fire.

Taxpayers’ cash has long been the fuel that has empowered Bombardier. Never mind the stripe of the government, Quebec’s aerospace darling has always been able to get cash from the party in power. Last week, the Trudeau Liberals announced they were giving $372.5-million in repayable loans to Bombardier.

The Conservatives crowed that the prime minister was making life easier for a corporation that did not need the money. Hmm. That was interesting, given that in 2008 Stephen Harper’s government gave Bombardier $350-million in loans. Anyone with that advanced search device called Google could make that startling discovery. Yet again: unnecessary hypocrisy like that makes all politicians look foolish.

All parties should simply embrace the Bombardier principle: when they ask, we just say yes; we know we will, and we won’t pretend we will be holier than thou in opposition.

The tour de force of contradiction last week was a discovery by iPolitics. While Rona Ambrose was tweeting criticism of Justin Trudeau taking an exclusive private vacation with the uber-wealthy, she was doing exactly the same thing.

Again, I could care less who both the prime minister and leader of the opposition vacation with. That is their business; it need not always be ours. But if you are going to go after your main opponent for doing something you’re doing, it is likely going to blow up in your face. Put more simply: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

As Ms. Ambrose stands among the shattered panes of glass, she is no doubt aware of her error. She apparently spoke about it at the weekly caucus meeting, obviously recognizing she now has imposed political limitations on her party’s critique of the prime minister’s lifestyle. That will gut her because she has been a strong performer for the Conservatives, which are now within spitting distance of the Liberals in many public opinion polls.

The thing with political hypocrisy is it can be crippling. It can take away some of your most effective political narratives, as in the case of the Conservatives on Trudeau’s private travels. Or it can dig the hole deeper, which is what Nick Whalen did when he suggested the Liberals are keeping their promise on electoral reform. Sometimes you need to take the time to reflect before reacting; by doing that, you can save yourself a ton of political grief.

Tim Powers is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data. He is a former adviser to Conservative political leaders.

The Hill Times

More in News

Poor issues management plaguing Trudeau’s team, say strategists

The public relations problems that plagued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent India trip are part of a pattern of poor issues management that politicos say will dog this government if it doesn’t change course quickly.…

Feds move to do full PS staff survey yearly, not every three years

A comprehensive examination of how public servants feel about their workplaces will now be done yearly, instead of every three years, a move welcomed by union representatives, who say there needs to be meaningful action…

Condemning China’s cheap steel Canada’s best defence against U.S. tariffs, say steel caucus MPs

The Liberals will have to address American fears that Canada is being used as an entry point for cheap Chinese steel flooding the United States market if the government wants the threat of tariffs gone…

Delayed Amazon-like federal procurement system projected to go live in 2019

An online platform intended to speed up and simplify federal procurement is almost two years behind schedule, but now has a planned launch in 2019 following $197-million promised in the latest budget. The funding identified…

Liberals under pressure from all sides to give Davie shipyard work, keep Quebec City seats in 2019

News|By Emily Haws
Quebec Parliamentarians of all stripes are pressuring the Liberal government to stem job losses by giving more work to the Davie shipyard near Quebec City, a potential battleground in the 2019 election. Opposition MPs say…

Unions cautiously optimistic about Treasury Board leading post-Phoenix fix, but worry about more delays

News|By Emily Haws
The two largest public service unions are applauding the decision in the 2018 federal budget to have the Treasury Board lead the search for a Phoenix pay system alternative, but caution the government can’t cut…

Upcoming gun bill ‘scaring the hell out of the Liberal caucus,’ and Trudeau’s response to Harvey’s concerns puts a chill on backbenchers, say Liberals

News|By Abbas Rana
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s angry response to a rural MP's concerns raised at a recent national caucus meeting on the Hill over the government's upcoming gun legislation did not go over well with some Liberal…

CPTPP is in the bag, but Liberals failing to execute on trade with Asia, say top Senator, trade analyst

The federal Liberal government hasn’t done enough to expand trade ties in Asia, say a top Trudeau-appointed Senator and a prominent Ottawa trade analyst, despite signing the CPTPP, an 11-country trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific…

Senators took a pass on votes nearly 200 times since election—a sign of ‘unconvincing’ speakers, says Sen. Cools

Yea, nay, or I won’t say: when it comes to voting in the Upper Chamber, Senators have collectively chosen to abstain from votes 190 times since the last election, about two-and-a-half times per vote. The…


We’re offering 15% off a year-long subscription to the hill times online content.