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Opinion

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.

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