Paradise Papers, Morneau mess weighing heavily on the government

No Comments 13 December 2017

At the end of the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to stop this Conservative storyline in its tracks. And he may have to sacrifice a few friends along the way.


First published on Monday, November 13, 2017 in The HIll Times.

OTTAWA—The Paradise Papers may just mean Paradise Lost in Canada and around the world.

They are generating tax reverberations in capitals around the world about the extent to which the super-rich legally avoid taxes while we ordinary schmucks just can’t.

The names bedazzle, from queens, to prime ministers to rock stars to senior presidential advisers. The latest information shows how even tax officials assist in mapping out the complex rules that permit companies like Apple to park billions in profits by way of offshore tax-free accounts.

Most Canadians don’t follow the details of tax reform, and the complexity of financial peregrinations outlined in the Paradise document dump, would normally leave most of us with a mathematical hangover.

But the timing of the global investigative journalistic exposé, on the heels of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s painful tax troubles and personal financial revelations, made a bad story worse.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never claimed to be ordinary folk. But his political messaging has been sharply focussed on support for the middle class, and a commitment to improve their financial situation.

But the mid-term summer tax messaging, characterizing farmers and doctors as cheats parking dead money in fake corporations, cut deeply into the viability of that message.

When Morneau neglected to include a villa in France in required financial declarations, the opposition rightfully pounced. Was he advised not to declare the villa, as it was an offshore asset, or did he simply have so much money that he had forgotten about it?

Either way, Morneau tried his best to extricate himself from the whole mess by selling everything and promising to forego five million dollars in personal revenue from sale of all shares that post-dated his time in office. That generous gesture reinforced the almost universal view that Morneau is a decent, honest person who got into politics for the right reasons.

But is also focussed attention on the fact that he could give away five million dollars and probably not miss it. Hence, the middle-class narrative that Team Trudeau was trying to promote suffered a second hit. The image of two trust fund babies managing the public purse created a huge opening for new Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and he pounced.

Within days, the Conservative Party was on television through paid advertising, reinforcing Scheer’s message that he is the only leader who truly represents the middle class. The ads contrasted him to a Liberal leadership that has no idea what is it like to struggle with making ends meet. Finance critic Pierre Poilievre piled in behind to reinforce the contrast between the aw-shucks Tories and the high-flying Grits.

Then came the Paradise Papers.

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Monday marks 150th anniversary of first meeting of Canadian parliamentarians

No Comments 06 December 2017

The real story of these 150 years is best expressed in how we govern ourselves.


First published on Monday, November 6, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of Canadian parliamentarians.

Celebrations include the usual fanfare, with a declaration in the House of Commons, and a commemorative plaque unveiling.

But the real story of these 150 years is best expressed in how we govern ourselves.

Americans live by the credo of exceptionalism. They (falsely) believe that the country of opportunity shaped by the American Revolution is unique in the world. Their Congressional Pledge of Allegiance is overarching, laying claim to one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In Canada, we would cringe at the notion of one nation. Our Parliament recognizes Quebec as a nation, stemming from the unique linguistic origins of one of our initial founding partners.

At last count, there are also 617 First Nations across the country, all party to the reconciliation discussions so high on agenda of the Liberal government.

The most common adverb in the Canadian vocabulary is ‘sorry’. It is an expression that defines us around the world. Along with our Scottish-purloined pronunciation of out and about (oot and aboot), the “sorry” status of Canadians is fodder for many late-night comedians.

This constant state of apologia is not accidental.

It stems from the origins of Parliament, when the founding fathers (and there were only fathers) created a Parliament based on the “Great Coalition” of two languages.

The stark difference between Canadians’ love for diversity and Americans’ belief in exceptionalism stems from very different political choices in the beginning.

Just last week, the Canadian government announced plans to increase its annual immigration level to one per cent.

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© 2017 Sheila Copps.