Op-Ed: Are Some National Interests More Equal Than Others?


        Justin Trudeau has landed himself in a major political scandal that has crushed his “sunny ways” brand and has left Canadians upset over his failure to live up to his election promise of doing politics differently: with honesty and transparency.

        Of course, I am referring to none other than the SNC Lavalin scandal, which has not only damaged his “sunny ways” brand, but has also put his feminist brand into question, with the resignations of two high-profile female cabinet ministers – former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and former President of the Treasury Board, Jane Philpott.

        But what is Trudeau’s biggest failing? Well, the apparent answer is fairly easy to call out when it comes to the SNC matter: Trudeau and his government attempted to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavalin, when then Attorney General Wilson-Raybould chose to follow through with criminal trial proceedings, rather than granting a Deferred Prosecution Agreement; something for which Trudeau says he was pushing in an attempt to act in favour of national economic interests and save 9,000 jobs.

        However, when Trudeau says this, he is most likely assuming that Canadians are unaware of the fact that Wilson-Raybould was never supposed to consider how many jobs could be lost, because “prosecutors are forbidden to consider the ‘national economic interest’ under a Criminal Code provision passed by Trudeau’s own government.” Essentially, he’s managed to politicize a process which is supposed to be, and must always be, independent and free from all forms of interference.

        Unfortunately, this government needlessly plans to over-politicize yet another process, i.e. our pipeline approval process.  There is already so much uncertainty surrounding the Trans-Mountain pipeline which the government had purchased from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018. Notably, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned Ottawa’s approval of the expansion, “citing a need for more consultation with First Nations and a review of the impacts of tanker traffic”, leaving Alberta extremely concerned about how they’ll ever get refined oil to market in a timely way, and eliminate the deep discount in the pricing of Canadian oil, which has severely hurt the economy of that province and resulted in severe job losses.

        With the proposed Bill C-69, our pipeline approval process will now be filled with even more uncertainty. It will give the federal cabinet a veto over all pipeline projects so that they can have the last word, and act in favor of whatever they would choose to define as the “public interest.” This bill will completely discourage companies from building pipelines in Canada, as they would have to worry about whether the cabinet will act in favor of “public interests” or political ones, on top of having to spend millions of dollars on the approvals process. As well, they would fear that all it would take is one province, in this case British Colombia, to derail the entire process by claiming to be concerned about environmental harm. BC’s hypocrisy became even more evident because they actually supported the development of the liquified natural gas industry, which also has a significant impact on the environment.

        When it comes to the Trans-Mountain pipeline, clearly, Trudeau’s government failed to exercise their own federal jurisdictional rights by not standing up to BC’s court challenge to block the building of the pipeline on the ground of environmental harm. If the feds truly want to demonstrate that they are as concerned about the tens of thousands of lost jobs in Alberta as they are about the 9,000 SNC jobs, they should not politicize the entire pipeline approval process any further.

        Instead, they should act with firmness, and invoke the notwithstanding clause to remove all hurdles against building the Trans-Mountain pipeline. The notwithstanding clause is a constitutional tool which is there to be used with great care in times of national emergency. Not making use of it right now would be a national shame, and a missed opportunity. Considering that Canada is still very much a resources-based economy, the feds would in fact be acting not just in Alberta’s interests, but that of all of Canada.