Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction — to borrow a mangled phrase from a dear departed Republican primary candidate — that the Liberal Party has brought transparency to the Canadian government. The Liberal Party has not brought transparency to the Canadian government.
We have known this for some time. Justin Trudeau's star cabinet ministers have made fatuous non-answers the unofficial lullaby of most press conferences and question periods.
Want to know why the Liberals abandoned electoral reform? Well, here are some platitudes about the value of diverse voices in our democracy. How closely will the government be involved in its supposedly arms-length multibillion-dollar infrastructure bank? Uh … can I interest you in some banal remarks about building up the middle class? How about quotes about investing in Canadians' future?
Meeting with the ethics commissioner
For the most part, the prime minister has left the rather humiliating exercise in partisan servitude to his rookie cabinet ministers, but this week, during an appearance in question period, he took up the cause himself.
The question posed to Trudeau in the House Wednesday was how many times he has met with the ethics commissioner to talk about his trip to the Aga Khan's private island. Trudeau was asked the question 18 times — and each time he regurgitated the same non-answer:
"Mr. Speaker, as you know, I am always pleased to work with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner to answer any questions she may have."
Yes, but how many times have you met with her?
"Mr. Speaker, as I have always said, I am very pleased to meet with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner and work with her to answer any questions she may have on this subject or any other."
So, more than two, or…?
"Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to work with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner to answer any questions she may have. That is what Canadians expect of the prime minister and that is exactly what I am doing."
Sorry, how many times?
"Mr. Speaker, Canadians expect the prime minister to work with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner any time she has questions, and that is exactly what I have been doing."
Now, it's fair to say the question itself was a rather frivolous one — it really doesn't matter how many times the prime minister has met with the ethics commissioner — and it probably wasn't worth the opposition's time to ask the question after the third failed attempt to get an answer.
But the onus here isn't really on the opposition. Yes, the Harper Conservatives parroted the same sort of brainless, robotic responses when they controlled the House, and they were rightfully excoriated for it at the time. But the Liberals campaigned on a promise to do things differently. So far, they're governing straight from the Tories' handbook.
Trudeau's principal secretary, Gerald Butts, chimed in on the exercise Wednesday, lambasting members for asking a question he believed unworthy of the prime minister:
"MPs from all over Canada finally get a chance to ask the Prime Minister a question. They all ask about his Xmas vacation. It's May," he tweeted, proving it is possible to both defend and be sanctimonious about empty pre-programmed answers.
MPs from all over Canada finally get a chance to ask the Prime Minister a question. They all ask about his Xmas vacation. It's May.— @gmbutts
Evidence of the Liberals' failed promise of transparency is now available on a near-weekly basis. A day before Trudeau's question period demonstration, for example, the Foreign Affairs Department was asked why it spent close to $1,900 on 14 cardboard cutouts of Justin Trudeau. The response? The cutouts offered a way of "re-engaging with the world to champion the values that Canadians hold dear."
The previous week, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was repeatedly asked why he falsely claimed himself the "architect" of Operation Medusa in Afghanistan.
"I in no way intended to diminish the great work that our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces have done, and their superiors, and I am truly sorry for it," Sajjan said.
But why did he exaggerate his service record in the first place?
"Mr. Speaker, I am not here to talk about my service record. I am here to apologize for my mistake and to be able to learn from it."
Hasn't the minister lost all credibility?
"Mr. Speaker, my focus is always going to be to continue to serve the Canadian Armed Forces, the men and women who serve. I will always do that."
Did the prime minister even talk to him about it?
"I am not here to make excuses. I am here to acknowledge my mistake, to be able to learn from it so I can continue to serve."
Failing to address legitimate questions posed of government officials is bad; failing to address legitimate questions while simultaneously claiming to deliver on #RealChange and #PositivePolitics is worse. Until now, Trudeau has mostly left the embarrassing obfuscation to his ministers. His participation suggests the promise of government transparency has been fully extinguished, from top of government to bottom.
So, exactly when did the Liberals decide to abandon their pledge of openness and transparency?
Instead of waiting for an answer, allow me: "This government is deeply committed to delivering on its promise to all Canadians."
Yes, but when …?
"This government will deliver on all of its promises. Especially to the middle class, and those working hard to join it."