David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Thoughts on the SNC-Lavalin Scandal

Brandon Sun, March 25, 2019 – David McConkey

So we have a big Canadian political scandal, eh? We turn our eyes from the Trump show in the States to watch our home-grown “l’affaire SNC-Lavalin.” And whether the uproar is a temporary blip or if it brings down the Trudeau government this fall, I note three observations.


Where else in the world would a major scandal erupt because government officials did not talk to one another nicely enough? The scandal is “a very Canadian affair,” Jonathan Kay writes in the online magazine, Quillette. “It involves no sex, violence or even allegations of personal enrichment.”

But, like all scandals, it does involve hypocrisy. CBC opinion columnist Neil Macdonald remembers former prime minister John Turner calling parliamentary debate “Bullshit Theatre.” Among today’s examples of BS, Macdonald identifies the opposition lauding of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Not so long ago, the Conservatives and the NDP castigated Wilson-Raybould for incompetence and for “spewing lies,” demanding that the prime minister fire her!
The corrupt heart of the scandal is the famous Canadian construction company many of us had never heard of. The current malfeasance of the Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin is bribing and cozying up to the former Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. And SNC-Lavalin has had unethical dealings in other countries and at the federal, provincial and municipal level in Canada. SNC-Lavalin has made shady contributions to the Parti Québécois and to the Liberal and Conservative parties. Wow! Good we have heard of the company now.  


“Why mega-project construction so often breeds corruption” is the theme of a recent article in the Canadian online magazine, The Tyee. The headline is Redeemable? SNC-Lavalin’s Criminal Record. In many countries, big projects are too often presented to the public with budget estimates that are no better than a pack of lies. By the time the project is revealed to be way over budget, it is too late. A project can become a pile of cash providing an opening for overpayments, corruption and organized crime. Then the project or company is too big to fail, the executives too important to jail, and the whole thing too big to question.

Remember the Olympic stadium in Montreal? In the 1970s it was sold to the people as a “modest” proposal. Mayor Jean Drapeau promised that the project could “no more run a deficit than a man can have a baby.” The stadium has been plagued  since with structural problems. The supposedly impossible debt? It took 30 years to pay off. Oh, quelle surprise! The Olympic stadium was built by SNC-Lavalin.

Expensive projects continue to roll out. The only difference today: our gender-sensitive environment would spawn a less politically incorrect analogy than a man having a baby!


In his Quillette article, Kay points out the “perils of woke governance.” What happened to darken Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways”?

Many Canadians were delighted with Trudeau’s diverse and female-friendly cabinet when he first took office. Cabinets are mainly about representation: provinces, cities, regions and other groups get a place at the table. I chuckled when the question of “merit” was suddenly raised when Trudeau included more women. That was funny because merit was not an issue with the representative – and mainly male – cabinets of earlier governments.

And the Trudeau charm seemed to win both ways. His first cabinet was praised not only as more representative, but also as more talented and accomplished than previous Harper cabinets.

Perhaps Trudeau’s big weakness is showing off how woke he is. One example is his rigid 50% rule for cabinet composition of men and women. His seemingly casual “because it’s 2015” reference turns out to have been carefully rehearsed. It gets worse. Trudeau says he believes women. Until he doesn’t: like a female cabinet member challenging him or a woman at a music festival alleging groping. As the flashy champion of woke governance, Trudeau can too easily slip from hip to hypocrite, from calming to cloying.

I expect that one of the Conservative’s best lines in the upcoming election will be branding Trudeau as a “fake feminist.”

And speaking of elections, remember that we citizens send the politicians to Ottawa. Our choices determine if parliamentary debate rises above BS. Our choices determine the quality of people who make up the House chamber, committees and cabinet.

Our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, was once criticized for the makeup of his cabinet. Macdonald had a simple retort: “Give me better wood and I will make you a better cabinet.”

* * * *
See also: 

Sometimes PMs, Presidents Can Make All The Difference

Election Reflection: Niqabs, Religion, and Social Media

Why Such Slow Action on Climate Change?

How Do You Be a Good Person?

Politically Incorrect Issues This Election



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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