As I write this piece, the fate of Brexit is still in doubt. The current Prime Minister feels compelled to drag her country out of the European Union because of a referendum vote which produced a narrow victory for the “leavers”. The economic consequences of Britain making this move range from being just bad to being really terrible. But none of this was apparent during the referendum campaign. Ridiculously misleading information and outright lies were thrown around with abandon by all sides. The real issues of how to maintain access to Britain’s largest market (Europe) on a tariff-free basis, or how to leave the EU without imposing a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, together with a host of other huge challenges, were never debated. As a result the public voted without having the benefit of the facts or a good assessment of the real issues. Now Britain is paying the price.
When Amazon was offered some three billion dollars’ worth of public incentives to establish a new HQ in New York, opposition erupted. The hysteria around the idea that one of the world’s largest companies, led by one of the world’s richest men, was being offered such “generous” inducements overshadowed the facts. For example, $2.5 billion of these incentives were really tax credits against future tax obligations and would only crystallize should the company create the promised 25,000 jobs. Further, the big new real estate complex known as Hudson Yards in Manhattan (incidentally half-owned by OMERS, the Canadian pension fund) had actually received far more generous incentives. And, virtually every other jurisdiction in the country was prepared to match what NY offered. “We don’t want the jobs at this price” thundered the new Democratic idol, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who went on to say she would spend the trio of billions elsewhere. Obviously, no one bothered to explain to her there was no three billion dollars to spend absent the 25,000 new jobs.
Not to be outdone, Bernie Sanders offers free everything to everyone without any intelligent plan as to how to pay for it.
And how about this tidbit: Ronald Sullivan, a law professor at Harvard University, recently agreed to serve on the defense team for Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul charged with sexual assault. One student leader said it was “deeply trauma inducing”. Another said she didn’t want to receive a degree from someone who thought it was OK to defend Weinstein. Obviously, students at Harvard want to change the basic premise of the justice system. They think they should decide who deserves a defense and who doesn’t—and by inference, who is guilty and doesn’t deserve a trial. Stupid me—I had thought Harvard had reasonably strict entry standards and you actually had to be quite thoughtful to qualify for admission. (To be clear: of course I believe the man should go to jail for a very long time… if he is found guilty.)
On the home front, the media’s preoccupation with the SNC Lavalin affair and the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould continues. The issue before Canadians is how “terrible” it was that the prime minister and/or members of his staff encouraged Ms. Wilson-Raybould, while she was attorney general, to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement. Such an agreement would have seen SNC Lavalin plead guilty to bribing Libyan officials and pay a (presumably significant) fine, while avoiding a trial and possible criminal conviction.
I say this: the perpetrators of this bribe are long gone from SNC. Please explain to me why it makes good sense to punish the shareholders of a public company or its employees for an action in which none of them had any part or knowledge? Go after the bad guys and, sure, fine the company to ensure it reforms it processes and procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Looking at the bigger ethics picture, I hear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was guilty of imposing her own agenda on those files which involved indigenous affairs and the federal government. While every minister has some authority in this respect, that authority has to be discharged in a manner consistent with the overall agenda of the government of the day. Otherwise managing something as complex as a national government would be impossible. The problem here is the facts are being kept from us because the issue of indigenous affairs is so sensitive, it can’t be discussed.
Hopefully you get the point: the facts don’t matter until they do, which never results in a happy ending.