Andrew Coyne interview with Justin Trudeau

December 24, 2017


Prime Minister, thank you for this. Might I just start with the news of the day?

Andrew Coyne: My exclusive interview with the prime minister (prime minister not included)

Prime Minister, thank you for this. Might I just start with the news of the day?

The year-end interview that never happened. Liam Richards/Canadian Press; National Post photo illustration

I seem to have been passed over, once again, for one of those “exclusive” year-end interviews Prime Minister Trudeau gives to CTV, Global News, TVA etc. etc. But I am not one to let a little thing like that stop me. Herewith my own exclusive interview with the prime minister, minus the prime minister.

Prime Minister, thank you for this. Might I just start with the news of the day? With regard to your holidays on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Caribbean, you’ve been found by the ethics commissioner to have broken the conflict of interest law in four places. Yet you face no penalties of any kind. You’ve said the decision should give Canadians confidence in the process. Why?

You claim you accepted his hospitality because he was a “close family friend.” Yet the ethics commissioner found you hadn’t seen him in 30 years, but for a hug at your father’s funeral. She seems quite clear the Aga Khan’s interest in you had more to do with your official position and his dealings with the government you lead. If she could see that, why couldn’t you?

While we are on the subject of conflicts of interest, you’ve defended your finance minister, Bill Morneau, in the matter of his ownership, through a numbered company, of shares in his family’s pension management firm, which stood to benefit from changes to pension rules he introduced. Your defence is that he worked with the ethics commissioner and followed her advice. Why didn’t you?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons on Wednesday December 20, 2017. Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press

The revelation that Morneau, rather than divest the shares as required, kept them inside a private corporation, where he would pay less tax on them, came just as your government was proposing to crack down on people who set up private corporations to avoid tax — though not in ways that would affect him. Or you, for that matter, notwithstanding your own use of private corporations. Did it not occur to you this might look a bit, I don’t know, two-faced? Or did you think no one would notice?

The opposition is demanding Morneau disclose what else he holds inside his numbered companies. Will he? Will you? More broadly, how does your affinity for private fundraisers with Chinese billionaires and private island holidays with other billionaires, not to say your own wealth, square with your professed devotion to the interests and concerns of the middle class?

Talking of billionaires, you’ve set great stock in developing a warm personal relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, notwithstanding your many political differences. You went so far as to participate in a photo-op showcasing the president’s commitment to women in business, even as he was accused of having sexually assaulted a number of women. A senior adviser, meanwhile, claimed to be kindred spirits with Steve Bannon. Leaving aside questions of taste, what is the evidence this campaign has paid off?

Finance Minister Bill Morneau arrives to talk to media on tax changes for small businesses in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Negotiations on “updating” NAFTA seem to be going nowhere. What is your plan B in the event the talks collapse altogether? How does your failure to secure alternative trade arrangements, with either the Trans-Pacific Partnership or China, fit with that?

The China initiative foundered on your attempt to impose upon China the latest Liberal party orthodoxy in matters of gender rights and the environment. Yet you seem less concerned about China’s predations on our soil — greenlighting Chinese takeovers of Canadian firms without proper security reviews, even signalling a willingness to discuss an extradition treaty. Just what is your bottom line when it comes to trade with China?

The U.S. has just slashed its effective corporate tax rate almost in half, among other significant changes that experts say eliminates our competitive advantage. How will you respond? Is it time for fundamental tax reform?

If you had to do it all over, would you still have kicked those Liberal senators out of caucus?

With regard to defence, the platform promised two, mutually incompatible things: that you would hold an “open and transparent” competition to replace the fleet of CF-18 fighter jets, and that you would not choose the F-35. Which of those is still operative?

Cancelling a plan to buy Boeing planes as a temporary stopgap, you said you would not do business with companies that were “suing us,” by which you meant Boeing’s complaint before the U.S. International Trade Commission with regard to Bombardier’s C-Series passenger jet. How is the C-Series, now majority-owned by Airbus and to be assembled in Alabama, “us”?

The fall economic statement showed revenues for the current fiscal year at almost exactly the level projected in the Conservatives’ last budget. Yet instead of a small surplus, as the Conservatives had it, the government is running a deficit of roughly $20 billion. In the past you’ve blamed the Tories for the deficit, but it’s pretty clear now it’s your own work, isn’t it?

Your government has broken several important promises from the platform on which you campaigned in the past election, notably on electoral reform and balanced budgets. No doubt you will make new promises in the next election campaign. Why should Canadians believe you would be any more likely to keep them?