Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo by Alex Guibord/Flickr

Peter Stockland: A little elbow room for our list of wants

By 
  • March 12, 2019

The heart of the Ottawa imbroglio over SNC-Lavalin can be found in remembering the time Justin Trudeau elbowed a female MP aside to get what he wanted.

The heart of a Lenten understanding of both the SNC scandal and the 2016 uproar over elbows can be found in reminding ourselves how they exemplify the warping power of want upon all of us.

In her testimony to the House of Commons Justice Committee, former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould made clear the SNC-Lavalin affair boiled down to a contest of wills between herself and Prime Minister Trudeau. 

Rightly or wrongly — the jury remains out — he wanted her to reconsider a decision to proceed with prosecution of  the Quebec-based engineering giant on corruption and bribery charges. She steadfastly refused on the grounds that the political considerations the PM raised were an improper basis for a legal matter. 

The degree and overtness of his persistence, as Wilson-Raybould portrayed it, was no doubt eye-opening for many Canadians who don’t spend their time following the daily shenanigans on Parliament Hill. Yet those who do had seen this movie before.

In May 2016, a mere eight months after gaining office, the prime minister grew infuriated at Opposition tactics to delay a vote limiting debate on assisted dying legislation before Parliament. He stormed into a group of MPs milling around between the government and Opposition benches, swinging his arms and ordering them to return to their seats for the vote. In the course of his wind milling, he elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest so hard she had to leave the Commons chamber to recover her breath.

The PM later apologized profusely, which didn’t prevent a rain of criticism pouring down on him for inappropriate use of physical force. In fact, though, the physicality was but accidental and so, ultimately, secondary. What was — or should have been — of primary concern was the wanton will that sparked it. 

It was an ephemeral version of the core of the SNC-Lavalin debacle, namely that Trudeau is someone who wants what he wants and does what’s necessary to get what he wants. We would be making a serious error if we see him as unlike all of us in that regard. Certainly, as I enter into this Lenten season, I am acutely aware of the need to use the days between now and Holy Week to reflect on how deeply that flaw of his is a flaw of mine, too.

I also know I’m not markedly different in that regard from those around me. We constitute a culture simultaneously overwhelmed by superabundance and insatiable want. We are well past the point of passing it off as the pernicious collective effect of mere consumerism. Everywhere about us, we see how wanting what we want and driving inexorably to get it, shapes and deforms our conduct. 

It does not, for the majority of us, play out on large stages such as justice committee meetings. More likely venues are the routes we use for the daily commute to work. We want to get where we’re going and we want to get there now, and we’re prepared to routinely commit vehicular acts equivalent to the prime minister planting an elbow in Brosseau’s chest. 

Nor is it limited to angry horn honking, raised middle fingers or other preludes to road rage. On a more macro level, think of the truly ludicrous personal debt loads average Canadians carry and try to make a cogent argument that they aren’t manifestations of the “I want” impulse bordering on the orgiastic. Our “haves” drive us to ever-greater “wants” in almost every dimension of our lives: material, personal, social, sexual, spiritual. Hmmm. Well. Maybe not that last one. In fact, definitely not that last one. Which is precisely why Lent is such a crucial season of our Catholic calendar. 

I have never understood the spirit of Lent to be a call to denial for its own sake. Rather, it is a calling into perspective of want and will to realign them with the religious sense inherent to all and, above all, to us as Christians. 

For me, it is the perfect time to look into my own heart and remember that what I truly want is what I truly need: the face of Christ, ever present. 

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.