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SNC-Lavalin’s demise would not be the calamity its defenders claim




Every once in a while, the Gods of algorithm and layout betray a wicked sense of humour. One such moment happened upon the mobile front page of National Newswatch—a Canadian politics aggregator—about a week ago.

One headline, grabbed from the New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof, read: “Thank God for Canada! Our boring neighbour is a moral leader of the free world.” This is the sort of thing Canadians take great pleasure in reading about ourselves. But above that headline read this one: “PMO Pressed Wilson-Raybould to Abandon Prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.”

I cannot fault Mr. Kristof, really. We, too, often fall prey to this assumption; that a combination of our relative smallness, insularity, good intentions and politeness make us less vulnerable to corruption, rather than more so.

The story, which first broke in the Globe and Mail, revealed that SNC-Lavalin, a corporate crown jewel of Montreal and Quebec, aggressively and publicly lobbied the Liberal government to drop criminal charges of corruption in favour of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). SNC hired pillars of the central Canadian backroom elite who, by all accounts, did a remarkable job for the company.

DPAs didn’t exist in Canada until late last year, when the option was slipped into legislation via a massive omnibus budget bill; SNC was to be the first company to take advantage of the option, thus avoiding a costly, lengthy criminal proceeding over bribery allegations in Libya that might have rendered it unable to bid for billions in government contracts had they been convicted.

RELATED: The incredible miscalculation by Trudeau and co.

The DPA, then, was a matter of existential importance to a very important, and politically well-connected company—a company so notoriously well connected that it recently had to return more than $100,000 in illegal donations to, uh, the Liberals.

Unfortunately for SNC, the independent public prosecutor decided against the DPA, ruling it was inappropriate in this case—a position SNC is now trying to appeal.

Lest anyone accuse this Prairie writer of Quebec-bashing or cruelty, let me state that I am not instinctively opposed to a DPA, which, we are told, would likely spare the jobs of 9,000 innocent SNC employees in Canada and many thousands more abroad.

After all, those employees aren’t all concentrated in one region. SNC has offices across the country and the world, and I don’t relish the prospect of anyone losing his or her job.

However, I think this argument for the DPA misses some very crucial points.

If SNC were to be to barred from bidding for government contracts tomorrow, the contracts themselves do not similarly vanish.

If a road needs to be built, that road will still need to be built regardless of who is left to bid on it. The work would still exist. There are roughly 30 major construction and civil engineering firms in Canada. We do not lack engineering talent. Absent SNC, either new firms of this nature will form, or existing firms will likely expand to meet the opportunity for work.

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In such a scenario, the experience and contacts of those 9,000 SNC employees would be in very high demand. It’s hard to picture an outcome in which so many highly trained, highly educated and experienced professionals in a country eager for their work wind up roaming the streets selling pencil stubs from tins.

What I can imagine is a scenario in which SNC’s collapse would lead to several small or medium-sized firms from around the country in a much stronger position to compete for government work. Ripping a near-monopoly from any single firm would create a government that is much more resilient in the future to the kind of political chicanery that is being alleged in this case—regardless of whether that government is Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Green.

In other words, the collapse of SNC would actually incentivize the success of Canadian firms that aren’t, uh, blacklisted by the World Bank.

Perhaps the collapse of SNC might redirect work to companies that were not quite so well connected to the central Canadian political establishment, perish the thought.

Companies that have managed to get ahead without allegedly bribing a Libyan dictator’s son. Companies in which former CEOs have not recently plead guilty to bribing a public servant in connection to the construction of a $1.3-billion hospital in Montreal.

(Lest anyone operate under the delusion that SNC’s history of bad behaviour was a necessary evil of working in a corrupt regime like Libya. According to La Presse, another gem regarding the repair of the Jacques Cartier Bridge is still coming down the pipe. Ironically, the victim of this company’s history of perfidy has most often been the province now most eager to defend it.)

RELATED: The case for—and problem with—remediation deals like the one SNC-Lavalin wants

“But wait!” the committed SNC defender adds: “What about the pensioners so deeply invested in SNC? Its innocent shareholders, suppliers and creditors? What about the existing SNC projects that taxpayers would be on the hook for?”

You mean, the shareholders, suppliers, and creditors who chose to remain invested in the company despite years of scandals? And the governments that continued, and continue to, award them contracts using our cash? Though I think some extra legal protections should exist for blameless pensioners in these cases, God forbid anyone who profited off this company be required to suffer a negative consequence for their decision.

To these concerns I will meanly point out that major companies go out of business all the time, often for more blameless reasons than allegations of corruption. Their shareholders, suppliers, creditors and customers lose money when this happens. That is how capitalism works.

This is the point that true socialists so often seem to omit when they talk about eating the rich; that a free market is, at its heart, a trade of risk for wealth. If we excise the risk side of that equation—by creating a company that is too big to fail for psychological, political or economic reasons—all we’re left with is a guarantee of easy money for the “right” people, free of consequences for bad actions.

The system itself is corrupted beyond anything that good PR, DPAs or internal corporate governance reform can repair. Citizen, taxpayer and politician alike wind up implicated in the financial and ethical compromises that will be required to ensure a private behemoth’s survival.

This is not necessarily an argument for letting SNC fail. I have no ill will toward the company, and can understand a degree of affection for it. I even respect the company’s commitment to reform of its corporate governance and management.

This is merely a reminder that there is a fiscal and moral cost to enforcing a status quo that, like so much cash stuffed into manila envelopes, seems to get lost too easily in the margins.



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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa




With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV




A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence




Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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