The NDP’s Charlie Angus and The Decline of Canadian Politics

The NDP’s Charlie Angus and The Decline of Canadian Politics
by Mark Bourrie
May 22, 2024
The NDP’s Charlie Angus and The Decline of Canadian Politics

Brian Mulroney’s death brought an interesting response from Canada’s mainstream media.

There was plenty of coverage of the former Prime Minister’s success. That should be expected. He fought apartheid in South Africa, he got a trade deal with the U.S. which is still in effect today. And he was the first Tory to win back-to-back majorities since Sir John A. Macdonald.

Yet, Canadian journalists shied away from mentioning how Mulroney accepted an envelope full of $1000 bills from an arms dealer, nor did they mention the many allegations of corruption tied to his government.

Foreign media was not so discreet. The New York Times acknowledged the “historic free trade deal” with the U.S., but also noted Mulroney “was shadowed by scandal.”

All politicians leave political legacies. Soon-to-be-de-elected Timmins MP, Charlie Angus has created an awful one for himself: partnering with Pierre Poilievre to destroy WE Charity.

In doing so, Angus gave legitimacy to Poilievre’s over-the-top bullying. Now Poilievre is likely to be the next prime minister of Canada. Poilievre wants a northern version of Trump’s America.

Yet Angus is undeterred. Even late last month, he was trying to make connections between the ArriveCan controversy and the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) affair from four years ago.

There’s a huge difference between ArriveCan and WE Charity. Unlike ArriveCan, WE Charity works. It succeeded in generating many thousands of hours of volunteer student work in North America and the United Kingdom, developed a successful social enterprise business and raised millions from corporations. Thousands of people in the developing world were, and still are, being educated in WE’s schools and using WE infrastructure.

Yet Angus still prattles on. His self-indulgent monologue – shielded, as usual, from a lawsuit by Parliamentary privilege — was full of mischaracterizations and errors of fact about WE Charity’s role in the CSSG debacle.

In what may be his final months as an MP, Angus continues to trade in self-delusion, erroneously casting himself a crusader for truth and protector of the “little guy” while attacking the very kind of people he claims to champion.

In addressing the Commons last month, Angus repeated many of the “greatest hits” of twisted facts and logic.  Here’s a top 100 list of whoppers (compiled by Friends of WE, a group of past donors to that charity).

He wrongly claimed there was “$500 million to $940 million set aside” for WE to run the CSSG. In fact, the total value of the entire student job program was $543.5 million. A maximum of $34.7 million was budgeted for the charity to set up and run the massive student grant program. Students were to get the rest of the money, which was so badly needed when so many summer jobs had been cancelled.

Angus also claimed “the money was going to be funnelled to a shell company.” Far from a shell company, the WE Charity Foundation is a registered charity that was established to protect the main entity – WE Charity – from any legal liability related to the delivery of the CSSG program. This is a completely legitimate and common practice in the charitable world, and one that was especially important during the uncertain, early days of COVID-19.

Angus also gave new life to an awful accusation he’d made in 2020: that Victor Li, WE Charity’s CFO, feigned illness to avoid testifying before parliament, saying “we were told not only that he was on medical leave but also that he had a brain aneurysm that, if we asked him questions, might cause his death.”

This was not the first time Angus attacked Li.

The Friends of WE website documented how “even though MPs were informed behind closed doors that Li had recently been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm… Angus was unmoved, downplaying Mr. Li’s condition accusing him of lying about ‘being sick’ and accusing the whole organization of having ‘a sense of entitlement.’”

There was one moment of clarity when Angus admitted “after 10 months of study, we had no idea how the Charity’s finances worked.” This was clear throughout the duration of the political circus.

Angus also claimed the Ethics committee report on the CSSG was “not my opinion but that of all of the political parties that participated.”

The record is quite different.

When a majority report was  released, MP Brenda Shanahan, Vice-Chair of the Ethics committee, wrote “I am disappointed that opposition committee members preferred to conduct a politically motivated witch-hunt rather than a serious study of the integrity of conflict of interest and lobbying safeguards.”

Several committee members published a Dissenting Report that called out the partisanship and lies in the majority report.

Angus finished his moment in the limelight with a wide smile and a wave, saying “I’ll be here all week!” This time, though, the media pack had moved on, and Angus’s show got sparse coverage.

Yet, the humour is hard to find. Killing a charity is not a joke. Destroying reputations is not a joke. Preventing students earning tuition money is not a joke.

Charlie will soon be gone as a Member of Parliament. We hope the sad state of Canadian politics leaves with you.

-Mark Bourrie is a Canadian journalist, lawyer and award winning author. Mark Bourrie, PhD has been a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1994. He previously taught media history and journalism at Concordia University. Mark is the author of 13 best-selling books including having won the RBC Taylor Prize.
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