As I watch the breathless media coverage of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, it reminds me of a scene from the 1942 film Casablanca.
A German officer decides that it's time to close a casino operated by Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart.
So the Nazi gives this order to Capt. Renault, played by Claude Rains, who blows his whistle and declares that the business is being shut down.
"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here," Renault says.
Then he collects his winnings.
Nowadays, the Ottawa media is expressing shock—shock that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have tried to put an end to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, which has more than 50,000 employees worldwide and posted $10.1 billion in revenues last year.
About 49 percent of this—or about $5 billion—came from the Americas and 32 percent of overall revenue came from engineering design project management.
Another 25 percent was from oil and gas, 22 percent from infrastructure, nine percent from nuclear energy, five percent from mining and metallurgy, and four percent from clean power. It's a big business.
Now, let's look at some statements from the Liberal Party of Canada platform in the 2015 election campaign:
"We will invest in sustainable infrastructure that makes our communities safer and more reliant."
That included local water and wastewater facilities, clean energy, and flood mitigation systems—just the type of work SNC-Lavalin specializes in.
"We will establish the Canadian Infrastructure Bank to provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure."
Bingo—another benefit for SNC-Lavalin.
"Over the next decade we will quadruple federal investment in public transit, investing almost $20 billion more in transit infrastructure."
In case you're wondering, SNC-Lavalin has played a major role in the development of all four rapid transit lines in Metro Vancouver. Anytime federal money flows in this direction, there's a reasonable likelihood that it will benefit SNC-Lavalin shareholders.
"We will run modest short-term deficits of less than $10 billion in each of the next two fiscal years to fund historic investments in infrastructure and our middle class."
Aside from the fact that the deficits vastly exceeded $10 billion, one of the winners of this promise is most certainly SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau also pledged to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves by 2021. SNC-Lavalin is a big player in developing water-filtration systems, too.
That's not to say these promises weren't popular or worthwhile.
It's just to point out that for a long time, the Liberals have ensured that SNC-Lavalin's priorities are their priorities, too.
Canada Line is a prime example
You only have to look at the $2-billion Canada Line in Vancouver and Richmond.
In 2004, Liberal prime minister Paul Martin increased federal funding from $300 million to $450 million. A few months later, SNC-Lavalin/Serco won the bid to build and operate the 19.2-kilometre line.
Twelve years later, Trudeau promised to increase the federal contribution for rapid-transit projects from 33 percent to 50 percent.
Now, there's talk of a SkyTrain extension to UBC's Point Grey campus, which could cost $3.8 billion in 2018 dollars. That's in addition to a SkyTrain project to Langley and a Millennium Line extension to Arbutus Street in Vancouver.
In 2016, Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau also decided that Canada would join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a Chinese government–created rival to the World Bank.
That could eventually offset some of the damage that occurred when the World Bank penalized SNC-Lavalin. In 2013, it was barred from bidding on World Bank–financed projects for 10 years following a bribery scandal in Bangladesh.
The AIIB recognizes the sanctions of the World Bank and other similar international organizations, so SNC-Lavalin will remain in the AIIB penalty box until 2023.
But who eventually benefits when Canada joined the AIIB, likely over the objections of the U.S. government? SNC-Lavalin, of course, which is a major global player in megaprojects.
Then there's the Trudeau government's support for pipelines, including Enbridge's Line 3, which will likely open this year.
The Trudeau government also bought the aging Trans Mountain system from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion. An expansion will gobble up another $9.3 billion to triple shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta to the B.C. coast.
I repeat: a quarter of SNC-Lavalin's revenues come from oil and gas.
So when the aging Trans Mountain infrastructure needs upgrading, there's a good chance for more revenue for SNC-Lavalin.
But a criminal conviction would get in the way because it would be barred from bidding on federal projects—and the Trans Mountain pipeline system, right now, is federally owned.
Shocked—we're just shocked!
The national media have been big cheerleaders of the pipeline purchase.
These newspaper and broadcasting companies have also collected a whopping amount of advertising revenue from supporters of the Trans Mountain pipeline project and the Trudeau government.
Yet now, like Capt. Renault in Casablanca, they're blowing the whistle on Trudeau's dealings with SNC-Lavalin in connection with its court case.
They're shocked, just shocked, by the lengths to which the prime minister would go to assist the corporation.
The only thing missing from this movie is a dewy-eyed Ingrid Bergman.More