Hollywood? No, Ottawa!: The Epidemic of Nepo Babies

Hollywood has a reputation for entrenched nepotism: Fairbanks, Houstons, Douglases, Barrymores, and Redgraves all got the industry’s plum roles for generations. A recent New York Magazine article spoke about the “nepo babies” and that they are thriving in an industry where a famous last name is valuable intellectual property. A young celebrity brings instant marketing appeal with millions of TikTok followers as the young and restless range of acting ability consists of modeling a variety of bathing suits and creating drama on the world’s best beaches. The short film The Rightway was directed by Steven Spielberg’s daughter, starred Sean Penn’s son, and was written by Stephen King’s son.

But while we often point the finger at Hollywood, nepotism also runs rampant in politics, especially in Canada. The word “nepotism” originates from the Italian word “nepotismo.” For 500 years, the Church created the Cardinal-Nephew phenomenon, where the Pope appointed his relatives as Cardinals. The practice peaked during the 16th and 17th centuries as the Pope gave the important positions of Chief Minister and advisor to his nephews. Many turned out incompetent and corrupt. Now and then, one earned his stripes as Scipione Borghese discovered Bernini’s genius, who built the grandiose Villa Borghese in Rome.

Canada prides itself on equity and inclusion, yet it is one of the worst offenders in the world concerning nepotism. It is clear that political power in Canada is often passed down through family connections. The following is a small sampling of the buffet of “who’s who” among the political elite; a list so long it could form a directory. Each party is well represented, but socialist NDP does exceptionally well:

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s family includes two Quebec premiers. Ex-NDP leader Jack Layton was the son of a federal cabinet minister, and his son, Mike Layton, is a local councilman. Steven Lewis, the son of David Lewis, another ex-NDP leader, was in politics for a long time. Now his grandson Avi Lewis has not yet won an election but has the support of climate activists Jane Fonda and David Suzuki, and has written the Leap Manifesto, which calls for an overhaul of capitalism. 

The list goes on and on. Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley…. former MP Peter MacKay… Caroline Mulroney, whose father was former PM; Brian Mulroney… Erin O Toole…Paul Martin… Doug Ford, whose father was a politician, recently appointed his nephew, Michael Ford, to his cabinet after winning his seat in Ontario’s provincial election. When asked about nepotism, Michael Ford responded, “I completely dismiss that.” The shining star of Canadian dynastic politics is the current PM, Justin Trudeau, whose father, Pierre Trudeau, was PM of Canada for 15 years. 

Justin Trudeau increasingly turns off Canadians, as he is heckled and booed everywhere he goes. His Liberal government barely clings to power in an alliance with the socialist NDP. Even at the memorial service of the downing of flight 752 by Iran, where 50 Canadians died, Trudeau was met with jeers. Trudeau’s divisive policies, including travel mandates by which Canadians were not allowed to travel within their own country, lockdowns, kneeling at a BLM protest, suppressing peaceful protests, and freezing protesters’ bank accounts when the federal government used emergency powers to end a massive protest. He has even labeled those who strongly opposed vaccination as not believing in science, and as misogynistic and racist.

Canadians are not showing up to the voting booths as they have in the past, perhaps another sign of disillusionment. Since 2015 voting has declined from a high of 68.5% in 2015 to 44.5% in 2020. A recent January Nanos poll has Conservative leader Pierre Polivere’s party at 35.6% and Trudeau’s Liberals at 28.3%. If an election were held today, the Conservative party’s 7% lead would put it in a position to win and form a government.

The WE Charity scandal brought nepo baby and cronyism right to Justin Trudeau’s office. The PM’s family received money to appear at WE-sponsored events, which was denied at first. WE Charity received $43.53 million to administer a $900 million student program even though Justin Trudeau’s family and his finance minister Bill Morneau’s family had close ties to the charity. WE employed Bill Morneau’s daughter, and there was a close relationship between the Finance Minister and members of the WE charity. 

A parliamentary committee investigating the scandal provided an opinion that a “significant degree of preferential treatment was given to WE Charity by the civil service. In his final report commissioner, Mario Dion said, “I believe this unfettered access to the Office of the Minister of Finance was based on the identity of WE’s representative, Mr. Craig Kielburger,” who was both a constituent and close friend of Bill Morneau. 

Under political pressure, Morneau resigned as finance minister and stepped down as MP. Today he is staging a comeback, flogging his book, Where To From Here, A Path to Canadian Prosperity, and heavily criticizing Trudeau for using vaccine mandates as a wedge issue during the 2021 election and for being too focused on redistribution of wealth instead of focusing on wealth creation.

According to the Public Service Commission, only 47% of employees surveyed agreed with the statement: “Appointments do not depend on who you know.” The nonpartisan questionnaire surveyed 75,440 federal employees, and managers dismissed its findings. Even though nepotism is a fire-able offense, they insist that everything is ethical in their hiring practices. 

Trudeau was first elected on the commitment to make the government more transparent. Instead, nepotism and cronyism have flourished under his rule. In 2017 the ethics commissioner determined that the PM was in a conflict of interest after taking a vacation on a private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan. In 2019 he was again found in a conflict of interest by the ethics commissioner in the SNC Lavalin scandal in an attempt to gain political advantage. 

After a report by a federal conflict of interest commissioner, Prime Minister Trudeau commented that Canadians are “reassured” that the country has “one of the strongest ethics frames in governments around the world.” But, in a government structure where an ethics commissioner has no bite and all they can do is issue a fine of up to $500, is it any wonder that Canadians are losing trust in their public institutions?

As Canadians become increasingly disillusioned with the current government and the prime minister, it’s time to take a hard look at the role of nepotism and nepo babies in our politics and demand a fair and merit-based system. It is time to end the dynasties and give a chance to qualified, hard-working individuals.

Francis Crescia is a York University graduate with an honors B.A in political science with a business career background as an IT executive and photojournalist. He currently blogs about politics and economics.
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