It goes without saying that the last handful of days on the campaign trail have been bad for the Liberals. Ever since Wednesday nights big news story came out, and the subsequent information that came after it, the Red team has been trying to re-find their footing and get back on track. So it was through that lens I’ve been curiously looking towards a big event next week, the next debates.

The Munk Foreign Affairs debate has been scheduled to go ahead on October 1st and after these developments, I have been curious if Mr. Trudeau would change his mind and show up. Well this morning we got an answer, and the consequences to that decision:

Yep, the debate is cancelled because of the no-show from Mr. Trudeau. So not only does that mean that there will be no debate with an empty podium, like we saw with the Maclean’s debate a couple weeks ago, but it also means that Mr. Trudeau joins the short list of Canadian political leaders to have precipitated the cancellation of a debate by refusing to take part. The other member of that exclusive group? None other than Stephen Harper; talk about interesting company.

But that aside, there might be another reason why Mr. Trudeau would still want to duck a debate on foreign affairs. That reason came to light yesterday, with a damning report from Maclean’s, one that would have surely featured front and centre in that debate:

Let’s get the timeline right here; on June 17th, Waseem Ramli takes part in an intimate Liberal fundraiser, billed as an “armchair discussion” with Trudeau and Liberal MP Marc Miller, their incumbent candidate in Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœur in Montreal. Then both Trudeau and Miller posed separately for photographs with Ramli, giving him a souvenir of the night. Then within a week, Ramli’s in Damascus and posting these photos and admiration for the Liberal Party. A few days after that Ramli gets tapped by the Assad regime to become Syria’s honorary consul in Montreal and then this Liberal government signs off on it.

Yeah, that’s not a good look, when the backer of a regime that’s been accused of genocide not only attends a Liberal fundraiser, supporting them with his funds, but then gets a plum appointment after the fact, with the sign off from the Canadian government. And this is a guy who has called the White Helmets, a group of people trying to save lives in the chaos of Syria, as “a terrorist organization”, which is basically parroting the language used by the Assad regime and by Putin’s Russia.

You might ask why this matters, beside the very bad optics. Well you see this position is not a mere honorary title or such. No no no, this is an official job that gives Ramli some major power over Syrian refugees and immigrants here in Canada. If any Syrian wants to get a passport renewed, assign power of attorney in Syria, arrange for remittances to family members or obtain any records from the old country (birth certificates, college diplomas, university degrees, etc.), they will have to go to Ramli for it. Given that Ramli is such a big supporter of the regime that these people just fled, that sounds so perverse.

Making matters worse, Canada has taken in around 250 White Helmets as refugees. So if those people need any of that assistance listed above, they will have to go and get it from the guy who has called them terrorists. As you can imagine, this has shaken many in the Syrian community in Montreal and eastern Canada, leaving many wondering why exactly this government that opened the doors to so many people seeing refuge from Syria right now, only to have this person who supports the regime they fled be appointed to this important role.

Now Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did put out a statement last night, saying that neither she nor her team had anything to do with this appointment, but that all sounds a bit too convenient for the moment. Given the sensitivity involving Syria, I have a hard time imagining the civil service would have done this without some direction from on high. Furthermore, I have to wonder how Mr. Ramli got vetted for this job and how no one caught any of his comments. Ramli asserts that he was vetted and given the go-ahead by Ottawa, so somethings not adding up here. Add to the story the timeline laid about above, and that just makes it smell worse.

So no wonder Mr. Trudeau ducked Munk because guaranteed he would have been hit with this, along with other issues. This Syria story is bad and doesn’t look very good on the Liberal Party. It harkens back to activities of past days, things that Mr. Trudeau said he had done away with. There are a lot of unanswered questions here that he and his team need to answer for. The question remains if he will answer them, or will he duck and hide? We’ll know soon enough but the fact that this is even an open question so far into this campaign is not a good thing for the Red team.

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