On June 10th, 1924, Mussolini’s Italian fascist government was nearly toppled by a political scandal that involved the highest levels of parliament.
Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist and Mussolini’s main outspoken rival was kidnapped and assassinated by fascist thugs on his way to parliament where he was set to denounce the fascist government’s corruption.
While police investigations were largely pressured and interfered with, it was eventually revealed that members of Mussolini’s inner-circle were directly involved or at least implicated in the crime.
Of course it would be a vast overstatement to claim that Justin Trudeau is akin to Benito Mussolini and that alleged political interference into the justice system is as grave a crime as assassinating your political rivals, there are, however, interesting parallels to be found between the two scandals.
The SNC-Lavalin affair, like the Matteotti assassination, implicated members closest to the reins of political power including the leader himself, it involved a member of parliament refusing to fold to political pressure, it also was the first significant threat to what seemed like an unbreakable majority government, and finally, it involved consistent attempts to steer and influence the investigations that followed.
If anything there is a lot to learn by holding these two specific moments in history side by side and in contrast.
Before Mussolini was enveloped in the scandal that rocked the very foundation of his power base, he was well-loved and adored by a large portion of the Italian people. After the assassination, his public image gravely suffered.
Records show that Mussolini privately dejected himself to certain failure and believed that it would take a miracle to save him and his government from complete dissolution. Even those within his own party began to question his leadership and ability to govern.
The catch is that Mussolini got away with all of it, the assassination, the corruption and the ensuing cover-up. But how did he do it?
What Mussolini did was he waited, he bided his time and watched his opponents.
The thing with political scandals is that they can be made to go away. The first thing the fascist leader did was to publicly and dramatically take symbolic responsibility for the crime.
In a speech before parliament he said: “I declare here, in front of the Assembly and all the Italian people, that I and I alone assume full political, moral, and historical responsibility for everything that has happened.”
And that’s one of the main contrasts to be found in this comparison. Mussolini took responsibility for his scandal and Justin Trudeau didn’t.
The reason he at least took a rhetorical responsibility was because Mussolini was able to recognize that there was no alternative strong enough and united enough to stand up to the hold of the fascist party on Italy.
As bleak as this story is, in some ways that fact alone should be refreshing to Canadians. In his speech today, Trudeau evaded responsibility, and by doing so he signaled that his hold is not absolute.
Had our prime minister chosen to apologize and assumed the alleged guilt for political interference, he would be essentially telling Canadians that he was sure of his own perseverance. He would be telling Canadians that no matter the outcome and no matter the evidence, he would still come out on top.
Luckily Justin Trudeau is no Benito Mussolini and in Canada we have the rule of law.