Both the National Post and CBC News are reporting that “Lawyers defending Vice-Admiral Mark Norman have taken aim at one of the Liberal government’s senior cabinet ministers in a court filing, alleging political interference in the program to deliver an interim supply ship to the navy … [and, CBC News continues] … The motion provides a taste of the political minefield that’s ahead for Liberals next year when Norman’s case goes to trial, likely during the next federal election campaign.“
“In newly filed court documents,” the National Post says, “Norman’s lawyers allege that as a November 2015 deadline approached to sign a deal to lease a much-needed naval supply ship from Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding, both defence minister Harjit Sajjan and Judy Foote, then minister responsible for procurement, were in favour of moving ahead with the project. Set in motion by the previous Conservative government, the deal also had the backing of senior government bureaucrats … [but, then] … Treasury Board president Scott Brison intervened just before the deadline, the documents claim, attempting to convince his cabinet colleagues to put the Davie deal on hold … [and] … Norman’s lawyers claim Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, is close to Atlantic Canada’s wealthy and powerful Irving family. Their shipbuilding firm had submitted its own proposal to provide a supply ship, which the Conservative government had rejected in favour of Davie’s bid. “It will be the defence’s position that Minister Brison was behind the effort to delay and potentially terminate the Davie agreement,” the documents state.“
CBC News says that Admiral Norman’s lawyer Marie “Henein is demanding government disclose all communication between Brison’s office and the Irvings prior to a crucial cabinet committee meeting on Nov. 19, 2015 … [because] … It was at that meeting the Liberal government decided to risk a multi-million dollar penalty and put the supply ship program on hold … [but] … News of the pause leaked to the media, which the RCMP allege was orchestrated by Norman. The government eventually proceeded with the program.” It’s important to note that it is, arguably, Scott Brison’s duty, as President of the Treasury Board, to challenge every government spending programme; he should be able maintain that is all he was doing, trying to ensure that the contract was in Canada’s . best interests … IF that is, indeed the case. If it is not the case, if he was, in some way, acting as an Atlantic Canadian MP to advance the interests of an Atlantic Canadian firm then he made a serious error in judgement and, again arguably, abused his power.
But things get murkier … CBC News says that “Henein pushed back, in the court filing on Friday, revealing — for the first time — that the federal police investigation had identified how some documents prepared for cabinet made their way into the hands of lobbyists … [she said that] … “The RCMP’s investigation discovered that a government employee, Matthew Matchett, gave a lobbyist then working for Davie the classified Memorandum to Cabinet (“MC”) and slide deck relating to the Liberal Government’s November 19, 2015 … Cabinet committee meeting” … [and the National Post adds that] … Henein’s application argues that, far from interfering in a shipbuilding contract for personal gain or preference, as the Crown has alleged, Norman was working to ensure that the orders of elected officials were being followed in the face of resistance from “several senior civil servants.” It also argues there is no evidence Norman ever leaked cabinet documents.” If what she says is true then it is hard to see how the government has much of a case against Admiral Norman at all. It is quite clear that someone leaked confidential information, but, the National Post adds, Marie Henein points out that “leaks are endemic in Ottawa, only occasionally investigated and almost never a matter for the courts … [and] … “Norman appears to be the first person in Canadian history to be criminally prosecuted for a purported violation of Cabinet confidences,” the document says. “This, in circumstances where he was not generally a participant in any Cabinet meetings and did not leak any Cabinet documents.”“
CBC News says that “The documents noted Matchett had not been charged, and that both a Davie executive and a lobbyist had been granted immunity from prosecution … [and] … “There is no allegation that [Vice-Admiral] Norman provided documents protected by cabinet confidences to anybody.”” I don’t know about anyone else but I’m having a bit of trouble with the ‘smell test’ on this one. I know that people are, already, suggesting that the PMO had a hand in scapegoating Admiral Norman, based on the fact that Prime Minister Trudeau suggested, after Mark Norman was accused but before the investigation was finished, that this would have to come to trial in a criminal court. Also troubling, to me, is that the National Post reports that “The application argues that both Davie Shipbuilding and Cudmore had thus “already obtained information regarding the Cabinet meeting from other sources” before they communicated with Norman about the delay … [and] … It also claims that an internal investigation by the Privy Council Office found that at least 42 people knew about the planned cabinet committee discussion on the ship contract beforehand, and that 73 people knew about the outcome of the cabinet meeting about the naval supply ship after it concluded. “The PCO investigation found that there were six separate leaks related to the Ad Hoc Committee alone, including to two separate CBC reporters, Radio-Canada, and the lobbying firm Fleishman&Hillard,” the document says. “The sources of most of the leaks identified in the PCO investigation remain unknown.”” That’s six leaks that may have involved over 70 people … that sounds more like gossip than a ‘cabinet confidence.’
Let me be clear, the process that allows a cabinet, in our Westminster style government, to make rational decisions must be confidential so that civil servants can offer honest, professional, frank advice to ministers. That someone broke that confidence seems evident … and that someone should be charged and tried and, if convicted, punished. But it looks a lot like Vice Admiral Mark Norman was not that someone ~ I say “looks a lot like” because we know that Ms Henein is a very capable barrister who is unlikely to tell a judge something that she cannot prove. So, why has he been charged? Is he, as many of my friends believe, being scapegoated by a government that cannot stand being embarrassed?
It looks, to my untrained eye, as though Ms Henein, by raising all these questions now, as she prepares for a trail that will make potentially embarrassing headlines during the expected fall election campaign, is giving the government a chance to back away with a few shreds of dignity as cover … oh, if they do that, as I suspect they should, there will be a big settlement and questions will be asked about who rushed to judgement and why but the blame will, in large measure fall on General Jack Vance and overeager prosecutors and it will go the way of the Mike Duffy affair.