I almost never agree with the CBC‘s Neil Macdonald on almost any topic, but he offers a tantalizing theory ~ one with which it is hard to disagree ~ in this piece which is headlined “Gerald Butts was done in, at least partially, by the ethos of identity politics.”
“A good headline,” he opines, “like Varsol, cuts through the grease and varnish applied to any story by political or corporate message-crafters … [and he offers his own] … suggestion for the big political headline of the day: “Nothing Happened, So I’m Quitting” — Gerald Butts … [and he adds] … Gerry Butts — until Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary — is a smart fellow. No denying that. He can be eloquent in person, and loves being the guy who commandeers the discussion with an original take … [but] … he’s going out with a message track so hackneyed and wheezing that it could’ve been written by the superannuated PR hacks who used to hang around the Press Club bar, when Ottawa still had a Press Club.”
Neil Macdonald says that Mr Butts has used “the old “distraction ploy” and he offers several other examples, from America, Britain and Canada of just how “hackneyed and wheezing” that excuse is.
“None of this,” Mr Macdonald writes “is to say Butts is a sleaze. I don’t know anyone who thinks he is. He’s not terribly popular among MPs, but that goes with the job. Trudeau, in accepting his resignation, basically declared his friend a great Canadian. So,” he asks, “why did he have to go?“
He explains that “Gerry Butts has been done in, at least partly, by the ethos of identity politics and virtue signaling he himself helped create around our prime minister.” Neil Macdonald tells us, first, why Gerald Butts did not need to quit, and I think this actually does matter, maybe more than many, me included, have said: “A clear-eyed look at the Raybould-Wilson controversy cannot conclude it is a matter of “rule of law,” as opposition critics claim … [he says, because] …. Had Wilson-Raybould wished, she could have decreed a deferred prosecution agreement and fines for SNC-Lavalin as punishment for charges of bribing foreign officials. The law itself allows it … [and] … If Trudeau, through Butts, indicated that was his preferred legal outcome, so what? Is the prime minister not allowed to weigh in on a question that affects thousands of Canadian jobs? By suggesting an outcome allowed under the law? That constitutes “pressure”? And define “pressure,” please … [but] … In any case, if there was pressure, it failed. Wilson-Raybould decided not to issue such a decree, which was her prerogative as attorney general … [and, therefore] … Legally, the system worked.” I agree, and there was always that case to be made even though the prime minister and Mr Butts declined to make it for reasons that only they can explain.
But, Mr Macdonald writes, “The sin for which Butts and the prime minister are actually paying is the subsequent demotion of Wilson-Raybould to veterans affairs minister last month … [because] … Wilson-Raybould, by all accounts, was a competent justice minister. She was obviously angry about the demotion, but she’s hardly the first competent minister to be demoted, or to be upset about it … [but then] … After the Lavalin story broke, Trudeau loyalists put it about that Wilson-Raybould is not a team player, that she is hard to work with, that she berates colleagues, and that she went through four chiefs of staff for a reason. A Liberal staffer I know, a fellow who doesn’t shy from discussing the PM’s own shortcomings, describes her as “mean” … [but] … Again, nothing new there. Plenty of competent ministers, Liberal and Conservative, have been unpleasant people. I can name a few dozen. That’s politics. A cabinet minister serves at the pleasure of the prime minister and can be demoted for any reason, or no reason at all … [but, again] … she is also the first Indigenous woman to hold the post of attorney general. More to the point, she was elevated by a prime minister who holds himself out not just as Canada’s most prominent feminist, but as a tattooed champion of Indigenous rights and determined advocate of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples after centuries of oppression … [so, he says, when you] … Set yourself up like that, and happily take bragging rights for trailblazing appointments like Wilson-Raybould’s …. [then] … you narrow your options down the road. The characterizations of Wilson-Raybould quickly blew back on the PMO, which wound up proclaiming its agreement that such language is racist and sexist.“
Mr Macdonald concludes that “The power of this story, of this “narrative arc,” to use a term Trudeau himself is fond of, is the snatching away of Trudeau’s feminist/Indigenous advocate mantle by an Indigenous feminist — Trudeau being hoisted by his own moralizing petard … [and he says] … It’s actually a bit like those pious Christian conservative leaders and politicians in the U.S. who get caught soliciting gay sex in a bathroom or smoking meth with a prostitute. The irony is what makes journalists lick their chops … [and] … Wilson-Raybould has handled it beautifully and methodically. She has taken her revenge without saying a public word about the Lavalin affair. Criticism of her leadership skills, however valid such criticism might be, is not on. Were it another minister, or a different prime minister, it would probably be a different calculation. But it’s not … [he says, also, that] … Wilson-Raybould no doubt has an end game, and we’ll see it eventually. Maybe she crosses the floor, maybe she decides to become the most influential Indigenous leader in Canadian history. Maybe she’ll make history. She has options. And Butts is now roadkill … [but] … at least he isn’t a distraction anymore.“
Now, about that “end game …” David Akin, on social media, said, a couple of days ago, that:
Is that it? Was it all about Ms Wilson-Raybould throwing some sort of high level, political hissy-fit because she was ‘demoted’ from Justice Minister or are there some bigger principles involved? Did Gerald Butts have to resign because Justin Trudeau was, as Neil Macdonald said, “hoisted by his own moralizing petard?” … the petard that Gerald Butts created for him? Or did Gerald Butts have to resign because there is a real scandal buried here, one involving the improper exercise of political power to advance the interests of one faction agains the common good? Are the Librano$ really back, so soon? Is there, as Rex Murphy asked, in the National Post, “some element, more explosive, more turbulent, and more ominous for his friend and prime minister yet to come?” Or is there a new civil war brewing in the Liberal Party? Not the old Trudeau-Chrétien clique versus what we now call the Manley Liberals, but, rather, a contest between elected MPs and the party bosses? Or is it just another round in the never ending Québec vs Canada thing?
Stay tuned …