Two items in the Globe and Mail caught my eye, today:
- First, Robert Fife and Steven Chase (again) are still digging into the SNC-Lavalin / Jody Wilson-Raybould imbroglio and now they report that “Former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould told federal cabinet ministers she believed it was improper for officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to press her to help SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. out of its legal difficulties, sources say … [thus, as reported elsewhere, they say] …On Tuesday … [even though she is no longer in cabinet] … Ms. Wilson-Raybould privately outlined her concerns about the handling of the SNC-Lavalin prosecution to her former colleagues within the confidentiality of cabinet, freed from the bounds of solicitor-client privilege that have restricted her public statements so far … [and] … On Wednesday, she rose in the House of Commons and said she hoped to have solicitor-client privilege waived so she could “speak my truth;”” and
- Second, John Ibbitson opines that “The Liberals may have believed for a few moments that they had found a way out of the SNC-Lavalin mess. Instead, the mess got worse … [because] … The opposition … [and, I daresay, the Canadian people] … wants to know whether Justin Trudeau exerted pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould to go easy on the corruption charges facing the Quebec engineering company. What did the Prime Minister say, and when did he say it? … [and] … the former attorney-general has publicly pleaded with Mr. Trudeau to release her from the attorney-client privilege that has forced her to remain silent … [and, Mr Ibbitson says] … We are at that stage in this scandal – for this is now certifiably a scandal – when the story seems to get worse for the government every day … [and, to make matters worse] … Ms. Wilson-Raybould rose dramatically in the House of Commons on Wednesday to ask that Mr. Trudeau allow her to speak freely about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution … [she said] … “I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth, and want transparency” … as Liberal MPs watched grimly. “Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive, and I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth” … [and, now] … That plea to “speak my truth” exploded any Liberal hopes that they could have Ms. Wilson-Raybould testify before the House justice committee next week with attorney-client privilege firmly in place, limiting her ability to compromise the government.“
Messers Fife and Chase report that “According to a source with knowledge of the cabinet discussions, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the director of the prosecution service rejected a negotiated settlement with SNC-Lavalin based on how the law applies to the company’s case. The Liberal government had changed the Criminal Code to allow for deferred prosecutions in which a company admits wrongdoing and pays a fine, but avoids a trial. Under Canada’s new deferred-prosecution agreement law, prosecutors are not allowed to consider national economic interests when deciding whether to settle with a company … [and] … Mr. Trudeau has acknowledged he raised concerns about the economic impact that a conviction could have on SNC-Lavalin when he met privately with the then-justice minister and attorney-general on Sept. 17, two weeks after the director of public prosecutions decided to move toward a trial.” This addresses two points in the Shawcross Doctrine:
- First, Lord Shawcross said: “The Attorney General must take into account all relevant facts, including the effect on the public interest,” and unnamed senior officials have said, and I agree, that the fate of thousands of good jobs, all across Canada, but, especially, in Québec is a matters that will have an “effect on the public interest” and is, therefore a legitimate issue for the prime minister to raise with the attorney general. In fact, as Mr Ibbitson says, Prime Minister Trudeau, responding to a question from Andrew Scheer, said ““This is a file that touches tens of thousands of Canadians right across the country, including 9,000 direct jobs [at SNC-Lavalin]. … Of course we are going to be very careful about how we move forward in protecting those jobs, but we are also going to, at the same time, make sure that we are standing up for the independence of our judicial system” … [but, John Ibbitson says] … If you translated that as other than: “Yes I raised the fact that prosecuting SNC-Lavalin could cost thousands of jobs, but not in a way that undermined the rule of law,” then we see things differently;”
- Second, according tor Baron Shawcross: “Any assistance from cabinet colleagues, including the prime minister himself or herself, must be confined to giving advice, not direction,” and this leaves some things open to interpretation … as with the Kokanee Grope, maybe what one man perceives to be “advice” is perceived by a woman to be and unwelcome sexual advance or “direction;” and
- Third, the Shawcross Doctrine says that : the “responsibility for the decision … [to prosecute or not] … is that of the Attorney General alone; the government must not put any pressure on him or her.” Given that the conversation (17 Sep 18), which Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledges did happen, came “two weeks after the director of public prosecutions decided to move toward a trial,” it certainly appears, to me, that he was
directingputting pressure on her to tell the independent public prosecutor to use the remediation agreement route.
John Ibbitson finds five things that are problems for Prime Minister Trudeau:
- “First,” he says, “fissures are beginning to appear in the Liberal caucus. Two MPs – both with a reputation for being renegades, it must be said – voted with the opposition to hold a full public inquiry and to free Ms. Wilson-Raybould from lawyer-client privilege. The CBC reported that Ms. Wilson-Raybould waited two hours on Tuesday while cabinet debated whether to allow her to speak to ministers. That must have been some debate;
Second, the opposition now has an easy way to explain this scandal: Justin Trudeau may have violated the rule of law by pressuring his attorney-general to wave off prosecution of a big Quebec firm on corruption charges. When she refused, Mr. Trudeau demoted her;
- Third,” he reminds us, and this, I need to point out, is an issue that Prime Minister Harper did not find to difficult to decide, in the Duffey affair, “Mr. Trudeau has an impossibly difficult decision to make: waive attorney-client privilege for his former attorney-general, as she has now publicly asked him to do, and face the consequences, or keep it in place and face the consequences;
- Fourth, the Senate is waiting in the wings. If the House justice committee conspicuously fails to get to the bottom of who-said-what, then the legal-affairs committee of the Red Chamber could take up the matter. This would be a test case for the independent senators appointed by Mr. Trudeau to prove their independence; and
- He concludes, “Finally, there is the unknown unknown – the shoe waiting to drop, the story waiting to be told, Or, failing that, the drip, drip, drip of information that advances the controversy incrementally, furnishing the opposition with yet another day of accusatory questions that the Prime Minister refuses to directly answer.” There is further speculation, in the Buffalo (NY) Chronicle, that “Sources close to the Conservative opposition leader have told The Chronicle, on the condition of anonymity, that Scheer has reason to suspect that Brison’s resignation on January 10th was part of a wider effort to shield the government and Bank of Montreal executives from wide-ranging improprieties related to the former Kinder Morgan pipeline and its subsequent acquisition … [and, the article says] … The Bank of Montreal has been using intermediary business service providers to ‘effectively bribe’ the elected officials of Indian Act-governments in British Columbia in exchange for pipeline approvals, the longtime government relations executive alleges. That practice has been a source of outrage among indigenous people in the Province … [and] … Worried that the practice violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the United States, (a conviction under that law would result in criminal prosecutions and trade sanctions against BMO), banking executives hurridly lobbied Finance Minister Bill Morneau in late May, and were able to quickly secure a transaction that would effectively nationalize the pipeline, while offering favorable terms of indemnification to the investors involved in the project.” It just seems to get murkier and murkier and the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick’s testimony to the House of Commons Justice Committee, just hours ago and with which I will deal separately, in a few days, didn’t make things any clearer.
I asked, yesterday, if this is just “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? … [or] … 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?” We still don’t know, for sure, but, no matter what Ms Wilson-Raybould’s end game might be the whole thing may have been so badly handled by the prime minister and his inner circle in the PMO that, regardless of the real public policy issues that might be involved it has now descended into the never-land of cover up and, even, perceived corruption.
It seems to me that dropping the pilot , a la Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890, when he dumped Bismarck, may have seemed, just days ago, like enough to defuse this affair, but now it appears not. How long can decent, honest Liberal MPs, and that, I affirm, is most of them, endure the prime minister’s obfuscations? Mr Ibbitson says, and I agree, that “This is what a great big scandal looks like. And we’re smack in the middle of it.” Liberal MPs like Terry Beech in British Columbia, Nate Erskine-Smith in Ontario and Gudie Hutchings from Newfoundland and Labrador must all be wondering if they can continue to support a government that seems so detached from what Canadians want and need.
It is, I believe, time for Liberals to stand up for the honourable, even great traditions of their party …
… there was a day when to say Liberal was to imply integrity, competence and political principle. I’m sad to say that those days vanished in the 1970s when a new, deeply flawed vision of Canada took root in the Liberal Party and it, sadly, had little interest in or use for integrity or principle. I believe it is time for real liberals to take back control of the Liberal Party of Canada. I also believe that it is time for millions of Canadians to reexamine how they chose Justin Trudeau … it certainly wan not because he had a stellar record of service in Parliament, or anywhere else. I understood that Canadians were tired of the colourless, introverted Stephen Harper and wanted “real change,” but all they got was style and ineptitude. We, all of us, voters need to do better. Finally I believe that the Liberals need another spell on the opposition benches to regain their focus; it is time to elect Conservatives, again.
Éric Grenier, writing for CBC News, says that “The fallout from the SNC-Lavalin affair is only beginning to rain down on Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government but it seems to be having an impact — one that could put the Liberals on track to defeat in this fall’s federal election … [and he reports that] … The first polls published since the Globe and Mail initially reported the allegations on Feb. 7 suggest that the Liberals have taken a significant hit in public support … [for example] … The CBC’s Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polls, puts the Liberals and Conservatives neck-and-neck in voting intentions and virtually tied in the number of seats each party would be likely to win if an election were held today … [thus] … Right now, there’s no clear indication of which party would emerge with the most seats in a general election — a significant shift from where things stood at the end of 2018, when the Poll Tracker gave the Liberals a better than 90 per cent chance of winning an election … [and, he says] … For the Liberals, the trend line might only get worse.” That is about the only good news coming out of Ottawa these days.