Gerald Butts strikes back … politely
First, a few thoughts on Gerald Butts’ testimony, today, which did little, in my opinion, to counter what Ms Wilson-Raybould had to say. As expected he said, ever so calmly and politely, that the pressure put on Jody Wilson-Raybould was normal for politics and that the 9,000 jobs in Québec were crucial. And he said that she could have, and should have come to him and to the prime minister as soon as she may have felt that the pressure was inappropriate. He waffled around the cabinet shuffle that resulted from Scott Brison’s retirement; he suggested that Jody Wilson-Raybould was, originally, intended for the Indigenous Services portfolio … but, he said, it went wrong because Dr Philpott though that SNC-Lavalin might be a reason. He said that on January 7th the prime minister, personally told Jody Wilson-Raybould about the cabinet shuffle. He said that Ms Wilson-Raybould did not want to be Indigenous Services minister and that she also mentioned that she thought she was being shuffled for “other reasons.” He says, that she, Jody Wilson-Raybould turned down the portfolio she was offered, but they decided to move her anyway. He said that he, Butts, told the prime minister that he had to assert his sole and exclusive authority to build his cabinet and that he could not allow Jody Wilson-Raybould to remain in Justice just because she didn’t want to administer the Indian Act which she finds, personally, odious. So, they had a plan, he said: move Jane Philpott from Indigenous Services to Treasury Board, that made good sense; then move Jody Wilson-Raybould to Indigenous Services because Mr Butts said, she’s one of our best people. She doesn’t want to so they demote her to Veterans Affairs (as punishment for defying the prime minister?) and then move one of their worst people, Seamus O’Regan into Indigenous Services … did that really make sense?
What I, personally, found fascinating was Gerald Butts use of the expression that she (he was referring to Dr Philpott) may have experienced things differently … shades of Justin Trudeau’s Kokanee Grope ‘defence.’ The crux of his over two hours of testimony seems to be that good people can disagree about how prosecutorial discretion ought to work and he and the people who worked for him were entitled to pressure Ms Wilson-Raybould to consider and then reconsider SNC-Lavalin and the deferred prosecution issue. I did not find much of anything in Mr Butt’s testimony to be either useful or persuasive but I am sure that some Liberal MPs and some Liberal supporters will be reassured. I doubt the media will be overly impressed … but time will tell, and it might be illustrative that the CBC‘s Robyn Urback said, on social media, right at about the end of Mr Butt’s appearance at the committee, that “I really believe Butts believes they weren’t doing anything wrong, which is so characteristic of this gov’t and explains why the damage control has been so bad. They truly believe what they’re doing is righteous and good and therefore are shocked —shocked! — when things blow up.” The media’s and the country’s reactions will not be helped by the fact that the Liberals on the Justice Committee voted, first, against requesting documents and then voted against recalling Jody Wilson-Raybould.
John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail shortly after Mr Butts finished testifying and, I think, before he heard from Mr Wernick and Mlle Drouin said, that “all future debates, and the election campaign itself, will be framed by the questions raised by SNC-Lavalin. Did the Prime Minister and his advisers seek to undermine the rule of law by pressing the attorney-general to intervene in a prosecution? What do the resignations of Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott say about Mr. Trudeau’s leadership? Has he lost the public trust?“
In the afternoon session of the Justice Committee meeting Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Nathalie Drouin, the Deputy Minister of Justice, also added little except to confirm that Me Wilson-Raybould had, indeed, advised the “centre,” on 17 Sept 2018 that she was not going to instruct the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider a remediation agreement. But both agreed with Gerald Butts that the issue was never finally closed until a prosecution was ended with a verdict and, consequently, the continuous pressure was not untoward.
And that leads me to may main point, today, which is what John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, has to say about the resignations of both JodyWilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two people who, he says, “came into government because they believed in what Mr. Trudeau said he believed in … [and] …they have”, he says, “resigned from his cabinet, lacking confidence in his leadership. Yes, this is about the alleged interference by the Prime Minister and his advisers in the prosecution for corruption of the Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin. But,” Mr Ibbitson says “even more, now, it’s about his character, his commitment, his ability to lead – in the eyes of some of those who were closest to him.“
“We are witnessing,” Mr Ibbitson writes, “a personal vote of non-confidence in the Prime Minister by some of his most senior cabinet ministers, based on his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, but also over disillusion with Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.“
Both Ms Wilson-Raybould and Dr Philpott have, for now, at least, remained in the Liberal caucus, where they I think belong … they signed on to the established Liberal programme, they campaigned as Liberals, they were, both, leaders within that great party and then they were betrayed by it. But, they, and other Liberals, were betrayed by a team of parochial ward heelers who have been all an all too common feature in Canadian politics for generations, but which, now, since about 1970, anyway, seems to be increasingly prevalent, especially in the Laurentian basin, from hardworking, blue collar Windsor to the beautiful Gaspésie. We see “cash for access” and preferential treatment for those with the right connections. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work in the Western Canadian resource sector, especially in Alberta’s oil fields, watch their good jobs disappear because they are not on the right side. This is not to suggests that corruption is new in Canadian politics … it’s an old problem here, and everywhere. But Team Trudeau recruited star candidates like Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould with an explicit promise to do better, to be better … and, now, it seems they have shown themselves to be just the same old Librano$ that we got to know in the Chrétien era.
But, Gerald Butt’s testimony notwithstanding, we know that if we lived in Australia or even staid old Britain that, after this, the prime minister would likely be forced out of office …
… but we have adopted the notion, from the Americans, that the prime minister is akin to a president and only the people can remove her or him from office.
Campbell Clark, also writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “Losing one cabinet minister who resigns on principle can be considered a misfortune. Losing two smacks of crisis … [and] … If any other cabinet minister had quit Justin Trudeau’s cabinet after Jody Wilson-Raybould’s stand in the SNC-Lavalin affair, it would have been bad. When it is Jane Philpott, a paragon of principle who is no pie-eyed dreamer, it is Mr. Trudeau’s government falling apart from the inside … [and, he suggests] … The second resignation will be worse than the first.” Dr Philpott, he says is “no ivory-tower sentimentalist. If some wondered whether Ms. Wilson-Raybould was simply angry at her demotion, no one can think that’s the case for Ms. Philpott. She was just promoted. And her resignation is an implicit endorsement of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s version, and an explicit condemnation of Mr. Trudeau’s.“
It is also a stunning condemnation of Justin Trudeau’s leadership … one that, I suspect, will shake the confidence of many other Liberal MPs and even a few ministers, too, even though, the CBC‘s Katie Simpson reports that all remaining ministers have pledged loyalty to their
führer leader, and it will, likely, worry millions of Canadian voters even more.
But, Mark Gollum, also of the CBC, reports that “Penny Collenette, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa and a former Liberal campaign director, said the resignations of both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould are a “serious blow to the Liberal Party and to politics in general” … [and] … Collenette said in an email that the symbolic loss of two high-profile, hard-working female cabinet ministers is disappointing — particularly after the party worked so hard to recruit women into politics … [but] … Collenette noted that “resignations are not politically fatal but the aftermath has to be handled wisely and elegantly.”” The question is can Justin Trudeau have the moral and intellectual capacity to “handle” such a situation both “wisely and elegantly“? He seems, to me, more comfortable doing inappropriate Bhangra dances. I think that a real leader, someone who was ready for the job in 2015, would not have gotten himself and his ministry (government) into his mess in the first place. I cannot believe that at least one or two more ministers were/are not concerned about the issues that Erin O’Toole raised including the seemingly malicious prosecution of Vice Admiral Mark Norman, the introduction of a fundamental change to criminal law ~ the remediation agreements ~ which was passed into law as part of a 250+ page omnibus budget implementation bill and the inappropriate pressuring of the Attorney General to overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions using reasons (economic interests) that the apolitical public official is, specifically, not allow to consider.
John Ibbitson suggests that “This is a civil war, one Mr. Trudeau may not survive.” But how can it be when other commentators, like Barbara Yaffe, also in the Globe and Mail, say that “The SNC-Lavalin controversy, if truly a scandal as so many pundits would have us believe, is one of the wimpiest I can recall in more than 40 years as a journalist covering federal and provincial governments?” She reminds us that “No one pocketed envelopes of kickback-cash in dimly lit restaurants. No tainted food or blood products were distributed to Canadians. No one died or was physically harmed … [and, she say that] … The PM’s specific transgression was refusing to accept a decision of the director of public prosecutions Kathleen Roussel, who reports to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, that criminal prosecution was the correct and only response to the company’s bribery transgressions in Libya some years ago … [because, he and others say] … In the government’s view, too much was at stake to allow a criminal prosecution to proceed because, in addition to garden-variety Quebec-related political considerations, some 9,000 Canadian jobs were at play. It’s certainly a fair, even responsible consideration, given that SNC-Lavalin – if successfully prosecuted – by law would then not be able to bid on federal contracts for a decade.“
Let’s assume, for a moment, that both are right: Ms Yaffe says we have a wimpy political scandal that barely rises to that characterization at all and Mr Ibbitson says it is civil war. I think they both have a good case and I think it goes past the issue of SNC-Lavalin and an inappropriate flouting of the Shawcross Doctrine and rests, instead, on basic, fundamental leadership. I think this crisis says that Justin Trudeau is NOT a leader. Why not? Because he lacks integrity, he seems to lack much interest in or real understanding of his job, he has a double standard, one for himself and one for others, and the list goes on. We, Canadians, weren’t looking for a Churchill or Wellington or another Laurier, Borden or St Laurent … many Canadians in 2015, were just tired of a dull, introverted policy wonk and, because Stephen Harper had, actually, been a pretty good, solid prime minister, millions of us made the mistake of thinking that an untested trust fund kid, someone to whom neither Stéphane Dion nor Michael Ignatieff had entrusted of a top tier critic post they they were, in turn, Leader of the Opposition, could do the job, too. Many Canadians thought the Liberal Party would choose a real leader, not just a celebrity with a pretty face.
I said, a couple of weeks ago, when Gerald Butts resigned, that “I almost never agree with the CBC‘s Neil Macdonald on almost any topic,” but, by golly, here I am agreeing with him again when he says, in an opinion piece on the CBC News website, that “With his government sinking into a self-inflicted crisis, it’s beginning to appear that Justin Trudeau simply doesn’t have the intellectual acuity to cope.
Leadership is, I believe, the real issue that is dividing the Liberal Party of Canada ~ it’s causing the civil war that John Ibbitson sees brewing in the caucus ~ and, I hope, it is also dividing Liberal Party members and supporters, too. The Liberals have good potential leaders in their caucus …
… people whose ethics and reputations have not been compromised, even if some may be a bit weak in the second language department. But they have been submerged in the intellectual pabulum that Team Trudeau has used instead of offering a coherent suite of national policies. More and more members of the Liberal caucus should choose to stand up, now, for Canada and for the future of the Liberal Party and, as Dr Philpott did, clearly express their lack of confidence in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canadians also have a choice: Andrew Scheer has assembled and leads a good, competent, honest team …
… and that team is ready, now, to give Canada equally good, honest, competent government.