About a week ago I said that “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,” due to the ongoing Jody Wilson-Raybould ~ SNC-Lavalin ~ Jane Philpott and, now, Michael Wernick ~ Celina Caesar-Chavannes scandal.
In an excellent article in the Globe and Mail, Angela Wright, who is a writer, political/public affairs analyst and Conservative political insider, explains why the prime minister gets to lead until his (or her) party, not the opposition, not some parliamentary official and not the media nor, even, especially, the twitterverse, decides that it, and no one else, has lost confidence in her or his leadership.
Ms Wright says that “Australian political parties have a tradition of allowing leaders to be defeated by caucus members, but this high tolerance for leadership-overthrow-by-caucus has produced six prime ministers in the last 11 years, with no elected prime minister surviving an entire three-year term. If Canadians continue to insist a sitting prime minister be deposed without grievous circumstances, it could lead Canada down a similar path of political instability.” I’m not sure that Australia’s political instability, which I agree is real, is all that bad. Australia, after all, lives in a pretty rough neighbourhood, with China and Indonesia as neighbours, and they are far, far away from America’s benign protection but, still, they have had 27 years now (25 when this article was written) of uninterrupted prosperity under a mix of Labour and Liberal (conservative) led coalition governments …
… the key issue, it seems to me, is not political stability, rather it is political confidence. A government, any government, Conservative or Liberal, must have the confidence of a majority in the house of commons in order to be allowed to govern, at all, and the leader of a party, governing or not, must have the confidence of her or his caucus in order to lead. (It was, the same in the military. I, as a colonel commanding a regiment had the power to say that Major X would command this or that squadron and Lieutenants Y and Z would command these troops, but I also kept careful watch (and had a team of advisors) to tell me if anyone ever lost the confidence of the men and women in the ranks. When that happened ~ and it did because the Army’s recruiting, selection and training systems are imperfect ~ then I took executive (command) action to replace a weak leader, for the good of the whole regiment.) Tossing someone like Justin Trudeau on to the political dung-heap because he has lost the confidence of too many MPs would not, necessarily, destabilize the country … not if the Liberal Party selected a new leader who could gain and hold the trust (confidence) of the caucus. In fact, if the prime minister lost the confidence of his own caucus and of much of the country, too, then throwing her or him out might actually promote stability.
I suspect that Liberals, minister first, last week, followed by female MPs and now all MPs have been told something like: ‘Look here, Pierre Trudeau was right, you’re all ‘nobodies,’ and being elected to parliament was the best thing that ever happened to you and you only got elected because Justin Trudeau as the leader … you own him, bit time! Now, get behind him and toe the party line.‘ In some (quite a few) cases that’s true, there are some pretty weak ministers and backbench MPs in the Liberal caucus who did, indeed, get elected on Justin Trudeau’s coat tails. I expect many of them to stay loyal to the bitter end.
I also suspect, as some analysts suggest, that after the failure of his ‘non-apology,’ Team Trudeau is looking for another sacrifice: Michael Wernick being a prime candidate because of his less than stellar performance in front of the House of Commons Justice Committee and the easy access that former Clerk of the Privy Council and now Chairman of the Board of SNC-Lavalin, Kevin Lynch, seems to have had to discuss SNC-Lavalin‘s legal troubles with the current clerk. It smacks of special treatment and an ‘old boys’ club‘ atmosphere in the corridors of power.
For the record: I accept that SNC-Lavalin, in 2018/19, is a far different organization than the one that bribed and even pimped for the Gaddafi family. There is a new, clean Board and a new, clean, executive team, and so I have some sympathy with the corporate leadership’s attempt to avoid a corruption trial; I even understand why Mr Lynch would call Mr Wernick to ask for his help, even if he did, in the process, break the lobbying rules … what I cannot understand is why Mr Wernick didn’t hang up as soon as the topic of conversation became politically charged; that’s a conversation Mr Lynch should have had, and I suspect could have had, with Justin Trudeau and with Jody Wilson-Raybould; Mr Lynch is one of those Canadians whose calls get answered, politely, by the high and mighty in Ottawa.
Mr Wernick has, in my opinion, displayed poor judgement … I get that he and Gerald Butts and Justin Trudeau all believed that the pressure they were applying to the Attorney General was within the bounds of law and propriety, as they, all non-lawyers, understood it, but they were wrong and it is, in our Westminster system of parliamentary government, the Clerk’s job to ensure that government works properly, which means lawfully. He failed, he should go, next and soon. It is totally within the prime minister’s discretion to hire and fire the Clerk of the Privy Council; given that the “erosion of trust” that Justin Trudeau discovered was, it seems, created by Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick, then both should be gone. The civil service and the Privy Council Office need and deserve new leadership.
Now, what about the prime minister himself?
Will the sacrifice of both Butts and Wernick be enough?
They might be, if, and it’s a big, Big IF, we hear nothing more about SNC-Lavalin until the case is decided in a criminal court. But, if the Laurentian Elites demand that SNC-Lavalin is
pardoned granted a remediation agreement then, given recent polling, the prime minister is likely to remain on the wrong side of this whole issue, which has spread to feminism and the treatment of First Nations, and, for many Liberal MPs, his coat tails, his ability to win in October 2019, will be weaker. That may be all it takes to convince the caucus and the Party leadership to dump him. There are, already, calls from Liberal friendly sources in the media, for the Liberal majority on the House of Commons Justice Committee to reconsider its marching orders and to vote, with the opposition, to recall Jody Wilson-Raybould. Of course, as we just learned, from the Globe and Mail, “Liberal MPs used their majority on the House of Commons Justice committee to shut down an emergency meeting that was called Wednesday to consider hearing further testimony from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould … [and] … To cries of “shame”, “despicable” and “cover-up”, five Liberal MPs voted against the three Conservatives and one NDP member to have Ms. Wilson-Raybould appear before the committee on Thursday.” No matter what it looks and smells like Justin Trudeau’s Liberals Are trying to cover up actual criminal political corruption: an attempt to obstruct justice for political gain.
The SNC-Lavalin/potential obstruction of justice issue isn’t dead, even though some very well informed sources say it might be fading away; neither is the issue of Justin Trudeau’s leadership. he needs to go before the next election which he might be tempted to call early, to try to save his own, worthless skin.
Welcome to Australia …