The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould on the record

A few days ago, in his regular “last word” segment, Don Martin, of CTV News, said thatAnd so, undoubtedly to the relief of a scandal-fatigued public outside of the parliamentary bubble, the SNC-Lavalin saga approaches the end of its two-month, non-stop news cycle … [because] … With the leaks, hearings, firings, aftershock scrums, more leaks and the reflective thoughts of the ousted now complete, the revelations and reverberations are largely a spent force … [and] … Unless the Trudeau government has an electoral death wish and actually frees SNC-Lavalin from criminal prosecution or the ethics commissioner finds wrongdoing, the news media goat, which requires daily feedings, will quickly run out of sustenance.

That is, most certainly, what Justin Trudeau and his campaign team hope, in any event. But:

  • I’m not so sure that our prime minister is smart enough to not force his new Attorney General to order the Director Of Public Prosecutions to offer SNC-Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), that “electoral death wish” about which Mr Martin writes, even though it is opposed by an overwhelming majority of voters: plus
  • I don’t think that Canadians will forget, or forgive, quite that easily: and
  • Somehow or other, I expect that Dr Jane Philpott and Ms Jody Wilson-Raybould, who are two very, very smart, very principled and, it appears, very determined women, who want to reform the Liberal Party of Canada, will find ways to keep hammering at Prime Justin Minister Trudeau. I think he has pushed them outside of the tent and they will, now, be able to do even more damage to him and his team.

Mr Martin notes that we have over six months to go before the election, but he points to “47 red flags flapping …[a few days ago] … in the House of Commons .. [47 being] … the RFN3GLFVXFH4TH5MS3L44NQLYUnumber of  young, politically-astute women, many preparing to vote for the first time …  [who] …. are the chosen ones in Trudeau’s demographic fan club … [and who] … stood and turned their backs to Trudeau during his word salad speech to a Daughters of the Vote celebration.” And that, he notes, “adds an extremely sobering challenge to a red-lining Liberal re-election machine. It already has to mend broken fences with angry Indigenous communities, upset carbon price-paying motorists in four provinces, alienated westerners and average Canadians who don’t see Trudeau doing politics any differently.

He also says, and I agree, that “The Conservatives and NDP were largely just gleeful bystanders to an SNC-Lavalin scandal as Liberals fired inwards from their circled wagons. Now it’s their chance to showcase themselves in contrast to a government which has cast tall shadows over its dying rays of political sunshine.

But, really, that’s about all they need to do because, as he says, “The prime minister has been revealed as a leader who is just as control freakish over caucus and committee behavior as Stephen Harper on his worst chair-kicking day. His MPs have largely been unmasked as eager to put electoral self-interest over all other considerations.” But there is, I think, another reason. I believe that Dr Jane Philpott and Ms Jody Wilson-Raybould were, actually, trying to save the Liberal Party from Team Trudeau; it seems, now, that Ms Wilson-Raybould wanted to help Justin Trudeau to manage what Don Martin calls “a successful rebranding,” and she wanted to offer him a chance to do a “reset before the campaign starts,” without which, he suggests, “the Liberals could watch a lot more than a few dozen daughters voting for anybody else.

But, now, Ms Wilson-Raybould has spoken, recently, to John Geddes at MacLean’s magazine. He says that “There are two ways this might go now for Jody Wilson-Raybould: creation of an icon or writing of a footnote. To her admirers, the former justice minister’s attributes seem lastingly potent. She was the woman who rose higher in federal politics than any previous Indigenous politician, only to be driven out on a point of principle. To her critics, including many of her former Liberal colleagues, she just wasn’t a team player and didn’t understand the compromises high office demands.” I think there is a wee, tiny bit of merit in what her opponents say, although not for the reasons they say those things. I believe that she is an honourable and principled woman who, indeed, “just wasn’t a team player” because, in our system of (Westminster) parliamentary democracy the Attorney General must not be part of the “team;” (s)he must be above the partisan, political fray, ensuring that equal and impartial justice is available to all, without fear or favour. But I think she did understand that compromise is required in high office and I think she did compromise on many issues that brought her into politics, especially on indigenous issues, because she, honestly and honourably, believed that the Liberal Party was the best hope for good, fair, progressive government in Canada. I think, however, that her own, well tuned, ethics made compromise on her duty as Attorney General impossible … as the Shawcross Doctrine says it must be.

Mr Geddes writes, for background, that: “Wilson-Raybould, 48, was first elected a Screen Shot 2019-04-05 at 07.37.15Liberal MP in Vancouver in 2015, having been recruited by Justin Trudeau on the strength of her record as a B.C. First Nations leader. He made her his first justice minister, then demoted her to Veterans Affairs early this year. Wilson-Raybould suspects she fell out of favour after resisting months of pressure from Trudeau and senior officials to use her power as attorney general to give SNC-Lavalin a way of avoiding a bribery trial through a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) … [but] … Trudeau denies that was the reason. But Wilson-Raybould quit his cabinet as the controversy raged, and he kicked her out of the Liberal caucus on April 2, along with her ally, former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott … [and then, on] … The following afternoon, she sat with Maclean’s for this extensive interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mr Geddes and Ms Wilson-Raybould review that key issue, attempted political interference (obstruction of justice?), by Justin Trudeau and his closest advisors, in what ought to be must be an independent, fair and just decision by a prosecutor, in a brief Q&A series:

Q: When you were attorney general, you had the legal power to override the Director of Public Prosecutions and give SNC-Lavalin a chance to negotiate a DPA. Why was it wrong for the PMO to urge you to use that power or at least seek an outside, expert opinion on whether you should?

A: The basic principle in this particular case, and why there’s been all this discussion, I believe has been lost. And it is the fundamental principle that a prosecutor needs to be independent in terms of the decisions that he or she makes. They need to be able to exercise their discretion unfettered from politics, partisans or otherwise. In this case, with respect to SNC-Lavalin, I was provided with what’s called a Section 13 note, in which the prosecutor tells me about a particular case.

As with any Section 13 note, as the head prosecutor, or the attorney general, I looked at it. I read the explanation from the prosecutor. I decided not to take action because I respected the independent prosecutor’s exercise of her discretion in this case, and I did not deem it appropriate in this case to intervene. That was based on how she presented it to me and other due diligence that I did.

Q: What’s in that Section 13 report is confidential. But do you believe that if it were public, opinion would shift?

A: I think it crosses the line for me to answer that question. But I think it’s not the right question for people to ask. I think people are getting too focused on DPAs, on SNC-Lavalin, on the nature of that company. There’s been so much spin and hyperbole and talking about people experiencing things differently that the actual issue at bar has been lost.

Q: And what is that question?

A: It is not whether SNC-Lavalin deserves a deferred prosecution agreement, but do we have confidence in our institutions that we’ve set up legislatively, providing discretion to prosecutors to do their job, and make the decisions based on the tools that we as legislators gave them?

In this case, we gave an additional tool to prosecutors called the Deferred Prosecution Agreement. They did their job. They exercised their discretion. And in exercising their discretion, recognizing that this would be something that would be of general interest, they sent the attorney general the note. I could have exercised my authority, but I didn’t have to. I didn’t in this case because I trusted and knew that the prosecutor was doing her job.

In another, very brief Q&A series, they get to the key point:

Q: One way to look at events is that there was a well-orchestrated campaign to pressure you and your staff. The other is that it was a poorly coordinated, haphazard effort on a difficult file. We’ve heard Wernick neglected to even report back on his key conversation with you to the Prime Minster. That doesn’t suggest a well-organized approach. What do you think?

A: It’s an interesting question, actually. So, in those two scenarios, orchestrated or botched, the end objective was to interfere in a prosecution. Irrespective of the means, it doesn’t justify the end. (My emphasis added, here and below.)

Q: In that sense, you don’t think it matters?

A: The only consistency throughout that was I was doing my job and saying stop, I’m trying to protect the Prime Minister. So, in either of those scenarios, back to the actual issue here: You can’t interfere with the independence of the prosecutor. That’s what I was trying to uphold.

This, I think, goes back to something that Law Professor and former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said: the Trudeau ““government “absolutely” has a reason to be concerned about criminal charges – whether obstruction of justice, or an attempt to obstruct justice … [because, while] … “Apparently Ms. Wilson-Raybould did not relent,” she [Judge Turpel-Lafond] said in an interview. “But an attempt is also an offence.”” It seems abundantly clear to me that Ms Wilson-Raybould was, indeed, trying to protect Justin Trudeau and his closest advisors, including Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick from themselves. They were embarked, for their own reasons, or Mr Wernick says, for Justin Trudeau’s own reasons, on a course of action that was, quite clearly improper and, perhaps, illegal. I cannot believe, not for a µsecond, that two men as intelligent, as experienced and as accomplished as Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick, even though they are not lawyers, did not understand that. What I do believe is that Justin Trudeau neither understood nor did he care to take legal advice from anyone, not from Ms Wilson-Raybould, not from his principal secretary, Mr Butts, and not from the country’s most senior civil servant, Mr Wernick. In his little mind, I suspect, the law does not apply to him. For whatever reason Justin Trudeau wanted (still wants?) a DPA for SNC-Lavalin and he is not a person who takes advice … he wants “Yes, sir! You’re right, sir! Three bags full, sir!”

John Geddes gets to that point:

Q: The fact that you wanted to remain a Liberal right up until yesterday perplexes some people, including some Liberal MPs I’ve talked with. They think loyalty to the leader is sacrosanct and caucus unity is inviolable. Is there something to that?

A: I believe in loyalty. I believe in solidarity. I believe in being a member of a team. What I don’t believe in is that you have blind loyalty, or that you have loyalty in isolation of facts and evidence and in absence of wanting to see the truth. I mean, blind loyalty is not something that underpins a democracy; it underpins another kind of politics, in my mind.

Bingo! As I have mentioned a few times before, too many Liberal MPs seem to be “just following orders” as they attack Ms Wilson-Raybould and Dr Philpott. That ‘defence’ didn’t work at Nuremberg in the 1940s and it doesn’t work nor, either. And that leads to a key Q&A:

Q: And the Liberal party?

A: The Liberal party is not something that I understand anymore. I believe that if you do not stick to your principles and to your values, or you remove yourself from those principles for loyalty, then you really don’t have anything to stand on. There’s no foundation. If you compromise principles for loyalty and solidarity, then you become complicit in something that’s wrong. That’s how I see. I feel badly for my former colleagues. I can, to a certain degree, understand their anger, their frustration, or thinking that I’m a—whatever they want to call me—not a team player.

But, how in god’s name can an honest, honourable person be a “team player” when the team is engaged in a crime?

Where are the other honest and honourable Liberals? I know there are some, many, I hope, in the Party, and in the caucus, and, indeed, even in the cabinet and the privy council, who must be feeling, right now, the tug between loyalty to the leader and their own personal moral and ethical values. It is time for them to stand up for Canada and for the Liberal Party of Canada and expel Justin Trudeau from his office, from the government and from the Liberal caucus.

 

 

 

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