I see, in the Globe and Mail, in a report by James Brunskill of the Canadians Press, that “The federal ethics commissioner says there is no reason to believe former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick broke the conflict-of-interest law during the SNC-Lavalin affair.” Commissioner Mario Dion said that ““the individuals who acted under the direction or authority of the Prime Minister in this matter could not have influenced the Attorney General simply by virtue of their position” … [and, therefore] … Dion decided not to pursue additional examinations of these public office holders, including Wernick, “nor did I have reason to believe that they may have breached another substantive rule under the Act” … [and] … Ultimately, Dion found that “none of the information gathered indicated that Mr. Wernick may have contravened any of his obligations under the Act,” the report says.“
I think M Dion came to the right conclusion. Many were outraged by what Ms Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons about what Mr Warnick said to her. It certainly looked like pressure to any thinking person … because it was. But Mr Warnick was just giving us all a glimpse of how power is, sometimes, exercised. He told Ms Wilson-Raybould that the prime minister had a super-sized SNC-Lavalin bee in his bonnet and he, Justin Trudeau, was determined to have his way. Mr Warnick would know that, for sure, and he would have seen it as his duty to offer his very well informed opinion to Jody Wilson-Raybould, Attorney-General or not, and Shawcross be damned.
Mr Warnick had three main responsibilities. He was, in no particular order:
- The Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister ~ he above all others, even Gerald Butts and Katie Telford in the PMO, had a responsibility to ensure that the prime minister’s wishes and will were clearly understood on a policy level. Ms Telford and Mr Butts had similar responsibilities on a political level. That’s part of the distinction between the Privy Council Office ~ it’s about policy ~ and the Prime Minister’s Office ~ it’s about politics;
- He is the Secretary to the Cabinet. He is responsible to ensure that cabinet decisions are understood and coordinated; and
- He is responsible for something called the machinery of government, which is a very complex business that includes making sure that the left hand of government actually dos know what the right hand is doing.
He was, it seems to me, exercising his duty in all three areas. I, personally, am satisfied that, as his own lawyer said to M Dion, he “did not seek to improperly further the private interests of SNC-Lavalin,” he was, properly, seeking to tell a minister about the wishes of the prime minister ~ and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wishes, Commissioner Dion said in a report issued last summer, “violated the Conflict of Interest Act … [because he used] … his position of authority to exert influence over Wilson-Raybould, both directly and indirectly, in her decision on whether to intervene in the file.” Now, Mr Warnick’s communications with Ms Wilson-Raybould were an important part of that “influence.” Calls from or conversations with the Clerk of the Privy Council are a big deal for any minister; his voice is a combination of the prime minister’s voice and the voice of informed political expertise, too. But that doesn’t make his comments improper.
M Dion can see, I guess, at least I hope, a clear distinction between the prime minister acting improperly, in violation of the (pretty clear) rules that are supposed to guide politicians and a very, very senior civil servant who was explaining the prime minister’s thinking ~ improper though that thinking was ~ to a senior minister.
Now, some people, including a lot of Conservatives are going to be outraged … but not me. Distasteful as it may have been for us to see politics in action, Mr Warnick did what good staff people do: he explained the boss’s point of view to a subordinate. It wasn’t nice to see and hear, but it is how business and politics get done in the 21st century … and have been done for centuries, even millennia in the past.
Ms Wilson-Raybould stood on her principles and paid a heavy political price for defying Justin Trudeau.
Mr Warnick also stood by his guns and was forced to resign because, as he said, he had lost the trust and respect of the opposition parties, something that is vital when an election is at hand because, for good Constitutional reasons, the Clerk’s machinery of government role becomes even more important when political power is in (temporary) limbo and might even change hands.
Finally, Mario Dion did the right things:
- He found Justin Trudeau guilty of breaking the conflict of interest rules for his own political advantage; and
- He found that Micheal Warnick had no case to answer for doing his duty.