We’ve been hearing a lot about the Mueller investigation in the news lately. Devastating a lot of democrats to find out that there will be no further indictments into the Russian collusion probe. I can’t help but sit back, looking at the state of affairs here in Canadian Politics in juxtaposition to our neighbours south of the border screeching in satisfaction and think to myself, “at least you’re lucky enough to have the checks and balances in place to even have the investigation take place at all.”
Here in Canada, apparently when a majority government doesn’t want the public to know about something they can just use and abuse their majority power to shut down all attempts to bring about an investigation. And it begs the question, does our majority government have too much power? What exactly is going on with the SNC-Lavalin situation? Is it a scandal? Is it out right corruption? Bribery? A violation of ethics? And apparently according to most media, why should any of us really even care? Well, let’s review what’s been going on and attempt to ask some of those tough questions.
The first breaking article from the Globe and Mail, “PMO pressed Wilson-Raybould to abandon prosecution of SNC-Lavalin; Trudeau denies his office ‘directed’ her,” was published on Feburary 7th. It’s now March 27th and we still have yet to hear the whole story from Jody Wilson-Raybould who was the initial whistleblower to the SNC-Lavalin controversy. At first the justice committee didn’t even feel the need to hear any testimony at all. They were satisfied with Trudeau’s initial rejection of the Globe and Mail article.
But as questions mounted and most mainstream outlets and opposition the Justice committee finally granted Wilson-Raybould the opportunity to sit before the Justice Committee and testify. Wilson-Raybould would not share her story with the media because she was concerned that due to solicitor-client privilege she could be disbarred if she were to disclose any details regarding the situation around the SNC-Lavalin deferred prosecution agreement. Given that her role at the time was as Attorney General of Canada.
Watch what is a deferred prosecution agreement and what does it mean?:
Also known as “MOJAG” the Attorney General litigates on behalf of the Crown and serves as the chief legal advisor to the Government of Canada. Most prosecution functions of the Attorney General have been assigned to the Public Prosection Service of Canada. The Salary of the Attorney General is $255,300 per year (2017).
Finally on Feb 27 Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered a 37 minute testimony and then answered questions for about 2 hours afterwards. Wilson-Raybould tells the justice committee she came under “consistent and sustained” pressure — including veiled threats — from the PMO, the Privy Council Office and Morneau’s office to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
What were the key details of her testimony?
- Wilson-Raybould was asked by the PMO to overrule the prosecution decision not to grant a DPA to SNC-Lavalin because of Canadian jobs and that there was an election coming up. Wilson-Raybould turned down the requests citing political reasons as an inappropriate reason to overrule the prosecution.
- The “consistent and sustained pressure” she received from the PMO to overrule the the prosecutor’s decision went on over the course of 4 months by multiple MPs (and the PCO Michael Wernick who is supposed to be non-partisan)
- Trudeau’s principal secretary, best friend, Gerald Butts (whom Trudeau has asserted speaks for him) told Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff at one point that there “is no solution here that doesn’t involve some interference.” Gerald Butts then resigned on Feb 18 after the Globe and Mail article.
- Then Trudeau’s Chief of staff Katie Telford tells Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, “we don’t want to debate legalities any more.“
- After the cabinet shuffle the then deputy minister was given directives that the new Attorney General David Lametti was holding conversations with the PM emphasizing the priority of the SNC-Lavalin case.
- During questions Wilson-Raybould was asked if she thought the pressure was illegal and she said, “no”. (important to note that the only thing she claimed was not illegal was whether or not SHE THOUGHT the PRESSURE PUT ON HER was ILLEGAL and that’s very important to remember given how frequently Liberals are now citing this question as a total exoneration of their conduct and justification to shut down the SNC-Lavalin probe.)
Long story short, After Wilson-Raybould determined that she would not grant SNC-Lavalin a DPA there was a cabinet shuffle where she was removed as attorney general and appointed the position of Minister of Veterans Affairs. This demotion was seen as a direct punishment for not giving in to the PMO insistence of granting SNC-Lavalin a DPA. This was at the heart of the interference allegation, since it was seen that the newly appointed Attorney General would now seek to pursue the DPA for SNC-Lavalin, the issue Wilson-Raybould has already made her decision on. The then deputy minister was given directives that the new Attorney General David Lametti was holding conversations with the PM emphasizing the priority of the SNC-Lavalin case.
The only problem with her testimony was that Trudeau had not completely lifted solicitor-client privilege and so there were holes in Wilson-Raybould’s testimony of details she could not disclose. Details like specifically what was discussed in closed door and official meetings. Essentially the meat and potatoes to her whistle blowing. Trudeau has slightly lifted privilege for her testimony which, as he continuously references, was unprecedented. The new Liberal buzzword. And the fact alone that this was unprecedented he now cites as his excuse to why he isn’t fully lifting solicitor-client privilege so Wilson-Raybould can fill in the gaps of her testimony. To justify shutting down the SNC probe over the simple reason for it being unprecedented is literally a political way of saying, “well this has never happened before so there’s no reason to start doing it now.” These are unprecedented times with unprecedented conduct so we need to hear the whole truth on whether this is a scandal or not.
Since Wilson-Raybould’s testimony we have heard from the PCO Michael Wernick twice and Gerald Butts who have all out-right refuted Wilson-Raybould’s claims. Trudeau himself has had every opportunity during every single development to comment to the situation himself. But Jody Wilson-Raybould has never been given the opportunity to return to rebuttal all the allegations now against her from all the other testimony nor has privilege been lifted for her to tell us the whole truth. And now the Liberals have shut down the entire probe and unless the opposition or someone can bring about new information then that’s where this whole thing dies. And that’s not right, this is an abuse of power over something that’s even attracted the attention of the OECD over suspicion of bribery.
The following is my paraphrasing of the Liberal narrative (with citations) since the globe and mail story broke to serve as a cliffnotes summary of the entire Jody Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin scandal:
- (Trudeau reacts to Globe and Mail article) Trudeau: there’s nothing to this and the globe and mail article is fake news. We didn’t direct anyone to do anything. wilson-raybould’s account of events are being misconstrued and misinterpreted and her seat on cabinet should speak for itself. Nanny-nanny-boo-boo, get rekt opposition. LOL.
- (Wilson-Raybould resigns from cabinet and lawyers up) Trudeau: well I’m very sad to see her go but I’m very confused and if she had any concerns then she should’ve brought this to my attention, which she never did. This whole thing is just really one big misunderstand.
- (then Butts resigns) Trudeau: Well it’s the respect Butts has for our institutions is the reason why he’s stepping down because he felt it would be best and he continues to have my full confidence and friendship and gratitude. It wasn’t Butts who failed us, it was all of us who fail him. And by us I really mean you. All of you.
- (After Wilson-Raybould’s testimony) Trudeau: Well this has been a tough last few weeks because of a few minor disagreements. But first let’s talk about all this great stuff we’re doing that’s really more important. like progressive reforms over criminal justice. Jody spoke today and she really was great and fantastic and her truth is just so beautiful. but I already told you, we didn’t direct shit. So we just agree to disagree. Her decision about SNC-Lavalin was hers alone to make, not mine. I’m no lawyer. So I disagree with everything she said. But hey, we got ourselves an ethic commissioner on the payroll, I’m more than happy to let this dude with no legal authority to look into whether or not anything criminal went down. More than happy to let that guy and that guy alone to look into this.
- (At a press conference to discuss a Lunar mission) Trudeau: There was a time when people used the stars to navigate, the sun to tell time and that’s just cool man. You see I brought my daughter with me? I’m doing my part guys! Girls in STEM! We all know science is better when we embrace feminism. Let’s talk science! Can’t we all just get along!? STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS ABOUT SNC-LAVALIN!!!
- (then Jane Philpott resigns over lack of confidence in Trudeau) Trudeau: Well Philpott did great work and we appreciate it and will continue it. But this is just an example to how we embrace diverse opinions and points of view and Ms. Philpott is entitled to her truth and I’m entitled to my truth and we’ll continue to listen with open ears and open hearts and oh and by the way, did I mention climate change is really important?
- Wernick’s testimony: Jesus H double hockey sticks guys, there is just SO much partisanship going on here right now with all these questions that I really think come the election, we’re gonna see some assassination attempts. Everyone is just bullying us and that’s not fair! I didn’t do nothing wrong!
- Butt’s testimony: Jody’s fantastic and credible and did I mention fantastic? And she has her truth and in her truth she experiences things very truthfully. However in MY truth she’s a lying fucking bitch. And I’m also entitled to my truth.
- Trudeau: Well you know it’s my job to protect jobs so if protecting jobs makes me wrong, I don’t wanna be right, baby. That all just comes with the pressure of the job and I guess the pressure of such burdens was too much for Jody. She could’ve come to me but she didn’t and boy-o-boy I wish she had. Dialogue is crucial and it’s clear this was a case of an erosion of trust. My daddy and me have different governing styles but one thing we both really cared about was the principle of justice. Daddy always wanted a just society and those are the values he raised me on. So justice is something I’m really passionate the most about out of every one of us. Speaking of justice, did I mention that reconciliation and justice for our first nations people is what really matters here? Let’s talk about that.
- Wernick’s 2nd testimony: I HAVE SUBMITTED ALL MY FACEBOOK COMMENTS BECAUSE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SO MEAN TO ME AND I WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW ABOUT IT! SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT A PLACE FOR NEGATIVE COMMENTS! HOW DARE YOU OR ANYONE ACCUSE ME OF PARTISANSHIP! I’VE BEEN A CAREER POLITICIAN SINCE PAUL MARTIN. I HAVE MADE GOOD FRIENDS IN MY CAREER, AND SOME OF THOSE FRIENDS NOW WORK AT SNC-LAVALIN AND HAVE DIRECT ACCESS TO MY OFFICE WITH MY DIRECT EXTENSION TO REACH ME PERSONALLY AT ANY TIME! THEY EVEN INVITE ME TO ALL THEIR OFFICE GET TOGETHERS! WE’RE BASICALLY FAMILY! THEY MIGHT AS WELL JUST PUT ME ON THEIR PAYROLL!!! *oppositions’ jaws drop to the floor*
- (days later Wernick declares his retirement and effectively resigns from office) Wernick: YEAH WELL THE CONSERVATIVES ACCUSE ME OF NOT LIKING THEM, WELL GUESS WHAT I DON’T LIKE THEM EITHER! HOW DARE THEY ACCUSE ME OF PARTISANSHIP! THOSE DIRTY FUCKING CONSERVATIVE NEANDERTHALS!!!
- *Opposition tables an emergency meeting to call Wilson-Raybould back before the committee to speak with full solicitor-client privilege lifted* *Liberals use their majority power to immediately end the meeting before anyone can take a vote on the matter and then use their majority to finally end the SNC-Lavalin probe before presenting the new federal budget to the house and for the media to now report on the budget rather than SNC-Lavalin* Opposition: “COVER UP!“
- *Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes resigns the Liberal party and declares she will be running as an independent in the next election and also alleges mistreatment and hostility from the PM* Trudeau: Look, we’ve been over this. Her truth, my truth, blah blah blah, whatever she was a fucking bitch anyway.
- Liberals/Trudeau: Guys, look at our budget, see what I did there? Money for millenials, money for the seniors, money for all! I’m giving you all the money we’ve got! Actually, technically, I’m taking money from your children and grandchildren and giving that to you as well. Name 1 person you know who’s more generous than me. THAT’S RIGHT! YOU CAN’T! What’s that? Who? Who? Wilson-Raybould? Oh, shit, I remember her! Yeah, see, the thing is we COULD get more testimony and we COULD lift solicitor-client privilege BUT, BUT, BUUUUUUT, we’ve heard from so many different people and there’s just so much information out there and I mean, how many times do we expect Jody to talk afterall? I mean, I could lift privilege but that’s never been done before so… why would we do that now? She could always stand up in the house and talk for 60 seconds without privilege lifted. Man, oh, man, I really spoil her. She’s spoiled.
- Jane Philpott: ‘There’s much more to the story that needs to be told’
Why does any of this matter?
This situation IS important to follow and to know about. And it does make us ask a lot of tough questions:
1. Can the attorney general operate as a partisan MP?
Does the attorney general need to be completely detached from the government? If the government that ran on ethics and reform and transparency and progressivism in such a big way STILL allows corporate lobbyists to gain direct access to the PMO then we have a real problem. And so we need to figure out how to prevent future interference from happening. Simply replacing the government with another party won’t solve this problem. If interference CAN happen it inevitably WILL happen. That being said, I do believe that SNC-Lavalin has every right to donate to a party and lobby that party for favours. But I expect that party to operate within the boundaries of the law, not just create loop holes to create a system of rewarding those within the party’s inner circle and punish those who aren’t. and sure, there’s a lot of that that goes on at all levels of government but apathy is not the correct response to this behaviour. This is the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Russia with Putin. Not Canada.
We need reforms. and I believe the DPA remediation agreements reeks of just this. There may be a role for DPA if it prevents corporations from fucking around with their taxes but if it protects companies like SNC-Lavalin then it’s not right. BUT a court ruled that SNC wouldn’t qualify for a remediation agreement. So maybe the DPA itself isn’t the problem here. It’s a complex issue that’s going on here and I think the real issue now is that the cover up is becoming worse than the crime. We won’t get a chance to even find out what exactly went wrong here unless we can get the whole truth from Jody Wilson-Raybould. A person who I think, honestly, is a modern day hero for not letting partisanship interfere with her role as attorney general.
2. When is it appropriate to impose public/legal investigations on a majority government? (And how do we prevent opposition from abusing this process?)
With the Liberal majority government simply shutting down the scandal probe, there really are no sufficient checks and balances in place to hold the government accountable in moments of conflict like this. The only real option the opposition has here is to put forth a motion of non-confidence but I don’t even really know if anything would come of that and without any third party investigations it seems way overkill over something we are in the dark about. First Wilson-Raybould comes forth as a whistle blower. And the Liberals basically treated her as a rabble rouser, a fringe conspiracy theorist and there was nothing to see here. and if it wasn’t for the opposition and great work from almost exclusively the Globe and Mail, they would’ve just swept this under the rug.
Then Butts resigned, signalling just how big of a deal this could be if he was going to be a fall guy. considering how close he worked with Trudeau and how firmly Trudeau affirmed that Butts speaks for him. Then Jane Philpott resigned. Not some backbencher MP, the head of the treasury. directly denouncing the government and their handling of the situation. everything but out right cries of corruption. and we’re not supposed to listen to that? Everything that’s developed since Wilson-Raybould’s testimony has only further validated everything she’s come forth with and contradicted everything Trudeau has said. Except for the testimony of individuals who have resigned over the issue.
but after everything that has transpired Trudeau still refuses to lift privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to give us the whole truth of what is at the heart of the reason for her whistle blowing. And when the opposition tried to table an emergency meeting to call for a second testimony they used their majority power to adjourn the meeting immediately. Just simply shut down all debate over the subject. If this is not a direct act of contempt for the operations of a democratic operations of our parliament then I do not know what is. And as easy as it is to dismiss howling conservatives proclaiming “cover up! cover up!” I just don’t see how at this stage in the game these actions would be defined any other way. I do believe that we are witnessing a direct attempt to cover something up that the majority government is using their power to keep in the dark. and although Wilson-Raybould said no one has broken the law, that doesn’t mean ethics violations are criminal acts and it’s the severity of the ethical violation that is the very reason why the OECD has come out stating it is concerned about this government’s actions. And if they suspect bribery then how the hell do we not demand answers?
3. What do Liberal voters do now with their vote?
If this liberal government is guilty of corruption, let’s just say, then what do liberal voters do come election time? This is why I wanted vote reform. I don’t know what that reform would look like. It’s hard. but majority of us vote against parties rather than for them. That’s what I’ll be doing in election time. I believe this government has broken most of it’s promises and crossed too many ethical lines and I think this government has polarized this country more than it’s united us. So I will be voting conservative to bring down the Liberal government. And then maybe in another 4 years I’ll find myself voting Liberal to bring down that Conservative government, assuming they win. Even if they don’t, at least to hopefully reduce them to a minority government to limit the powers they clearly have no problem abusing.
As much as Trudeau wants to label the conservative government as like the ghost of stephen harper, it really is a renewed party with fresh faces. The party fails an election and they hold new leadership races and others step down to make way for new candidates. And some of those new faces are really remarkable people who were clearly born to do this. Yes, they operate within the same conservative governing philosophy but this is as close to a new party as we get. The liberal party transformed several times before they finally took government. People forget that it was the NDP who were official opposition before the last election. And I think it’s perfectly fair that if a party fails to meet their major promises or crosses an ethical line that people choose to vote them out of power. And if that means trying out a reformed conservative party then so be it. If it means voting for the first time for the NDP, so be it. It sends a clear message to Liberals that, “no we are not happy with the direction you’ve gone. go back to the drawing board and bring something new to the table.” and that may very well lead to a stronger, better party. OR we see that the reformed conservative party has actually done a bang up job and we decide to grant them another 4 years to keep it up. Or NDP. We are the ultimate deciders when it comes to politicians term limits.
But that’s also part of the problem with the way we vote. I’m not actually voting against a party or for a party even though that’s the way my vote functions. I’m actually just voting on a local representative to be my MP. even though I’ll likely never meet them or have a conversation or any interaction with them. Or I may really like my MP and insist on voting for them, even if I hate the party leader and caucus members. But am I now meant to punish the MP I like best and vote for my second choice or third choice MP to be able to have my vote act as protest to the leader and caucus I oppose? Do I vote against my philosophical values and preferred governing style to vote against the actions of the party philosophically and governing style-wise I align with so I can punish their reprehensible behaviour? You can’t vote for the devil you know without then voting for the devil.
And I really believe we all do better when we are more focussed on our local municipalities than we are focussed on the country as a whole. I may be pro-choice without a religious upbringing but why should I care what a pro-life bible thumper in alberta thinks? That doesn’t affect my life or my community. So why should my vote impact alberta? why should alberta’s vote impact me? again, I don’t have the answers to these things but this is a big question that needs to be asked because it’s a really relevant one that affects us all.
Politicians and most of the commentators really aren’t asking these questions and having these conversations. To the media, this is all just a big game as if election time is just a new season of game of thrones. Politics actually isn’t sports. and to treat it so flippantly is to just to avoid actually trying to improve the country. Media has a responsibility to do more than merely react to news, they are supposed to be facilitating the debate around it so we can move forward together. not stand stagnant and indifferent and watch everything deteriorate around us. But I say let’s not respond to these things with apathy, let’s do our best to care and to value our vote as we value our own existence and our voices and roles in society to make it function and thrive. So however you vote, make sure you believe in it.
“Governments don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. That is against their interests. They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept it.”– George Carlin