Don’t Get Distracted, There’s a Big Issue Here

What business do I have writing an Op Ed when we’ve already heard from luminaries such as Tequila Shiela and Crusty Clark? Well, I’m a former ski instructor and drama teacher. I don’t know what that actually qualifies me for, but I’m going to weigh in anyway.

This SNC-Lavalin affair will probably redefine the relationship between the executive and judicial branches in Canada. It’s about boundaries: when is lobbying from the executive branch acceptable and when does it become excessive and undermine the rule of law?

The Attorney General, while part of the executive branch, oversees the judicial branch. She lives in both worlds. But to protect the integrity and independence of our legal system the convention and practice has always been that undue political pressure must never be applied to the AG.

But when Ms Wilson-Raybould refused to intervene in the SNC-L case, the executive branch asserted itself. Out of nowhere the she is replaced. When it became clear poor old Scott Brison couldn’t carry all the blame, the Globe story blows this into public view. Enter the Justice Committee hearings.

First, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, clearly a paragon of virtue supporting Canadian jobs, was lobbied extensively by Kevin Lynch, the former Clerk of the Privy Council, now the chair of SNC-L. Wernick, in turn, lobbied the AG to overturn the decisions of the Prosecutors. He offered no real facts to support his contention economic chaos will ensue without the RA in place, but that didn’t seem to matter.

He’s shocked at the vicious response his testimony elicits on Twitter, but maybe he’d be better off shocked at what SNC-L is charged with having done for one of the most repressive and vicious regimes in modern history. Maybe he should also bear in mind that while the Libyan thing was going on, SNC-L got into trouble with the Asian Development Bank and the African Development Bank, they bribed Canadian officials over a McGill hospital contract, they were banned by the World Bank, they got caught out by a number of Quebec municipalities on contract bidding irregularities, and they made illegal federal election donations.

While Wernick may not have considered this, my bet is the Prosecutors did and it made them leery anything in that corporate culture was actually going to change and that is a major factor in determining the applicability of the RA.

Wernick knows all of this, but still comes knocking on the AG’s door to ask for a special agreement for this company. Okay, justified once or twice, but not again and again. He insists he did so because the AG needed to know when factors in the case had changed. Yet they never really did. He’s been a bit like a petulant child when the original “oh pretty please” doesn’t work, comes back with “pretty please with honey on top”, only in this case he seems to have abjured the carrot for the stick and warned JWR that the Prime Minister was determined to get his way.

Wernick also appears to have encouraged SNC-L to go around the AG and lobby the DPP directly. This is unethical and quite unheard of. It certainly shatters the convention that the Clerk of the Privy Council is neutral and there only to advise. This was an end run and clearly inappropriate.

Enter Mr. Butts. Boy, for a supposed political wizard, he sure blew this one. The Liberals had all the good will in the world and they burned through it like grease through a goose. Butts and Trudeau insisted neither had any idea they had managed to alienate the AG and her resignation came as a complete surprise. “That woman never mentioned to Justin or Mikey or me that she had any concerns with our incessant flogging of this dead horse.” Well, Justin was the first to jump off that bandwagon but Butts still insists he never knew she was upset. Give me a break! Not plausible.

Significantly, it is not about who the AG told or who she didn’t tell. It’s about what the old boys did when she didn’t bend to their will.

The question has always been why was JWR shifted from AG to Veterans Affairs? The Scott Brison response didn’t get any traction and Trudeau insisted JWR would still be AG had he not resigned. Then Butts revealed they first offered her Indian Affairs, but to their “absolute shock”, she turned them down. “How could she interpret the shuffle in such a dark light”.

Anybody who knows Ms. Wilson-Raybould knew of her disdain for the Indian Act and its effect on her people. Butts certainly knew this was a red flag for Wilson-Raybould, and knew she’d turn Indian Affairs down. So why offer it?

The AG wouldn’t bend to their will on SNC-L but that couldn’t be seen as the reason she was removed. They needed another reason . He explained, ” If you allow a minister to veto a cabinet shuffle by refusing to move, you soon will not be able to manage cabinet. ” As they expected, she turned Indian Affairs down and now they could remove her, put a compliant Quebec minister in place and get down to business.

They almost got away with it, but for the Globe story. Then Trudeau, with his typical hubris, asserted the story was unfounded and Wilson-Raybould’s remaining in Cabinet proved it. To that point she’d sucked it up and embraced Veterans Affairs, but this compromised her integrity and that was a bridge too far. She quit Cabinet, obtained legal council and prepared for what she knew was coming. Even worse for Trudeau, Jane Philpott soon resigned, declaring, “I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.” Strong message to follow.

We read and see lots of irrelevant spins on this issue, but they are not at the heart of why Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two very serious and accomplished women, laid their whole political careers on the line.

The Prime Minister removed an Attorney General because she refused to bow to his political demands. In so doing, Trudeau has undermined the independence of the judiciary and called into question the rule of law in Canada. Ask China if you think this is hyperbole. Even the OECD has weighed in, concerned that Canada has broken its commitment to prosecutorial independence in foreign bribery cases. This is a very big deal.

Canadians should be thankful Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have had the moral fiber to stand up and voice their disapproval. Hopefully they won’t continue to be the only Liberals to do so.

 

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