Andrew Coyne: The real scandal in the Lavalin affair is Trudeau’s attempts to pretend it’s not a scandal

The real scandal is the determined — and, it would appear, largely successful — campaign on the part of the prime minister and his officials to normalize their conduct


In this file photo taken on March 07, 2019 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media at the national press gallery in Ottawa, Ontario.Lars Hagberg / AFP

Where is the scandal here, ask the worldly-wise? No money changed hands, no crimes were committed, not even a whiff of sex. When it comes down to it, isn’t this all just a disagreement between a couple of cabinet ministers?

This is the scandal in the SNC-Lavalin affair. It isn’t just that the prime minister and a phalanx of other senior government officials — including his principal secretary, Gerry Butts, his chief of staff, Katie Telford, and the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick — quietly tried to derail the prosecution of a company with a long history of corruption and an even longer history of donating to the Liberal party; that they pressured the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to have prosecutors drop charges of fraud and corruption against the company in favour of a “remediation agreement” for which it had already been deemed ineligible; or that they did so, by the former attorney general’s account, for explicitly partisan reasons.

It isn’t that the crimes of which the company is accused — bribing officials in the bestial Gaddhafi regime in Libya, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars — makes this one of the most serious cases of alleged corporate corruption in Canadian history; or that the case is regarded as an important test of Canada’s willingness to prosecute companies alleged to have engaged in corruption overseas, as a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials, after years in which we were regarded as international scofflaws.

It isn’t that the legislation providing for remediation agreements — also known as deferred prosecution agreements, they are a kind of plea bargain wherein a company admits guilt, pays a fine and restitution, but avoids a criminal conviction — had only just been passed, tucked deep inside an omnibus bill, in response to a massive public and private lobbying campaign by SNC-Lavalin; or that, when the director of Public Prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, declined to offer the company the escape hatch it had spent so much money to obtain, it mounted yet another furious lobbying campaign to have her decision overturned.

It isn’t normal. More, it must not become normal

It isn’t that when caught Justin Trudeau and his people lied about it (“the allegations are false”); that when they were done lying about it stonewalled, deflected and obfuscated; that they repeatedly smeared, or encouraged others to smear, both the former attorney general and the former Treasury Board president, Jane Philpott, who resigned from cabinet rather than participate in this sordid campaign; that they muzzled both women by selective application of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality, even as they ignored these constraints themselves; that they shut down two parliamentary committees rather than hear all the evidence from these and other relevant witnesses; and that after all this, when there was nothing to be achieved by it but sheer humiliation, kicked them both out of caucus.

No, the real scandal is the determined — and, it would appear, largely successful — campaign on the part of the prime minister and his officials to normalize their conduct: as if monkeying around with criminal prosecutions was all part of the usual give and take of cabinet government, or at worst a misunderstanding between people who “experienced situations differently.” MORE

 

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