How the prime minister can seal — or reveal — cabinet secrets

Justin Trudeau is under pressure to lift cabinet confidence on SNC-Lavalin to allow RCMP examination


Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he wants Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to lift cabinet confidence to allow the RCMP to fully examine the SNC-Lavalin matter. (Sean Kilpatrick, Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Since the day the election campaign kicked off, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been dogged by questions about why he won’t waive cabinet confidence to assist the RCMP’s probe into the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Trudeau maintains he granted an unprecedented waiver — what he called “the largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidence in Canada’s history” — to allow the parliamentary committee and the ethics commissioner to dig into the matter, unshackling former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and others.

But when it comes to a potential RCMP probe, Trudeau has said it was the Privy Council clerk who made the decision not to broaden the waiver: “We respect the decisions made by our professional public servants. We respect the decision made by the clerk,” he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn’t buy it. He says Trudeau has authority to lift cabinet confidence — that the Liberal leader is lying to Canadians and using “bogus” excuses to cover up the affair.

“He’s hiding behind the clerk of the Privy Council (Ian Shugart). I actually think it’s shameful to use the public service in this way. An official who is meant to be the head of the non-partisan civil service, to be used this way, is reprehensible on the part of Justin Trudeau,” Scheer said Friday.

Scheer’s accusation was prompted by a story in The Globe and Mail, published late Tuesday evening, that suggested the RCMP were being frustrated in their attempts to interview potential witnesses because their knowledge of the SNC-Lavalin affair was covered by cabinet confidence.

The newspaper published another story late Wednesday, quoting former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould saying she was interviewed by the Mounties on Tuesday, a day before the election was called.

Wilson-Raybould told the newspaper that the formal interview took place at the request of the RCMP, but she would not reveal what was said by either party.  The former minister did, however, say she had concerns about cabinet confidences shielding witnesses from answering RCMP questions. MORE

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Andrew Coyne: The deception in the SNC affair is the most troubling aspect of all

Image result for snc-lavalin

It is the element of deception that raises the conduct described in the ethics commissioner’s report from the merely unlawful to the potentially criminal.

Until now what we had thought we were dealing with was only a sustained and mounting campaign, by the prime minister and by those acting at his direction, to pressure the former attorney general of Canada to set aside the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a company with a long history of corruption and even longer history of contributing to the Liberal party, for reasons that explicitly included considerations of partisan advantage.

All of this was vastly improper on its own. Prosecutorial independence is one of the bedrock principles of our system of law, as fundamental as judicial independence. It is settled law that the attorney general, in consideration of a particular prosecution, may not be pressured by anyone, least of all the prime minister, for any reason, least of all partisan gain. Yet Jody Wilson-Raybould was, repeatedly, to the point of being threatened with dismissal if she did not capitulate.

Still, if unethical and contrary to law, this was relatively above board, in so far as the pressure on the attorney general was direct and undisguised: a scandal, to be sure, and grounds for more resignations than those submitted to date, but not, as the cliche has it, a crime. That, of course, is not the standard we should expect of public office holders — that they should merely avoid committing crimes — but it is at least a standard.

Whereas the conduct unearthed by the ethics commissioner may have fallen below even that line. What we have learned is that senior government officials were not just pressuring the former attorney general to interfere in a criminal proceeding, by the unprecedented means of overturning a decision of the independent director of public prosecutions: they were deceiving her.

Everyone involved in this black farce should be ashamed of themselves

They did so not only by keeping important information from her, but by providing her with misleading information. They acted, not only in concert with each other, but with officials at SNC-Lavalin, and they carried on this conspiracy to, in the commissioner’s words, “circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit” the authority of the attorney general even as the company’s appeal of the DPP’s ruling was before Federal Court — a proceeding to which the attorney general, via the DPP, was a party.

It was known before how ferociously the company had lobbied various ministers and public officials, even after it had been charged, to insert a provision in the Criminal Code allowing it to escape prosecution: the famous remediation agreements. It was not known until now that it had been at the company’s suggestion that this was inserted in the 2018 budget implementation bill, the better to ensure that it could not be voted upon separately or even examined by the competent parliamentary committee.

Likewise, it was known that, after the DPP had ruled the company was ineligible, under the terms of the same legislation, for such an agreement, the company had swarmed the government to have her decision overturned. It was not known how fully, indeed eagerly, representatives of the prime minister, the finance minister, and the clerk of the privy council had participated in this campaign — in support, that is, of a private company, charged with serious crimes under the law, against the offices of government responsible for applying the law. MORE

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SNC’s court bid to avoid prosecution to proceed through election period

Will Trudeau Rein in the Export Development Bank? Or Disappoint Once Again?

Canadians should be shamed by billions in backing for dubious corporations and projects.

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While other funds are divesting fossil fuel shares, and the Trudeau government talks of a climate emergency, Export Development Canada has loaned billions to oil sands corporations. Photo by jasonwoodhead23, Creative Commons licensed.

Canadians have a big decision to make this fall. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in deep trouble and desperately trying to court progressive voters, who are understandably not in an amorous mood.

Displays of high hypocrisy such as approving a bitumen export pipeline the day after declaring a climate emergency, or glibly throwing electoral reformunder the bus are not easily forgotten by those who care about such things.

Beyond these obvious blights on the Liberal brand, there is another boat anchor that could help drag Trudeau into the depths of electoral oblivion: Export Development Canada.

EDC is a Crown corporation tasked with promoting international trade by supporting Canadian and foreign companies through loans and insurance.

One of the largest such government credit agencies in the world, EDC currently has about $55 billion in outstanding loans to Canadian and foreign corporations. While EDC loans out its own funds, those loans are backstopped by Canadian taxpayers, and hopefully are therefore being used to project Canadian values around the world.

EDC claims to be a good corporate citizen. However, reality and political rhetoric are like salad dressing — spontaneous separation may occur without constant agitation. The Crown corporation has a record of supporting some dubious people and projects.

Political enthusiasts will recall that just as the toxic SNC-Lavalin scandal was beginning to subside, a whistleblower alleged that EDC had provided loans to the Quebec company that may have been used to bribe officials in Angola and elsewhere. The whistleblower told the CBC that it was an “open secret” within the company that funds earmarked for bribes were listed as “technical fees” of up to 10 per cent of total budget in proposals to EDC. MORE

Why Has Trudeau Risked So Much for SNC-Lavalin?

Four related mysteries fuel flames of an ever more ruinous scandal.

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Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Justin Trudeau has hit the panic button.

Unicorn sightings during Question Period are down to zero.

After weeks of being drubbed by the opposition over LavScam, the prime minister is now threatening a lawsuit against Andrew Scheer, his chief detractor in this misbegotten affair. What’s next? Suing Andrew Coyne?

They say drowning people will clutch at anything. But a threatened lawsuit against Scheer? The Michelin Tire Man is more menacing than the leader of the Official Opposition. This guy edits his tweets when he gets a paper airplane thrown his way.

And didn’t this PM promise a new, open way of doing politics? Dumping MPs who won’t bend to his will, effectively firing a cabinet minister who didn’t take the hint on a big file, shutting down the justice committee investigation of this travesty, and now waving a libel action around does not exactly conjure up sunny ways.

Having already claimed two star female federal cabinet ministers, the clerk of the privy council, and the PM’s principal secretary, it appears the next victim of LavScam could be Justin Trudeau himself. And all because one way or another, the PM seems determined to spare SNC-Lavalin a criminal conviction for its alleged bribery and corruption in Libya. Why?

MORE

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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

 

POLITICS Jody Wilson-Raybould: ‘The Liberal party is not something I understand anymore’

The former AG talks to Maclean’s about recording her call with Michael Wernick, her relationship with Gerry Butts and the dangers of blind loyalty


Independent MP and former Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks to reporters before Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, a day after being removed from the Liberal caucus on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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.

Wilson-Raybould, 48, was first elected a Liberal 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).

Image result for Macleans cover Jody Wilson-Raybould

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. The following afternoon, she sat with Maclean’s for this extensive interview, which has been edited for length and clarity. (To read our interview with Jane Philpott, go here) MORE

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Trudeau’s Dumb Expulsions and Strange Compulsions

JWR and Philpott are gone. So are any illusions about the PM’s allegiance to corporate masters.

Jody Wilson-RaybouldNone of this needed to happen. Jody Wilson-Raybould was kicked out of the Liberal Party of Canada caucus on April 2. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press.

They got Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Jane Philpott too, but this is just the beginning.

You know you are in trouble in politics when your damage control is more damaging than what made it necessary.

…What should bother Canadians about the PM’s …stand on SNC-Lavalin is not just a one-off. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was the first federal leader to argue that Trudeau is not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, but rather a consistent corporate cheerleader. He talks the talk for the environment, Indigenous rights, and human rights; but for Big Business, he walks the walk.

Canadians saw Trudeau the corporate cheerleader in Houston, where he told a group of Texas oilmen that no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave it there.

They saw the same thing when the PM dismissed the solid opposition of coastal British Columbians to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, and instead paid the Texas oil company $4.3 billion for this leaky relic and vowed to get the expansion to tidewater.

They saw it again on Canada’s East Coast, where Trudeau denied that Ottawa had environmental jurisdiction over a project that plans to dump toxic pollutants from a kraft pulp mill owned by Northern Pulp into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait.

And now, they see it once more with the PM and his minions interfering in an active criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin. That violates the heart of the judicial system: the complete independence of the prosecution service under the law.

If, as Singh has argued, the SNC-Lavalin scandal outs the prime minister as a corporate enabler, and not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, it has also sunk the Liberal caucus to a new low. MORE

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No regrets in SNC-Lavalin affair, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott say

Trudeau boots Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from Liberal caucus


Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. File photo by Andrew Meade

Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott have been kicked out of the Liberal Party of Canada caucus.

“I am here to announce that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are not longer members of the liberal caucus,” Trudeau said to a sombre-looking gathering of his caucus. “The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken.”

Moments before he began speaking, Wilson-Raybould shared the news herself, getting ahead of the prime minister before he began the televised address.

“I have just been informed by the prime minister of Canada that I am removed from the Liberal caucus and as the confirmed Vancouver Granville candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election,” Wilson-Raybould tweeted with Liberal MPs gathered on Parliament Hill to decide her fate.

Wilson-Raybould, who wrote to her fellow Liberals earlier Tuesday in hopes of convincing them to let her stay, stepped down from Trudeau’s cabinet in February after he shuffled her out of the coveted justice portfolio, following a bombshell media report in the Globe and Mail that revealed she had been pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin over corruption and fraud charges. MORE

Ex-B.C. attorney general says Jody Wilson-Raybould’s secret recording a sign of ‘something seriously fractured inside the heart’ of Trudeau government

VANCOUVER—British Columbia’s former attorney general Geoff Plant says Friday’s release of a secretly recorded phone call to former federal attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has embroiled the legal community in ethical debates — but has further exposed a “deep fracture at the heart” of the Liberal government.

The Dec. 19 phone conversation between then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Canada’s highest non-partisan civil servant has sparked controversy among legal experts, including in Wilson-Raybould’s home province of B.C.

Wilson-Raybould defended her reasons for not overturning the independent prosecutor’s decision to proceed against SNC-Lavalin. But she came under fire from some lawyers for recording Wernick’s call.
Wilson-Raybould defended her reasons for not overturning the independent prosecutor’s decision to proceed against SNC-Lavalin. But she came under fire from some lawyers for recording Wernick’s call.  (DAVID P. BALL/STAR VANCOUVER)

“It’s a sign of something seriously fractured inside the heart of the government,” said Plant, who served as the BC Liberals’ attorney general and justice minister after the party took power in 2001. “The taped phone call has raised some legal discussion about whether that was the right thing to do, but, for me, the question is why someone who is a Cabinet minister feels it’s necessary to record a conversation with the Clerk of the Privy Council in the first place.

“That feels to me from outside as evidence of a fairly serious trust problem where the attorney general said no and the prime minister kept asking. There is a confidence and trust gap. To me, it’s more about the basic political integrity of the government.” MORE

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Leak detailing Supreme Court appointment rift only shows how little Trudeau’s camp respects the rule of law

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with members of the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) in Winnipeg on March 26, 2019. JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The core question in the SNC-Lavalin affair is whether Justin Trudeau and his advisers respect the rule of law.

The answer appears to be that they have no respect for it at all, after an unnamed source, in an effort to smear former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, fed reporters a story about a dispute over choosing a judge for the Supreme Court.

Even Liberals are furious over the leak to The Canadian Press and CTV, presumably from someone inside the Trudeau government.

“It is outrageous that there is a leak with respect to the Supreme Court judicial appointment process,” Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the House of Commons ethics committee on Tuesday. “People from all parties ought to condemn that kind of thing.”

In 2013, Mr. Harper openly criticized Beverley McLachlin….This is worse: a deliberate leak to the media about private discussions between an attorney-general and a prime minister over a judge under consideration for the Supreme Court, with the leak intended to debase the reputation of the former attorney-general. Anyone now under consideration for a judgeship will have reason to fear that their application, too, could be leaked. The legal community should be on its hind legs over this. MORE

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