Why Has Trudeau Risked So Much for SNC-Lavalin?

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

SNCLavalinControversyComic.jpg
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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Andrew Coyne: The latest tactic to suppress Wilson-Raybould — smear a judge

 

Liberals block new SNC-Lavalin ethics probe as Trudeau insists his team is ‘more united than ever’

Prime minister downplays caucus divisions over SNC-Lavalin affair


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Liberal caucus is more united than ever, despite divisions over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Liberal MPs have voted down an opposition motion to launch a Commons ethics committee probe into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who broke with party ranks to vote in favour of an NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin matter, said he opposes an ethics committee hearing at this time because it is “premature.”

He pointed out that the justice committee is still awaiting a written submission, texts and emails from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Liberal MP whose allegations of political interference in her work as attorney general touched off the scandal which has dominated federal politics for weeks.

“To me, it makes far more sense to see what is said in that statement, to see how justice reacts to that and whether they think any of that new information is something worth reconsidering their previous decision to close off their study,” Erskine-Smith said.

Apart from Erskine-Smith, no other Liberal members spoke during the committee meeting. He said the Liberal members met before the meeting began and decided he would speak for the group.

Frustrated Conservatives called the vote further evidence of a government effort to sweep a scandal under the rug.

“Liberals had a chance to put their votes where their mouths were, and instead they decided to vote for another coverup,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.

Conservative MP and ethics critic Peter Kent had drafted a motion to launch an inquiry, call former cabinet ministers Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to testify by April 5 and formally request that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broaden a waiver to allow them to speak freely. MORE

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Liberals block push for ethics committee probe of SNC-Lavalin scandal
How to change the channel on SNC-Lavalin? Let’s attack a judge!

SNC-Lavalin controversy shows danger of dabbling in economic nationalism


Seven weeks of carnage in Canadian politics prove Justin Trudeau’s choice to stare down the independence of the justice system for the benefit of a corporation was a bridge too far, Heather Scoffield writes.  (JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If economic nationalism exists on a spectrum, where Donald Trump’s America is at one end, and hands-off, open economies are at another, Canada has traditionally been somewhere in the middle.

Yes, politicians advocate for Canadian corporations, negotiate trade deals on their behalf, and deal in programs and incentives to encourage their growth. But no, they don’t force companies to locate here, or compel trading partners to buy their wares, or jimmy with Canadian institutions to pave the way.

The SNC-Lavalin controversy shows the gravitational pull of the Trumpian side of that spectrum. But if there’s anything that’s heartening in the vitriol that has infected the public discourse on this matter, it’s that Canadians seem to generally agree: don’t go too far in that direction.

From day one, SNC-Lavalin has made little secret that Ottawa should head to that place. MORE

Lobbied 22 times, Trudeau government proposes to let Alton Gas dump saltwater into Shubenacadie River


Mi’kmaq activist Dorene Bernard stands on the shores of the Shubenacadie River, a 72-kilometre tidal river that cuts through the middle of Nova Scotia and flows into the Bay of Fundy, in Fort Ellis, N.S. on July 31, 2018. Photo by Andrew Vaughan/CP

An Alberta oilpatch company met with federal officials 22 times last year to lobby them about major fossil fuel projects. Ottawa is now drafting rules to specifically allow the company, AltaGas, to dump saltwater into a major Nova Scotia river.

The government says the proposed rules would reduce risks to “fish, fish habitat, and human health from fish consumption” by creating limits on brine release into the Shubenacadie River as part of the Alton Gas project, which federal officials would then oversee.

The federal government is pushing a plan that would allow an energy company to dump saltwater into a tidal river over the objections of local Indigenous communities, @Lindsayleejones reports, as eyebrows raised over Ottawa’s priorities.

A government spokeswoman also said that it was in the early stages of consultations on the matter and would ensure high environmental standards on any decision.

But the Trudeau government’s proposed regulation and the direct benefit it would provide one company is raising eyebrows in light of the Trans Mountain pipeline imbroglio and SNC-Lavalin affair.

In all three cases, the Trudeau government attempted to propose policies under heavy lobbying pressure from the companies involved, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin, and now Alberta-based AltaGas. MORE