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

SNC-Lavalin affair raises the issue of the role of former judges

Image result for SNC-Lavalin affair raises the issue of the role of former judges
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Trudeau speaks to reporters in Sudbury, Ont. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has proven to be an insatiable beast with tentacles reaching deep into the political and legal worlds — perhaps even as far as the Supreme Court of Canada.

Politically, the allegations of interference with the justice system have deeply damaged the “sunny ways” Liberal brand and catapulted the Conservative Party ahead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in pre-election opinion polls. And, as most scandals do, the SNC affair has led to a series of high-profile resignations. Former minister of justice and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould may have been the first out the door, but her departure was quickly followed by the principal secretary to the prime minister, Gerald Butts, the president of the Treasury Board, Jane Philpott, and, most recently, the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick.

The government, in its scramble to defuse the political crises, launched a half-hearted study into the allegations before the Liberal-controlled justice committee appointed Anne McLellan to advise the PMO on the role of justice minister and attorney general in cabinet.

But none of this, rightly so given that the rule of law is at stake, has quieted the continuing questions about Trudeau’s integrity and his leadership.

And now there seems to be a rising grumbling that the legal profession should consider what activities former judges can be permitted to engage in after retirement.

After all, the short history of the SNC scandal does reveal a who’s who of the legal profession.

Former Supreme Court of Canada judge Frank Iacobucci, who is now senior counsel at the law firm Torys, was actively involved in SNC-Lavalin’s defence — even signing his name to a letter to the Public Prosecution Service advocating for a deferred persecution agreement.

Wilson-Raybould hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to provide her with legal advice about the scope and application of solicitor-client privilege.

Even the PMO got into the former judge game by floating the idea of retaining former Supreme Court Chief justice Beverley McLachlin to provide a legal opinion on deferred prosecution agreements.

The re-examination of permissible post-judicial activities may all just be a convenient distraction for those who wish to turn the channel away from the actions of the prime minister and his office. But there may be some merit considering what activities judges should be permitted to engage in during their golden years.

Should judges go gently into the good night of retirement? Or should they rage, rage against the dying of the light?

Should former judges have been involved in the SNC case at all? MORE

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Relations between Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould began to fray over her Supreme Court pick: Sources

 

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Trudeau rejected Wilson-Raybould’s conservative pick for high court, CP sources say

Trudeau a Threat to Liberal Chances, Must Go: Martyn Brown

Odds for RCMP probe rising, says former top aide to BC Liberal premier.

Trudeau LavScam cartoon
Cartoon by Greg Perry.

On Friday, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen offered some advice to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he is likely to ignore. Let Jody Wilson-Raybould have her (additional) say. Stop muzzling her with cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege. Waive it.

“The longer he continues this cover-up,” Bergen said of Trudeau, “the longer he moves heaven and earth to keep himself protected, the worse this gets for him.”

Does it get worse? Or will Canadians tire of the saga and move on, as the Liberals this week bet by moving to shut down the inquiry?

Martyn Brown, who as premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff handled scandals buffeting the B.C. government during the 2000s, thinks that this week Trudeau has moved closer to the brink of disaster. The heightened prospect of an RCMP investigation makes Trudeau an anchor sinking the party he once rescued with his leadership.

Now, says Brown, it’s time for Liberal insiders to convince Trudeau to step down.

But the biggest bombshell, in Brown’s view, was dropped by former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, Trudeau’s other cabinet minister to resign in dismay over LavScam.

What Philpott had to say in her interview with Maclean’s magazine on March 21 proves she’d “gone rogue,” says Brown.

“I’m not accusing anybody of anything illegal or contrary to the Criminal Code,” emphasizes Brown. But Philpott raised enough questions to possibly prod the RCMP to launch an investigation, and that would mean a severe hit to Trudeau’s political fortunes. MORE

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Liberal scramble to help SNC-Lavalin warrants investigation

If the RCMP end up taking over the investigation of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, as it increasingly looks like they should, the prime minister will have no one to blame but himself.

Marathon Commons vote ends, but Philpott interview raises new questions about SNC-Lavalin affair

Former cabinet minister Jane Philpott says in magazine interview there’s ‘much more to the story’


Liberal MPs Salma Zahid, left to right, Nick Whalen and Geng Tan rise for the final vote at the end of a 30-hour marathon voting session that began on Wednesday and lasted until 1 a.m. on Friday in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives’ marathon vote protest in the Commons ended in the wee hours this morning, but their cause got an added boost after Maclean’s magazine ran an interview with Jane Philpott saying there’s “much more to the story” when it comes to the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

The Conservative Opposition triggered the voting marathon in Ottawa after the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down further investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair. For more than 30 hours, the House of Commons was engaged in round-the-clock voting that kept MPs close to their seats.

The voting got underway around 6 p.m. ET Wednesday and continued until almost 1 a.m. ET Friday, with members voting line by line on the Liberal government’s spending plans.

In the story, published Thursday morning, the Liberal MP said she had concerns about the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case before the controversy became public in January. She alleged Canadians have been prevented from hearing more about what went on in government circles due to efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to “shut down the story.”

“My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story,” Philpott said.

“I believe we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth. They need to have confidence in the very basic constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system.”

MORE

 

Jane Philpott: ‘There’s much more to the story that needs to be told’

In an exclusive interview with Paul Wells, the former Treasury Board president says: ‘we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth.’


Philpott waits to deliver a keynote speech at an International Women’s Day event at Ottawa City Hall on Friday, March 8, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Jane Philpott was deeply ambivalent about talking earlier this week when she welcomed a Maclean’s reporter to her MP’s office in the Confederation Building across the street from Parliament Hill. It’s not an office the former Treasury Board president knows well: she had fancier and more centrally located ministerial offices in a succession of senior roles in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet since 2015, before she resigned from cabinet on March 4. Now she is only the Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Markham—Stouffville.

This is Philpott’s first interview since she resigned over Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. She believes, as she put it, that “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told” but that it can’t come out because “there’s been an attempt to shut down the story”—an attempt she attributed to the Prime Minister and his close advisors.

But she is also keenly aware, because she has been hearing from Liberal colleagues, that “there are people who are afraid that they’re not going to get elected because of what I did.” As she described that anger, the former minister said: “My only way of living with myself on that, is that this is not my fault. I did not start this.” Now she is trying to figure out how to see it through. MORE

 

Truth and power in the SNC-Lavalin affair

Image result for Truth and power in the SNC-Lavalin affair

Photo: Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick taking part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2019. Following the shuffle, he announced his resignation. The Canadian Press, by Sean Kilpatrick.

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould noted in her opening statement on the SNC-Lavalin affair before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on February 27, that the attorney general must “always (be) willing to speak truth to power,” a point that was reinforced by NDP committee member Murray Rankin.

It is ironic that this concept was raised first by politicians and not public servants: the concept of “speaking truth to power” is a mantra in the public service; it demands that public servants tell elected officials the truth, even when they don’t want to hear it.

The former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick (who notified the Prime Minister on March 18 of his intention to resign) was asked when he appeared before the Justice Committee on February 21 if he had applied inappropriate pressure on the former minister of justice regarding the decision on whether to offer a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin. He replied, “Part of my conversation with her on December 19 was conveying context that there were a lot of people worried about what would happen ─ the consequences not for her, the consequences for the workers and the communities and the inapproprsuppliers.”

This kind of tough talk is central to the concept of speaking truth to power. In Wernick’s words, “I am quite sure the minister felt pressure to get it right.” MORE

Opposition MPs accuse Liberals of shutting SNC-Lavalin investigation down

Liberal MPs wrote letter saying it’s time to end SNC-Lavalin probe


The Commons justice committee’s five Liberals wrote chair Anthony Housefather, shown here March 13, on Monday night, saying any further examination of the SNC-Lavalin affair should be left to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The opposition is accusing the Liberals of shutting down the investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair following a rocky day at the justice committee.

The House of Commons committee is looking into allegations the Prime Minister’s Office and other officials inappropriately pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, justice minister and attorney general at the time, to allow Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery charges providing it met certain conditions in a remediation agreement.

Tuesday’s meeting was held behind closed doors, although opposition MPs pushed for it to be on the record.

After about two hours, members of the Conservative and NDP parties emerged and said the Liberals — who hold the majority — voted in favour of a motion to “consider the meetings on this topic to be concluded.”

“They want Canadians to believe that everything that needs to come out has been said,” said NDP MP Tracey Ramsey.

Wilson-Raybould testified for nearly four hours during her appearance in front of the committee last month, but has hinted she has more to say.

Opposition MPs had been pushing for Wilson-Raybould to return to the committee to talk about why she later resigned from cabinet.

“It’s now time for the justice committee to do its work,” said Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault.

On Monday night, the committee’s five Liberals  wrote to chair Anthony Housefather, saying their work is done and any further examination of the SNC-Lavalin affair should be left to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.  MORE

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Opposition MPs briefly storm out of committee meeting as Liberals end SNC-Lavalin investigation

Scandal and matriarchy: How Jody Wilson-Raybould makes me want to be a better lawyer

Jennifer TaylorThere were so many standout moments from Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee on Feb. 27. But, for me, one line stood out the most:

I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be.”

That’s how Wilson-Raybould — the first Indigenous person to be Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general — concluded her opening statement, drawing on her ancestors, the legal system of the Kwakiutl nation and her own history as an Indigenous woman and lawyer.

This one line made me want to be a better lawyer, a better daughter, a better truth teller in my own life.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was the climax of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has enveloped Canadian politics for the last month. For context, it happened the same day as Michael Cohen’s testimony before the oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Compared to our force-fed diet of Trump-related scandals, the SNC-Lavalin story has felt, at times, rather quaint and Canadian — even though it stems from criminal charges that the Quebec company bribed Libyan officials to secure contracts. SNC-Lavalin is currently on trial for these charges in Quebec.

On Feb. 7, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. The implication: The refusal to oblige was behind her recent cabinet reassignment (some said demotion) from Justice to Veterans Affairs (she has since resigned from cabinet). Instead of continuing with the trial, the political objective would be for the Crown and defence to negotiate a remediation agreement (aka a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “DPA”) under Part XXII.1 of the Criminal Code, a new set of provisions enacted (pretty quietly) last year. This agreement would stay the criminal proceeding and avoid the political and economic ramifications of a criminal conviction for SNC, which employs thousands of Canadians. MORE

 

‘Coverup!’: Opposition erupts as Liberals shut down emergency meeting on SNC-Lavalin affair

Opposition MPs wanted to press Liberals to call Jody Wilson-Raybould back to testif


Opposition MPs want Jody Wilson-Raybould to return to the Commons justice committee. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Opposition MPs hurled angry claims of a “coverup” today after Liberals used their majority to shut down an emergency meeting of the committee probing the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The meeting was requested by Conservative and NDP members to press the Liberals to recall Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify again, even though the Liberals already had defeated a similar motion.

But less than 30 minutes after the meeting began, the Liberals voted to adjourn.

“I have never been so disgusted by the conduct of my Liberal colleagues,” said Conservative MP Michael Cooper after the committee broke.

“They have done the bidding of the PMO.”

Opposition MPs were making another bid to bring the former attorney general back to testify before the committee today, warning that Canadians would see any attempt by the Liberals to block them as evidence of a “coverup.”

Justin Trudeau is transforming the justice committee into the Justin committee

While casting their votes, opposition MPs shouted at their Liberal counterparts, calling their actions “despicable” and “disgusting.”

“I’m strongly voting opposed and I’m shocked at the behaviour of my colleagues,” said NDP MP Tracey Ramsey.

The committee is scheduled to meet next on Mar. 19 — a closed session that coincides with the tabling of the federal budget.

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