Make no mistake about it, Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts and the gang in the Prime Minister’s Office screwed up big time in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
They mishandled the cabinet demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould from attorney general to veterans affairs, which looked petty and vindictive; they mishandled the fallout from a news report that PMO officials allegedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin; they mishandled the news of her sudden resignation from cabinet; and they were left reeling by a second cabinet resignation when Treasury Board President Jane Philpott quit earlier this week.
And in riveting testimony on Wednesday, Gerald Butts, who resigned Feb. 18 as Trudeau’s principal secretary in the midst of the revelations, told the House of Commons justice committee he is responsible for the “breakdown in trust” between the prime minister and Wilson-Raybould.
Clearly, there are no heroes or saints on Trudeau’s team in what Butts, in presenting a dramatically different version of events in the SNC-Lavalin affair than Wilson-Raybould offered last week, called “a sad episode.”
But Wilson-Raybould, who used her appearance to “tell her truth,” is also not a “hero” in this messy affair as some commentators and supporters are portraying her. Indeed, there are a number of issues and questions they have either forgotten, ignored or overlooked.
First, did she quietly approve of the leak to the Globe and Mail of alleged PMO efforts to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case? If so, she did it while she was still a cabinet minister. Where would be the integrity in that?
Second, although she says she felt inappropriately “pressured” to suspend the criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin and instead have the firm pay a fine, the “pressure” turns out to be just 10 meetings and 11 phone calls over a four-month period. Some pressure! Importantly, at the end of the day she was still allowed to make the decision on SNC-Lavalin.
Third, she seems to have made the story about herself and didn’t really care if she threw her fellow Liberals MPs under the bus. Many of them could well lose their seats and their jobs because of her damning testimony against Trudeau.
Fourth, there are huge delays between the time she apparently was first “pressured” back in September and Jan. 14 when she was demoted in cabinet and Feb. 12 when she resigned from cabinet. If her reason for quitting was really a point of principle as she insists, why did she move so slowly?
Fifth, despite her apparently unhappiness with the PMO, she still showed she wanted to be part of the Trudeau team by accepting another cabinet spot after being told she would be moved from the justice and attorney general roles. More than 100 Liberal backbench MPs would love a cabinet post. Sure, Trudeau made a major mistake in not offering her another senior post, such as health, instead of demoting her to veterans affairs. Regardless, it appeared Trudeau still had confidence in her.
Sixth, there’s the question of whether in her capacity as justice minister she made the wrong call in regard to SNC-Lavalin. She didn’t seem to care about the potential loss of 9,000 jobs in Quebec and across the country and thousands more in firms doing work with the Montreal-based company if it was found criminally guilty of handing out bribes in Libya and thus being barred from bidding on federal contracts for the next 10 years.
Seventh, her actions have surely made it harder for the Liberals to win the Oct. 21 federal election. A Liberal defeat would mean First Nations communities, which Wilson-Raybould has fought for throughout her legal and political careers, may ultimately suffer under a Conservative government. Trudeau placed First Nations issues at the top of his personal agenda. Does anyone believe Tory leader Andrew Scheer would do so, too? Incredibly, Wilson-Raybould intends to seek re-election as a Liberal candidate, even though she clearly is fed up with Trudeau. Where’s the integrity in that?
As Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau, Butts and anyone in Ottawa knows, politics is a tough business. In the SNC-Lavalin case, it’s a business with no heroes.