Friday, 1 March 2019

Oh Canada

Time flies in politics. Wasn't it just yesterday that Justin Trudeau heralded a new approach to politics?

Yesterday, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who served as Trudeau's Attorney-General until very recently, testified that the Liberal Party apparatus, from Trudeau on down, pressured her to pursue leniency when it came to SNC-Lavalan - a politically well connected Montreal-headquartered firm. The firm threatened to move its headquarters if prosecuted, in the middle of a provincial election.

Here's Andrew Coyne
It was clear from the first line of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony: the Trudeau government is now officially in crisis, the jobs of several of its top officials hanging by a thread.

The former attorney general did not merely offer her “perspective” with regard to the SNC-Lavalin affair, as the prime minister had airily suggested beforehand. She presented damning evidence, based on verbatim texts, contemporaneous notes, and detailed personal recollections, of “a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

This was not just inappropriate pressure by this official or that minister. It appears to have been a whole-of-government effort to wear down her resistance, if not intimidate her into submission, involving 11 different people, 10 phone calls, multiple meetings, emails, text messages, the works.

It was not just a one-time event, but continued for months, long after the decision had been made — after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, had decided against offering SNC-Lavalin a DPA, after Wilson-Raybould had decided against overruling her, indeed even after the matter had become the subject of judicial proceedings, SNC-Lavalin having challenged the DPP’s decision in court.
Here's Paul Wells
The dangerous files are never the obscure ones. Scandals don’t happen in the weird little corners of government, in amateur sport or in crop science. They happen on the issues a prime minister cares most about, because everyone gets the message that the rules matter less than the result.

It’s a constant in politics. In 2016 I took one look at Bill Morneau’s first budget and wrote this: “The sponsorship scandal of the late Chr├ętien years was possible because it was obvious to every scoundrel with Liberal friends that spending on national unity would not receive close scrutiny from a government that was desperate to be seen doing something on the file. A government that considers the scale of its spending to be proof of its virtue is an easy mark for hucksters and worse.”

It wasn’t a perfect prediction. I kind of expected the hucksters and worse to be outside government. Unless the Trudeau Liberals can produce persuasive evidence that Jody Wilson-Raybould is an utter fabulist (and frankly, I now expect several to try), her testimony before the Commons Justice Committee establishes pretty clearly that the hucksters and worse were running the show. Led by the grinning legatee who taints the Prime Ministers’ office.
When I was a kid in Manitoba, it really felt like the country was run by a corrupt aristocracy along the Ottawa-Montreal corridor, with a handful of family and company names always showing up in anything that mattered. That was part of what fuelled Preston Manning's Reform Party.

Wilson-Raybould's testimony is pretty consistent with how we thought the place really ran.

Wells has another lesson relevant well beyond Canada's borders:
I’ve never met a Liberal yet who doesn’t reliably confuse his electoral skin with the national interest. So much of what Trudeau and his minions have done in the last year stems from that instinct. Take the ludicrous half-billion-dollar bailout for people in my line of work, never explained, sprung out of nowhere in Morneau’s fall economic update—or as I now like to think of it, between Trudeau advisor Mathieu Bouchard’s meeting (yet another one) with Prince and Michael Wernick’s chat with Wilson-Raybould. You can get a lot of op-eds written with that kind of dough. Take the cool billion the Canada Infrastructure Bank coughed up to pay for a politically popular and impeccably well-connected transit project around Montreal. That money appeared, from a brand-new bank that has not funded a single other project and did not then yet have a CEO [Update, Thursday: Wrong! It had had a CEO since last May – pw], on the day before Philippe Couillard launched the Quebec election campaign. It is now impossible to believe on faith that the Canada Infrastructure Bank is not a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ben Chin, Mathieu Bouchard, Katie Telford and Justin Trudeau.

But anyway, back to partisanship. Liberals and their many friends across the land will insist that all this behaviour must have no real-world repercussions because the other side cannot be permitted to gain the upper hand. And similarly, a lot of battle-hardened opponents of the Liberals will call for the jails to be opened up to welcome fresh Liberal meat. Fortunately, there is indeed an election coming up, and I’m content to let voters decide the partisan affiliation of the next government. I offer them no counsel.

But we get to draw our own conclusions as citizens. What the former attorney general described tonight is a sickeningly smug protection racket whose participants must have been astonished when she refused to play along. If a company can rewrite the Criminal Code to get out of a trial whose start date was set before the legislation was drafted, all because a doomed Quebec government has its appointment with the voter, then which excesses are not permitted, under the same justification? If a Clerk of the Privy Council can claim with a straight face that ten calls and meetings with the attorney general, during which massive job loss, an angry PM and a lost election are threatened, don’t constitute interference, then what on earth would interference look like? Tonight I talked with two former public servants whose records rival Michael Wernick’s. Both were flat astonished that he seems not to have pushed back against this deeply disturbing, and plainly widespread, behaviour.
Conflation of the party interest with the national interest is dangerous. This kind of corruption fuels populism.

Those keen on a bit more of the background should read Colby Cosh on the problems Canada gets by having the Minister of Justice also serve as Attorney General:
What does this mean? It means that if you are the prime minister’s trusted old chum who does his dirty work, it is all right for you to visit a mere minister of justice, operating in that capacity, and to tell her what the boss wants done for crude partisan reasons. But it is quite strictly forbidden to do that to an attorney general.

In matters of hiring or statute-writing, you can go ahead, kick down her door, and tell her “Orillia needs more red-headed Hungarian judges!” or “There really oughta be a law against candy.” When it comes to prosecutions — when madame has her attorney general hat on — it is very different. You, as a sunny-ways enforcer, are not even supposed to provide unsolicited advice or hints from the prime minister. The PM may be the minister of justice’s boss, but he is not in the chain of command between the attorney general and the sovereign at all.
And listen to Andrew Coyne here:

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