A Storm Coming

A week is a long time in politics.
Attributed to Harold Wilson

If that’s true, then 10 days must be a lifetime.  I expect it feels like that to the principals of the Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin mess. 

The basics are now widely known, at least to the extent that they can be known by anyone not directly involved:

  • The quiet introduction of enabling legislation for Deferred Prosecution Agreements — some might call it a sneaky introduction, tucked into the final pages of a budget bill
  • The energetic lobbying by SNC-Lavalin for exactly such a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, to save them from the catastrophic business consequences if found guilty on corruption charges
  • The vigorous debate about what to do that included members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), maybe even He Whose Office it Is
  • The Prime Minister’s (PM’s) assurances to Wilson-Raybould that the decision was hers to make
  • The demotion of Wilson-Raybould within a few months of making a decision that did not align with the PMO’s vigorous preferences, a demotion made with no attempt at a covering story
  • The Globe and Mail story alleging that political pressure had been improperly — perhaps illegally — applied to Wilson-Raybould
  • The PM’s repeated and stilted denials of something that story had not actually claimed
  • The silence of Wilson-Raybould, explained as a matter of solicitor/client privilege
  • The PM’s report to journalists of his meeting with Wilson-Raybould – “Move along, there’s nothing to see here.”
  • The resignation of Wilson-Raybould from Cabinet and her hiring of a retired Supreme Court Justice as counsel, following right snappily on the PM’s report
  • The expression by the PM (six times, maybe?  I lost count) of his surprise and disappointment at said resignation along with a broad hint that Wilson-Raybould had been derelict in her duty
  • The attacks on Wilson-Raybould’s character and competence by unnamed Liberal sources

There’s more to it, of course, but that gives the flavour, I think.  There have been many excellent pieces — both impassioned and analytical — written in the last 10 days.  If you’re interested, check out Paul Wells, Andrew Coyne, John Ivison, Jen Gerson, Rex Murphy, Conrad Black . . .

I don’t know what happened.  We might never know all of it.  Some of this is about perceptions, so there might be more than one thing that actually happened, if you see what I mean.  But a few thoughts occur.

First, as one CBC commentator noted in a sort of horrified admiration for a job monumentally badly done, the Liberals have taken the equivalent of a stove-top fire and turned it into a full-on kitchen fire.  Maybe even a fire that could consume the whole House.  Communication matters, especially in a crisis or in what could become one.

Second, the purveyors of identity politics have swung into gear:

Racist?  Sexist?  I dunno.  It seems to me that the same fate could have befallen a white male Minister who defied an implicit directive from the PMO.  The tone of the after-action attacks would have been different, I expect, but not the events.

Third, some of the media commentators seem to be like the PM: surprised and disappointed.  Hadn’t the Liberals come to power promising a new style of politics?  Sunny ways, my friends.  This sort of backroom dealing and revenge-taking — if, indeed, that is what has happened here — hits like a betrayal.

Again, I dunno.  I can excuse any partisan for feeling disappointed — if not in the actions that seem to have been taken then at least in the incompetent management response to being caught in (or accused of) the act.  I have less sympathy for any adult who feels surprise.  As John Robson notes in his take on this mess:

People do not go into politics, as candidates or operators, intending to smear slime across the land . . . . most are drawn into the fray by genuine dismay at bad policy and the low dishonest tone. And within months, sometimes weeks, they’re spinning appalling rubbish with an insufferable air of self-satisfaction.

It’s not a happy view of the world, but if it’s accurate, that counts for something.

Finally, there’s a movie connection to everything.  As best I can tell, there is, indeed, a storm coming.

 

10 Comments

  1. Tom Watson

    Isabel
    A good and sound analysis.

    I’ve read all the impassioned and analytical pieces you cite, and also watch Power and Politics so have seen them thrash this story back and forth. Although, as an aside, I discount everything that Conrad Black writes.

    The next election just became the Conservatives to lose? Quite likely.

    On the other hand, it all boils down to who one trusts, and at the moment – although I hate to say it – my trust level in any of them is at an all-time low.
    Tom

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Tom – I hear you. One thing I find very odd is that my view of former politicians tends to change as I learn more about them. The popular, charismatic ones (I’m thinking JFK, for example) often have big character flaws (known at the time to insiders, but not widely acknowledged) as well as terrible policy outcomes (I’m thinking Vietnam, Bay of Pigs). And some of the deeply unpopular ones (like Nixon, amazingly) look better as we get past their personal foibles and see their policy successes (many of which look positively progressive now!).

  2. Jim Taylor

    I’ve attempted to write about this issue myself, and always bogged down in too many on-the-other-hands. I think the only thing you’ve left out is that Wilson-Raybould would have, should have, must have come under pressure. Because if she didn’t, then all those Quebec MPs and Ministers simply weren’t doing their jobs.
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      JIM – LOL. Funny and sad. I hear that this issue is playing out very differently in Quebec, where the focus is on the clear rightness of issuing a DPA to SNC, rather than worrying about political interference.

  3. Mary Gibson

    I worked ‘up close and personal’ with a number of MLAs and Cabinet ministers. What I’ve seen is that many of them (most of them?) are well-intentioned as they enter political life. Somewhere along, generally quite near the end of their first term, the focus shifts from ‘doing good’ to ‘maintaining power’. An example would be to track the evolution of the stated government ‘outcomes’ over the course of the past 4 years of the new (and surprised) ND government; these morph from 20 specific ‘objectives’ to 3 broadly stated ‘goals’, through which one could drive several Mack trucks and against which progress is impossible to measure. I’m guessing in part this is rationalized along the lines of “but I/we still have so much good to do”. Taken to the extreme (as in, 43 years of Conservative government in this province), retaining power becomes the sole criterion for decision making. There is nothing in Justin Trudeau’s resume (a la Sarah Palin) which gives one reason to expect he has the wherewithal to lead a nation. The desperate truth for all of us is that the political life now so rarely attracts individuals with the capability, and moral rectitude, to govern.

  4. Or is the problem that we have political structures invented in times far less complex, technologically challenging, fast-paced, geographically vast, and physically demanding? Our Trudeau, very differently schooled and trained than his father, may be as qualified as is necessary for giving a kind and sober face to the rationalization of forces beyond any one country’s control, let alone any one individual’s control. Some citizens cling to the notion of a head of state who is an all-knowing Father (less likely, Mother) who can redress all wrongs; others, to the idea of handing the reins to the shrewdest cat on the block who can advantage the other power brokers in his or her inner circle. Neither concept is realistic or moral. But “morals” have been turned over to ethicists. I agree with Mary Gibson but I think the problem is endemic.

    Thanks for your clear delineation of an issue I have been trying to follow from fragments.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – I suspect Justin Trudeau would have made a better Governor General than PM – acting in the former capacity with a personal charm that would have been a good focus for many Canadians. Power is a difficult subject; finding ways to push back against its seemingly natural tendency to concentrate itself is our best hope,I think. I’m just not sure what action to take today or this week/month/year to further that agenda.

  5. John Whitman

    Isabel – did you know that the most recent Liberal faux pas now has its very own hash tag, i.e. #LAVSCAM. As Mark Bonokoski said in a recent opinion column in the Sun, “When you have your very own unflattering hash tag, you should know you are in trouble.”

    1. Isabel Gibson

      John – No, I hadn’t heard that. I guess it’s better than the endless “-gate” scandals. I suppose it builds on Adscam – also brought to us by the Liberals, come to think of it. 🙂 If only they were the only offenders, this would be easy.

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