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:
- Indigenous Senators spoke on Wilson-Raybould’s behalf
- Chiefs warned about the loss of indigenous votes
- Women journalists talked about the gendered language being used in the anonymous stories (as, for example, Jen Gerson on CBC’s Power & Politics)
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.