More Bad News

Last week, Jane Philpott gave an interview that raised at least as many questions as it answered.

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. – Macleans

This week the Liberal majority on the House of Commons Ethics Committee declined to open an investigation into the SNC-Lavalin matter.  I did not see that coming.

This week some Bright Light leaked information with the apparent intent of indicating that there had been tensions between the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Jody Wilson-Raybould on files other than SNC-Lavalin, and dating to 2017.  And the point of that would be to cast doubt on the narrative that Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of Justice/AG because of refusing to go along with the PMO on SNC-Lavalin. Not that any of this affects the judgement of whether the PMO was justified in attempting to interfere in her decision not to interfere in the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Still with me?

In any event, what was leaked was confidential information about an applicant/candidate for Canada’s Supreme Court, along with what was generally regarded as demeaning information about the Prime Minister’s alleged assessment of the individual.  Various parties weighed-in to criticize the leak for personal, process, and broadly political reasons.

I fear that someone is using my previous candidacy to the Supreme Court of Canada to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process. This is wrong. – Chief Justice Joyal, the candidate himself

Breaching confidentiality by releasing the names and commenting on the suitability of the other applicants after the appointment demeans the selection process and ultimately all those who hold the office of judge. – Canadian Bar Association

Nothing in what he [Joyal] has done throughout his judicial career, nor in the publicized comments he has made, could suggest that he is against a woman’s right to choose, same-sex marriage or LGBTQ2S rights generally. It is most appalling that such an inaccurate description has been suggested or implied.” – Manitoba Bar Association

Second, perhaps the many thousands of Canadians who have applied for federal government appointments under what they thought was a confidential process, introduced by this prime minister, will want to contemplate a class-action suit against him. Because it is now radiantly clear to each of them that their CV is being held hostage by a claque of embattled sorcerers’ apprentices who will cheerfully wheel it over the transom to any waiting scribe if anything about them—their opinions, a fallen political star’s unfortunate decision to argue for their advancement—becomes politically inconvenient. This is the very stuff of the police state. – Paul Wells, Macleans

Information about Supreme Court nominations is closely held; that is, the list of possible leakers is short.  Wilson-Raybould has denied being the source and has called for an investigation.  After an initial non-answer, PM Trudeau has also denied that his office was the source. Given the negative reaction to the leak (predictable, surely?), it’s possible that the source was someone hostile to the PMO, rather than someone trying to help, albeit ineptly and unethically.

Finally, this week Wilson-Rayould submitted her written answers to some questions asked at her appearance before the Justice Committee, along with an audio recording of a conversation with Michael Wernick, the then-Clerk of the Privy Council.  Based on that one 17-minute conversation, my view is that the PMO and the Clerk didn’t so much want to overthrow the rule of law, as that they didn’t understand it.  Here’s an indicative bit, transcribed in a CTV News article.

“Does he understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean? This is not just about saving jobs. This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like, breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence,” Wilson-Raybould asks Wernick about Trudeau.

“Well I don’t think he sees it as that,” Wernick said.

“Well then nobody’s explaining that to him, Michael,” she replied.

Maybe my view is too charitable.  Andrew Coyne would likely think so.

There is no “middle ground” on prosecutorial independence, no room for argument on the right of the attorney general to make decisions on criminal prosecutions, free of pressure from other government officials: it is settled constitutional law, absolute and inviolable. It doesn’t matter what good reasons the prime minister might think he has. – Coyne, National Post, 29 Mar

As to the accuracy of Michael Wernick’s memory, the less said the better.  Here’s more from the same CTV News piece.

When asked about this call during his follow up testimony, Wernick said that it was not his recollection of that call. “I did not wear a wire, record the conversation or take extemporaneous notes,” Wernick said.

“I never raised partisan considerations at any time. I reminded her repeatedly that she was the final decision-maker. I did not attempt to influence her decision. I was giving her relevant context about public interest considerations for a decision that was hers to take. I never suggested consequences for her,” Wernick testified.

Listen to the actual conversation and form your own opinion.

Listen to Andrew Coyne talk about what’s at stake in an interview recorded before this latest revelation.

 

6 Comments

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Tom – Yes, and today I heard that Gerald Butts has given the Justice Committee a bunch of his texts and emails and notes on conversations. So there!

  1. Jim Taylor

    A friend — he calls himself a “recovering politician” — said something to the effect that this controversy demonstrates the difference between principles and practicality. Both Jodi W-R and Jane P have high principles, and should be applauded for that. At the same time, by standing for their principles they destroyed any chance of having a more lasting effect. Now no one will ever know what they might have accomplished in rewriting or getting rid of the Indian Act, had they continued in caucus.
    Tough choices, these things….

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Ah yes, the “think of the good we can do if we stay in power” argument – perhaps the most insidious form of corruption that power offers us. I can hardly believe that either will run again, but they both say they will.

  2. And let’s not forget that in secretly recording her conversation with Wernick Ms. Wilson-Raybould was violating the ethical standards of her profession as defined in B.C. (where she was located) and in Ontario (where Wernick was located). Her statement that she had never done so before and has not done so since leaves me thinking, “Duh, but you did so in this case and how do you justify your breach of ethics?” She seems to feel entitled to retain her political privileges even when a conflict of interest is implied while wearing her cap as the attorney general.

    I was struck by the level of intimacy SNC-Lavalin already has with the government in regard to military contracts and other top-secret information and the vast amounts of money involved. Jobs are significant and the economic losses, if the company were to withdraw from Canada, would be unfortunate. The rupture between this company and our government’s military branch could be devastating and much more serious across many measures. I am not sure where the moral high ground lies as I am a pacifist, but the issues are not so cut-and-dried as Wilson-Raybould wants them to appear.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – I don’t think that the jobs or economic argument can come into this. Politicians must not interfere in prosecutorial decisions for any reason, I’d say – not for their view of the public good, nor for their own partisan interest (and isn’t it odd how often those two coincide?). Will adherence to that principle always generate a good outcome? I don’t expect so, but allowing interference is a dangerous thing, I believe.

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