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Jodygate could sink Trudeau government

By Michael Harris      

Jodygate has released a depth-charge into the deep waters of Justin Trudeau’s undeniable popularity. This incident pretty much guts the PR image of the PM as the champion of Indigenous people. The country’s first Indigenous justice minister felt obliged to resign from cabinet for reasons not yet declared. It was significant that she didn’t thank the PM on her way out the door.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, picture Feb. 4, 2019, at a Black History Month event at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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HALIFAX—Is the shiny, new pony headed for the political glue factory? If he isn’t, you’d never know it from the way Justin Trudeau and the treehouse gang in the PMO are handling Jodygate.

The House Justice Committee proceedings designed to set up some kind of an “investigation” into this tawdry affair were botched from the get-go. The participants didn’t look like sober legislators. They looked like a gaggle of toddlers rumbling over the toys at daycare.

Liberal MPs Randy Boisonnault, Ali Ehsassi, Ron McKinnon, Iqra Khalid, pictured Feb. 13, 2019, at the House Justice Committee. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The Liberal idea of a search for the truth in the demise of Jody Wilson-Raybould was pathetic: get the haggling over potential witnesses behind closed doors; bring in a few officials who have already said nothing happened here; lay the gavel on the suddenly ethics-driven Conservatives; and, after ragging the puck for as long as possible, call it a day.

As for anyone who actually does know something about what really went down, people like Jody Wilson-Raybould, the PM’s principal secretary Gerald Butts, and his senior Quebec adviser Mathieu Bouchard, the Libs don’t want them in the same postal code as the committee.

If the prime minister thinks this is damage control, then he probably also believes Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a helluva press secretary. The truth? Stonewalling, and blatant attempts to suppress information hugely important to the public are the paving stones to just one place—cover-up city.

Trudeau and his advisers have forgotten one overarching fact. Sooner or later, Jody Wilson-Raybould will tell her side of the story. The publicly aggrieved always do.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper and Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, pictured Feb. 13, 2019, at the House Justice Committee meeting in Ottawa. The Conservatives brought in their heavy-hitters. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

The longer the PM remains in denial over that simple fact, the greater impact Wilson-Raybould’s words will have when she speaks. Every day the PM acts as though he can control this scandal through enforced institutional silence, one-way phone calls to caucus, and emergency cabinet meetings, the closer he will get to that glue factory.

Trudeau is already looking a lot like Stephen Harper in the Duffy/Nigel Wright Affair. Since Harper wouldn’t own up to what had actually happened with Senator Duffy, he had to keep changing his story.

Harper started out saying he had complete faith in his chief-of-staff, who would not be resigning. Wright left his post and Harper then said he had reluctantly accepted his resignation. Later, the PM told a radio host that he had fired him. Strange way to treat a Good Samaritan, right?

And so to the comparison.

Trudeau also said he had “full confidence” in his veterans affairs minister, and that things were fine between them. Obviously, they were not. He then used the fact that Wilson-Raybould was still in cabinet to prove that nothing untoward happened regarding his government’s handling of the criminal case of SNC-Lavalin.

In the twinkle of an eye, Wilson-Raybould was gone from the Big Table, and Trudeau’s story changed. Now the slagging of his former minister began. Some said she wasn’t a team player. Others whispered she was hard to get along with.

Trudeau himself joined in, putting into play his feminist credentials, which somehow remained intact after the Kokanee Grope came to light. If Wilson-Raybould had had a problem with the handling of the SNC-Lavalin file, she should have told him. He says she didn’t. Even the robots in the PM’s spin operation must realize that there is a lot of territory between everything’s fine and it’s her fault.

Jodygate has released a depth-charge into the deep waters of Justin Trudeau’s undeniable popularity. This incident pretty much guts the PR image of the PM as the champion of Indigenous people. The country’s first Indigenous justice minister felt obliged to resign from cabinet for reasons not yet declared. It was significant that she didn’t thank the PM on her way out the door.

And a little further back in the government’s history is the dumping of another Indigenous cabinet member, former fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo, who resigned to seek treatment for addiction issues (news of an inappropriate sexual relationship later came to light). Tootoo had this to say about what happened to Wilson-Raybould on Twitter: “… not surprised, but disappointed in the PM and his staff for their handling of this issue.”

NDP MP Nathan Cullen, pictured Feb. 13 after the House Justice Committee meeting in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Team Trudeau won’t be getting many Indigenous volunteers on this year’s campaign—unless he changes course.

In her sparse public statements—a few tweets and her resignation letter, Wilson-Raybould herself has sent in code what she cannot yet say in plain language because of solicitor/client privilege and cabinet confidentiality. To paraphrase Shakespeare: “There’s something rotten in Denmark.”

When that depth-charge goes off, and go off it will, I suspect the story we will hear from the ex-minister will go something like this: Then-justice minister Wilson-Raybould and Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel decided the law required them to deny SNC-Lavalin a “deferred prosecution agreement.” Such an agreement means a fine or financial restitution, but not a criminal conviction.

That matters a lot to SNC-Lavalin, which explains its frenzied lobbying of the PMO over this issue. A criminal conviction would mean the engineering company would be banned from bidding on government contracts in Canada for 10 years—just as SNC-Lavalin is already banned from bidding on construction projects financed by the World Bank for ten years.

Wilson-Raybould’s fellow cabinet ministers appear to have exercised their right to consult with the attorney general, no doubt pointing out to her the social costs of proceeding with a possible criminal conviction of SNC-Lavalin—the loss of thousands of jobs in Quebec, and no federal work for the company in Canada.

When Wilson-Raybould continued to back her DPP, the ‘information sharing” in cabinet and elsewhere turned into arm-twisting, or at least it may have in Jody Wilson-Raybould’s opinion. She continued to resist and was then shuffled out of the Justice portfolio. And remember; this woman was once a Crown prosecutor.

Her father, Bill Wilson says that he expects his daughter to speak out on the SNC-Lavalin case any day now. Wilson-Raybould herself has hired ex-Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what sort of public comment she is “legally permitted” to make. Make no mistake about it, Jody Wilson-Raybould will get her say.

Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Gerald Butts, principal secretary to the prime minister, pictured July 18, 2018, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Trudeau, meanwhile, has arrived at a defining moment. Despite all the rhetoric, he has already chosen contracts over justice in the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government. Now he has to dispel the growing suspicion that he has chosen commerce over justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

If Justin Trudeau still believes in the transparency he talked about back on the campaign trail in 2015, and if no one pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case, he should shut down the current dog and pony show and just waive solicitor/client privilege.

Or, he can wave goodbye to his reputation as a leader who became prime minister by promising to do politics in a different way.

Michael Harris is bestselling author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. 

The Hill Times 

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