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Opinion

SNC-Lavalin’s really got a hold on Trudeau

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Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s April 2 letter to Liberal MPs was an unsuccessful, last-ditch attempt to remain in the Liberal caucus, but it was also a sad reminder of what the Liberals promised to be back in 2015. It didn’t have to end this way, but the toughest lesson here is for the prime minister.

“There were many reasons I ran for the Liberal Party of Canada in 2015, including commitments on addressing climate change, the challenges of our criminal justice system, Indigenous reconciliation, and building an economy that supported all Canadians. For me, and I believe for our party, all of these progressive policy commitments had underlying them a firm belief in the need for a transformation in our political culture, and the pursuit of a more responsive, representative, and less partisan approach to the governing of the country. This commitment to a changed politics was not just about specific policies, such as proportional representation, but about every aspect of how we organize ourselves to govern, and the responsibilities that each of us carry. We committed to break old and cynical patterns of centralizing power in the hands of a few unelected staffers, the marginalization of hundreds of Members of Parliament with expertise and insights to offer, and the practice of governing in the shadows, out of sight of Canadians. I believed we were going uphold the highest standards that support the public interest, and not simply make choices to create partisan advantage,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould wrote.

She’s right, those were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promises in the 2015 election campaign. But prime ministerial smugness, a serious lack of trust and loyalty between the main players, and an astonishing lack of communications between the prime minister and his two former cabinet ministers finished the job on this sorry chapter. The whole mess could cost him the next election. After more than two months since The Globe and Mail broke the story on Feb. 7 that the prime minister, top PMO officials, and the clerk of the Privy Council had inappropriately pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould in her role as attorney general of Canada to secure a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin in a criminal prosecution, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, who both later resigned from cabinet because they did not have confidence in the prime minister’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy, were finally kicked out of caucus basically because of that lack of confidence.

They resigned from cabinet on principle, which is brave and admirable, but they also appeared to continue to undercut the prime minister and cabinet, which didn’t help their case to stay in caucus. And for more than two months, there has been a steady drip of leaks, explosive testimony before the House Justice Committee, top resignations, more leaks, more interviews, and more counter-attacks, with no end in sight and an election six months away. The prime minister had been saying the Liberal Party is a big tent that can accommodate diversity and criticism. But politics is a nasty business and sometimes big, nasty events can’t be controlled. The remarkable thing is that he could have controlled it if he had communicated with Ms. Wilson-Raybould from the very beginning, and not left it mostly to his staffers. He should have built better trust and loyalty. According to CBC News, Ms. Wilson-Raybould had set multiple conditions with Mr. Trudeau to end the rift. Ms. Philpott said all she wanted was an apology. In the end, this is the prime minister’s responsibility and it’s his failure to communicate with his own cabinet ministers. He may have thrown it all away, all for SNC-Lavalin.

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