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A very Canadian scandal

Former cabinet ministers Wilson-Raybould and Philpott
John Bell

March 19, 2019

The fallout from the SNC Lavalin scandal, coursing through the Canadian body politic, runs the gamut from corporate crime to cynical hypocrisy to vicious racism. It’s enough to gag a maggot. Here’s what we know thus far:

The façade of benevolence that brought Justin Trudeau to power has been irrevocably smashed. Those coming to his defence succeed only in dragging him deeper into the quagmire. With friends like Gerry Butts and Sheila Copps, who needs enemies.

The Tories under Andrew Scheer are more than willing to get into the gutter and wallow in racist filth and neo-fascist conspiracies in their zeal to destroy Trudeau’s “brand”. And if along the way they re-consolidate their base that might be thinking about defecting to Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, so much the better.

Which should be manna from heaven for the NDP, languishing in a poor third place. But no. The by-election victory of their leader, Jagmeet Singh has not seemed to energize the party. More than a quarter of sitting NDP MPs–including former leader Thomas Mulcair and high profile Nathan Cullen–have said they will not stand for re-election. It is hard not to believe this as a collective stab in the back to Singh; Cullen’s resignation came just days after Singh’s victory.

Tellingly, many of the defections (Mulcair, Cullen, Dave Christopherson) come from the NDP’s right. You’d have to be willfully blind not to see that at least some of the defections, mirroring drops NDP poll numbers and fund-raising, as a racist response to Singh’s leadership. Membership grumbles about Singh’s “electability” usually begin with “I’m not a racist, but…”. And we all know that’s a big, stinking “but”.

Speaking of which, the testimony of PMO insider and Trudeau fart-catcher Gerry Butts did nothing to save the reputation of his friend and boss. He began his testimony before the House Justice Committee by saying he did not intend to speak ill of former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould; he then spent almost all of his time throwing her under the bus.

Central to Butts’ defence was the claim that PMO reps, up to and including Trudeau himself, were just doing the right thing, defending 9000 jobs that might be lost if SNC Lavalin didn’t get a free pass from conspiracy and fraud prosecution. The repeated attempts to influence her decision to proceed with prosecution were just good natured boosterism. Wilson-Raybould was being obstructive and unreasonable by refusing to seek a second opinion that would let SNC off the hook.

Trudeau’s defenders repeated the figure of 9000 lost job until it was accepted as gospel. The problem: Butts had pulled it out of his ass. He was unable to recall where the number came from.

Further, the Attorney General’s job description precludes them from allowing economic factors, such as SNC job losses or share price drops, from influencing the decision to prosecute. However you evaluate Jody Wilson-Raybould’s performance as Justice Minister, her refusal to grant Deferred Prosecution Agreement to SNC was correct.

So there you have it, pick your version of the truth. A noble Indigenous public servant upholds the law and gets tossed to the wolves. An embattled Prime Minister and his supporters willing to bend the rules to defend Canadian workers. Tory opportunists and racists suddenly singing the praises of a Liberal cabinet minister they had publicly reviled only weeks earlier.

Nagging questions

Then Jane Philpott quit cabinet as head of the Treasury Board, ostensibly in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould. And suddenly I am reminded that none of these narratives quite holds up under close scrutiny.

Pardon me for seeming cynical, but a long lifetime of observing Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers has trained me not to expect noble deeds of public sacrifice. The sudden decision to disband the Justice Committee and put an end to televised proceedings does nothing to change my opinion of Liberals in general.

Why did Wilson-Raybould balk at the use of a corporate “get-out-of-jail-free” card she, as Justice Minister, must have helped hide deep within a budget omnibus bill in the first place? Could it be because her opposition was not to letting SNC Lavalin off the hook for past crimes, but another motive? If she is so aggrieved why is she planning to run again as a Liberal in the next election? Her fans point to her Indigenous roots and upbringing as an antidote to corporate influence.

And what about Philpott’s resignation? A staunch Trudeau ally who handled the purse strings and knew where all the bodies were buried, she had directed a recent court case to deny an Indigenous child financial support for dental care. Hardly a candidate for noble career martyrdom.

As for Trudeau and his supporters, we have seen a long line of “progressives” supporting the PMO and SNC. Some do it because they really buy the bogus 9000 jobs number. Some do it out of pure, strategic lesser-evilism–anything is better than grinning Andrew Scheer and his gang of xenophobes. Besides, we see cities openly competing to see who can give better perks to big corporations like Amazon to bring jobs. You say tax breaks and zoning law changes, and I say bribery and corporate corruption, let’s call the whole scandal off.

So many doubts. But in Canadian politics, when in doubt follow the petro-dollars.

Remember, SNC Lavalin doesn’t just build prisons for dictators and privatized hospitals; they’re also in the pipeline business. When Trudeau bought out the Trans Mountain pipeline project, did you ever stop to think what corporation would be getting the job? How would it look to award that contract to a company that was fighting a bribery and corruption scandal through the courts? Since any chance of completing the pipeline would depend on buying enough support from First Nations along the right-of-way, why not choose a corporation with bribery built into its very business model? No wonder the PMO and their lobbyist friends from SNC were so desperate for the Deferred Prosecution Agreement to be granted quietly.

As for Jody Wilson-Raybould, I believe her actions (both stymying Trudeau and remaining a Liberal) have more to do with her own political aspirations than with respect for the rule of law. I can foresee a future where she launches her campaign to become Canada’s first Indigenous Prime Minister. Those ambitions wouldn’t stand a chance without the full support of Indigenous peoples. Could she count on that support if she abetted SNC bribing First Nations and building pipelines?

I’m betting now would be a good time to step away from the Cabinet table and increase one’s “brand”. And I’m betting Jane Philpott thinks so too.


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