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TRUDEAU VS JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD: POLITICS CHEAPENED

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. – Thomas Cooper

Frank A. Pelaschuk

The February 27 testimony offered by liberal Jody Wilson-Raybould to the Justice Committee, if compelling and revealing and likely very damaging to the Trudeau brand, does not appear to offer sufficient reason for Trudeau to step down notwithstanding conservative leader Andrew Scheer screaming from the sidelines for Trudeau’s resignation and for the RCMP to be called in to investigate. The former Justice Minister, with her own credibility issues regarding conflict of interest breaches, came across as confident, articulate and, most importantly, as a truthful and reliable witness seeming to contradict much of the February 21 testimony of Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council and the most senior bureaucrat in government

Wernick came across as candid and open about his dealings with the former Justice Minister regarding SNC-Lavalin and possible harmful consequences should the Montreal-based construction company face the courts and be found criminally guilty of bribery and fraud. However, while proving himself loyal and vocal, he was not particularly effective because of his partisan asides in his defence of Trudeau and the liberal governance. Claiming that no undue pressure was exerted on Jody Wilson-Raybould by himself or the PMO to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case, Wernick asserted that if the former Justice Minister believed otherwise it was simply a matter of misperception on her part. The knives were definitely out. 

While he came across as articulate, intelligent and confident, if not arrogant, his was the demeanour far removed from the perception of the public functionary often imagined, quietly and silently toiling in some dark, dank dungeon ensuring our government operates efficiently and effectively. Often passionate, even aggressive at times, he did himself damage when raising legitimate concerns about foreign political interference and security issues by resorting to inflammatory rhetoric with claims that usage of the words “traitor” and “treason” led to the real possibility of assassination. This is  the politics of fear and passing strange for one who holds the position not of politician but as public servant and who must, by virtue of his job, maintain an attitude of neutrality. Wernick, experienced bureaucrat as he is and as he kept reminding us with his thirty-five years of service, failed miserably to convince this viewer that the PMO was not working desperately to convince Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution case against the company. He was holding to the party line to which he should not be a member working to undermine the credibility of Jody Wilson-Raybould. It was her word against their word. Wernick is no mere humble but talented bureaucrat but an ardent, unabashed Trudeau liberal booster worthy of an appearance in Babbitt. 

Interestingly and most telling, moments before Wernick’s appearance, Committee member conservative MP Michael Cooper sought to have those testifying before the Justice Committee take an oath and thereby held liable to perjury charges should they lie under questioning; the liberal majority wanting none of that voted it down five to four. It was clear that the investigation into the Jody Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin matter would be guided along party lines, the liberals circling wagons around the PMO and the opposition MPs scoring points: they wanted that gotcha moment. If the truth was to be exposed that day, or any day, it would be by accident unless Trudeau waived the attorney-client privilege hamstringing the former Justice Minister and Attorney General. Trudeau did, Feb. 25, with restrictions: confidentiality was waived regarding her role and those with whom she talked about prosecution options for SNC-Lavalin for bribery and fraud but she would be restricted from speaking publicly as to her communications with the Director of  Public Prosecutions (DPP), Kathleen Roussel. Jody Wilson-Raybould was free to talk but limited in what she could reveal. Even so, she had a lot to say and say it she did. That was enough to get Scheer to squeal like a pig on ecstasy. Resignation! Police! Almost levitating, certainly salivating, Scheer and his conservative colleagues, trembling with faux indignation, shrieked (and no one shrieks louder than Candice Bergen) of preserving the independence of the courts and that of the Director of Public Prosecutors and maintaining “the rule of law” extolling the virtues of Jody Wilson-Raybould a liberal member whom just weeks before they would gladly have eviscerated. It seems they have forgotten their years of silence as members of Stephen Harper’s regime when the conservatives sought to stack the Supreme Court against “activist judges”. Conservatives are not only stupid, like all partisans, they have a quick forgettery that highlights the fact. 

Missing from the debate is the question of morality, integrity, the ability to experience shame. The conservative members are not standing up to corruption. They simply want to score points and take down the liberal government and to replace them so they can do the same. As long as jobs are safe, promises are made and people embrace the lies, it apparently doesn’t matter what politicos corrupt and corrupt they do. The wants and needs of special interests must be accommodated regardless of the effects on society, our laws and our democracy; just don’t don’t it loudly so as to be noticed. Voters are to be used, politicians purchased, Big Business allowed to make the rules. SNC-Lavalin has a sordid history of corruption. Allowing it to plea bargain with hefty fines, admission of guilt, changes in organizational structure and the reimbursement of unlawful benefits is not sufficient. It hasn’t worked in the past and it will not work now. I, too, care about the nine thousand Canadian jobs as much as the next person but not at any price. If companies go under, so be it, there are others willing to step in but now in the full knowledge that we mean it when we say no bad deed goes unpunished, even corporate deeds. Bad businesses do not change; they only seek change to laws or of those they cannot buy.

But this is politics and doubtless similarly played in all western democracies. Jody Wilson-Raybould seems to be the ammunition that could topple the Trudeau government mortally wounded by one of its own. The conservatives and NDP today fall all over themselves to embrace her as honest, absolutely truthful, fearless and a beacon of integrity which she well may be none really questioning why she has done her party as she has. Was she getting back at Trudeau for her demotion because of her failure to do what Trudeau wanted of her? While she may be telling the truth, and I believe she is, I do not buy that hokey “I am a truth-teller” line she offers and her First Nations supporters feed us as if to suggest as an absolute of nature inherent to indigenous peoples. Where was her voice of objection when Trudeau held those many, many secretive exclusive fundraising events with Big Business and foreign millionaires and billionaires? Why did she not stand up to him when he shamelessly publicly turned on his own electoral reform promise? What of her own conflicts of interest breaches? 

“I am a truth-teller”. Well, it sounds good. Better than that throw-away line she offered saying she had attended the fundraiser sponsored by lawyers not as Justice Minister but as a liberal member. If people cannot be trusted on the small things, and I don’t think conflict of interest breaches small, I find it difficult to trust them on the big things. But, hey, that’s just me. I accept her testimony but not unreservedly.

During her testimony, she had stated that in regard to the SNC-Lavalin matter, she felt the PMO had crossed the line but admitted no laws had been broken. She also believed she was removed from the justice ministry to the Ministry of Veterans Affairs because of her refusal to do what the PMO wanted from her: intervention in the SNCE-Lavalin matter. So the question remains: was she retaliating for her demotion from a post she clearly loved? Unsurprisingly, Trudeau responded swiftly, saying he completely disagreed with her “characterization…of these events.”

There is little doubt that the then Justice Minister was under considerable pressure to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin matter to spare the company from facing the courts and the possibility of conviction for bribery and corruption. Such a conviction could prove costly not only to the Montreal-based construction giant but also to its nine thousand Quebec workers whose only wrong seems to have been working for a company with a history of corrupt practices. For the liberals, the line has been that the ultimate decision was hers, that no one from the PMO had “directed” her. That’s a feeble defence smacking more of legalese weasel verbiage than a firm stand for “the rule of law” Trudeau kept dredging up whenever questioned on the Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s arrest on the request of the US but, however tenuous, is given credence by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony when she says no laws were broken. There are ways of “directing” without spelling it out. Trudeau knows that as well as we do.

Trudeau cannot be trusted. He has proven himself of fluid ethics, evasive and unashamedly ready to break promises. He loves the glitz and image of grand promises and grand gestures but, when all is said and done he is a straw man who accepts free gifts and breaks major promises, such as that of electoral reform, going through the motions by creating a committee, which he initially sought to stack, to look into it, then, declaring Canadians had lost interest, proceeded to undermine and then drive a stake through the hope because the committee failed to make the recommendation he favoured. His months of denying his many secretive private fundraising efforts with foreign millionaires and billionaires further demonstrate he is untrustworthy and untruthful. His efforts to help SNC-Lavalin by leaning on the Justice Minister is just one more nail to the end of his sunny, sunny promise.

While I do not trust Trudeau or the liberals, I have even less hope for the Scheer gang who are mostly members of the old Harper gang who were as overbearing and deceitful as this liberal mob. The shoe in on the other foot and the sides have switched positions they once opposed, detested and derided. That’s not just politics, though it is politics; it’s hypocrisy and a clear demonstration of the dearth of integrity possessed by both sides. I cannot speak of the NDP simply because they have never led this country but I suspect, overtime, they too would succumb to the corruptive allure of power. Thus far, that has been the purview of only two parties, the liberals and conservatives who have swapped places and positions since Canada’s inception, two faces on the same coin melding at times into one. Next election will offer nothing new, just another swap of the same old same old.

While it is understandable and acceptable the liberal government would want to preserve those jobs (Scheer’s conservatives would be no different), it is not understandable nor acceptable that governments would pass into law DPAs (Deferred Prosecution Agreements) that would allow corporations to escape criminal verdicts. What makes this even more offensive is to claim that other democracies have done this and that Canada is late joining the party. No company, and that includes one with a very dirty past, should be allowed to be considered “too big to fail”. That SNC-Lavalin was successful in its lobbying efforts suggest that the liberals disagree. When the conservatives form government, they will defend DPAs as staunchly as the liberals. 

Canadians and their government have no duty assure the survival of rogue corporations by assisting them in their bid to escape punishment for their depredations. Yet, that is exactly what DPAs allow: governments to abet criminals escape justice. Now some have said admissions of guilt, hefty fines, restitution of funds unlawfully claimed, restructuring, and denial of doing business with cash cow governments for ten years (the standard around the globe it appears) is not insignificant.  Perhaps not. But it’s not justice when individuals without the wherewithal can be sent to jail and corporations get raps on the wrist for doing the same thing with corrupt executives escaping justice because well-paid lawyers know how to work the system or because of “unreasonable” delays in prosecution. 

Even more worrisome, have been rumours of Trudeau’s government quietly tweaking the DPA provision so that punishment is less onerous for corporations: time from doing business with government would be reduced from ten to five years and some have even suggested a reduction to six months!

It was clear from Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, notwithstanding Trudeau’s relentless mantra of focusing on jobs, that the real concerns of liberals were on the Quebec and the upcoming federal elections. In other words: it was and is all about getting re-elected and saving SNC-Lavalin was and is an essential part of the plan to that end. What’s good for SNC-Lavalin is good for the liberals. Tomorrow it could be the turn of the conservatives. 

It is a sad fact that governing parties are less concerned with the interests of Canada and Canadians than in their own continued hold of power. Harper and his gang were that way and the liberals are no different. Sovereignty and the rule of law all too frequently seem to be side issues for governing parties. Apparently, the prime minister and his crew were unaware that the Director of Public Prosecutors plays an independent role. Perhaps it’s time that the  Minister of Justice and Attorney General be independent as well with a neutral non-politician taking the dual roles. The law must not be toyed with or shaped to the fashion of the day. Yet Trudeau, and Harper before him, have implemented laws that allows for such abuses. 

Trudeau has long ago betrayed the promise of newer and better, of openness and transparency. He is no different from Harper and I am tempted to say of both and their colleagues they are just another set of “cheap” politicos but I am of the same mind as Laurence J. Peter who opined, “There’s no such thing as a cheap politician.” He’s right; the cost of electing liars, cheats, people without integrity who respect neither democracy nor the “rule of law” or even voters, is far too high a price to pay. But, in the end, whose fault is this, really? Theirs or ours? 

Had Trudeau accepted the recommendation proposed by the Electoral Reform Committee, the next election might have offered the answer. When only two parties with little to distinguish them have governed the nation, one cannot be surprised that complacency has taken root. It is a rotten system and we are part of it.

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But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.

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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. —  Benjamin Franklin

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