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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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JUSTIN TRUDEAU’S ACHILLES HEEL: THE ‘RULE OF LAW’ TAKES A BEATING

I once said cynically of a politician, “He’ll double cross that bridge when he comes to it.” –Oscar Levant

There is no such thing as a cheap politician. –Laurence J. Peter

Frank A. Pelaschuk

All parties campaign on them, offering promises of honest, transparent, fair, equitable governance. For Trudeau, there would be more: not only would his be a gender-balanced cabinet, a promise he kept, 2015 would also be the last ever first-past-the-post election and an end to the massively unwieldy omnibus bills which the Stephen Harper regime had turned into an art form in hopes of slipping legislation without anyone noticing and the opposition liberals and NDP unremittingly fought against for that very reason. He broke the last two promises and many others since, but electoral reform must surely have been the most brutal betrayal for those who voted for him on this issue alone while his turning his back on his omnibus stance may be the costliest because of recent allegations made against the Trudeau regime in the Globe and Mail of political interference in the 2015 criminal charges laid against the Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin company regarding bribery payouts to Libyan public officials.  

In the 2018 liberal budget, there was inserted a little noted provision having nothing to do with the budget. Few people noticed; those that did made noise, were ignored by the governing party and the public paid little attention perhaps still in love with Trudeau or believing this was esoteric stuff or just mere noise by sore losers or unsurprising worthy only of resigned shrugs: What’s new, this is how it works, business and politicians working together gaming the system. The provision buried deep in the budget tome refers to the “Differed Prosecution Agreement” (DPA) or the “Remediation Agreement”. It is a plea-bargaining tool commonplace in Britain and America much favoured by those into protecting the health and welfare of Big Business rather than that of citizens from whose purse those corporate interests often pillage upon winning government contracts; evidently, it’s a tool Trudeau and the PMO find attractive and, if it works as a lure for corporate donations, all the better. With DPAs, corporate beneficiaries bargain with prosecutors to avoid costly public trials: they admit to guilt, pay big fines, give back accrued benefits and make changes within the corporate structure perhaps with a few sacrificial bad apples (never mind if the barrel is rotten). But here’s the real value of avoiding trial with a plea deal: corporations also avoid the ten-year penalty of not being allowed to bid on lucrative government contracts. Free enterprisers lose nothing while granted licence to capitalize on the free pass to do business as usual, perhaps even repeating the very acts that got them into trouble in the first place: buying politicians and winning government contracts while all parties laugh their way to the bank. Why not? Since we became a nation, we’ve given the conservatives and liberals a similar pass to lie, break promises, help their friends as they always have because too frightened, too lazy, too stupid to try something new. Change scares us, leaves us frozen and makes us accomplices.

With Scott Brison’s departure, the cabinet shuffle that followed raised some eyebrows particularly with the demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould as justice minister. Not only was she the first First Nations member to achieve such a high position in cabinet, she was, notwithstanding several breaches of conflicts of interest issues, in some circles considered a moderately effective minister. However, within hours of her demotion, she issued a statement on her website which included this excerpt: “It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence. As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power” (for the full statement,http://www.netnewsledger.com/2019/01/15/statement-from-minister-jody-wilson-raybould-mp/). This piece alone is a remarkable statement seeming to suggest all was not well between the justice minister and the PMO and, with the Globe and Mail piece, takes on added significance that cannot and must not be ignored. SNC-Lavalin, with a dubious history and in preliminary hearings with no trial date yet since last October, stands to lose billions. The allegation is that the PMO sought to assist the construction company avoid trial and thus enable it to continue to have the opportunity to bid on government contracts by leaning on the justice department. Apparently, the tactic failed; the justice department pushed back thereby assuring the demotion of Jody Wilson-Raybould. The above excerpt seems to suggest there was some kind of political interference but, if so, what kind? Cynics have suggested that the Globe and Mail story was leaked by Wilson-Raybould herself and that the statement of January 15 was the groundwork for what followed. Was she fired because she attempted to intervene in the corruption case? If that was true, and none of it has been proven, the statement by the then minister could read as a pre-emptive strike against the PMO as a means of exacting revenge for her demotion. Whatever happened, the story is out there and only Jody Wilson-Raybould and the PMO know the truth of the matter. When asked about the Globe and Mail story, February 7, the following exchange took place: 

Question:“Did you or anyone in your office pressure the former attorney general to abandon the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin?” 

Answer:“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.” Question:“But the question is whether there was any sort of influence. Are you saying categorically there was absolutely no influence or any pushing whatsoever?” 

Answer:“At no time did I or my office direct t the current or previous attorney general to make any decision in this matter.” 

Question:“But not necessarily direct…. Was there any sort of influence whatsoever?” 

Answer:“As I’ve said, at no time did we direct the attorney general current or previous to take any decision in this matter” (National Post in the Ottawa Citizen, Friday, February 8, 2019)

Not only were Trudeau’s responses circular, evasive and legal, Jody Wilson-Raybould chose not to clear the air or to support Trudeau when, shortly after the Trudeau interview, she was asked questions of a similar nature. Had the PMO sought to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin matter? “No comment” was the succinct and telling response. Devastating for Trudeau and leaving open room for many more questions. One thing was clear: the one-time justice minister, now veterans affairs minister, had no interest in helping the PMO. The following day, February 8, she stated she could not answer more fully because she was “bound by solicitor-client privilege” an argument some legal experts claim could be waived by the prime minister. That did not happen. It likely will not happen. 

NOW WHAT?

We all know how easy it is to make promises. It is much more difficult to follow through on one that would alter if not destroy the very thing that allowed you your greatest success. Such promises usually go by the wayside; it takes a person of great moral character to follow through on such a promise. Trudeau is not that man. He never was. It was not because of a change of heart by Trudeau that electoral reform failed; reform failed when it became clear that his preferred choice of ranked ballot, something he kept from the public, was not to be. Trudeau set about to undermine and then kill the effort; it would be ranked ballot or nothing as far as Trudeau was concerned though it was clear that those supporting electoral reform preferred some form of proportional representation as recommended by the committee struck up to look into the matter. It was never about what the public wanted or about a fair and open system. It was all about maintaining the status quo, maintaining what worked for the liberals and conservatives since 1867.

From the start, honesty and transparency bit the dust and recent events have shown the extent of Trudeau’s deceit with his slipping of the DPA provision into the 2018 budget. He was and is and likely always will be just another politico out for the main chance. His loyalty is not with you and me but, rather, with those with the big bucks. Evidently Trudeau really does believe and support the sentiments of General Bullmoose, the rapacious capitalist Al Capp creation made infamous in Li’l Abnerfor saying, “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for America”. Bullmoose is fiction but not so the real-life capitalist and former head of General Motors, Charles E. Wilson, who, in appearing before a senate committee in 1952 opined, “What is good for the country is good for General Motors and vice versa.” Sixty-seven years later, the rapacity of General Bullmoose continues unbridled often under the protection and with the assist of governments more interested in the good health of Big Business than the health of those who elect them. We saw some of that with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program when Stephen Harper was in power and Jason Kenney, employment minister, only after public exposure made changes to a low allowing companies to pay foreign workers less than Canadians. We see some of that now with the DPAs sneaked into law by Trudeau. 

Trudeau is very good at grandstanding and shamelessly touching all the politically correct hot buttons except the ones that count, including integrity, honesty, the ability to experience shame. I cannot help but think of the Yiddish proverb which, with apologies, I will paraphrase: Trudeau loves everybody but he helps himself and his friends.

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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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