Thursday, February 14, 2019

Liberals look to rag the puck when it comes to SNC-Lavalin inquiry

The resignation of British Columbia MP Judy Wilson-Rabyould from
the Trudeau cabinet is changing the political narrative in Ottawa these days

Political bombshells tend take on a life of their own and in Ottawa this week the resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould is sending seismic political shock waves far beyond the nations capital.

The Vancouver-Granville MP, who was the former Justice Minister and Attorney General prior to a January cabinet shuffle tendered her resignation on Monday evening, her resignation letter, posted to her social media streams the next day highlighting both her time as Justice Minister and her short period of time with the Veterans Affairs file.

(click to enlarge)

The resignation letter, made for a companion document to a much longer letter that she had posted following the cabinet shuffle, which offered up some background to her duties as Justice Minister, with one passage sending off the alarm bells for the press corp in the nation's capital.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is somewhat distinct from other Cabinet Ministers because the role is a dual one. The Minister of Justice is the legal advisor to Cabinet. In this capacity, the Minister is concerned with the administration of justice, including policy in the areas of criminal law, family law, human rights law, and Indigenous justice. 

The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence. 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. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role.

Her comments on the cabinet shuffle, was very much a correspondence which said much more by what it didn't say and has brought us now to a pivotal moment for the Liberal party.

With the Ms. Wilson-Raybould's cabinet shuffle letter making for the starting gun, the Globe and Mail delivered the first of what has now become a flood of investigative and editorial pieces from all corners of the media landscape, an overview that is making for the first significant scandal for the Trudeau Liberal government.

Senior government officials confirm discussions on SNC-Lavalin with Wilson-Raybould

The underlying theme to the percolating troubles for the Liberals clearly now is related to how much the Liberal government is looking to take an active interest in an ongoing legal case involving the Quebec firm SNC-Lavalin, a major engineering and industrial company that bids on infrastructure projects in Canada and around the world.

The fact that the Lavalin group is also a significant player in the political donation cycle in Ottawa probably doesn't assist in the optics on that either.

The lasting impression from the whirlwind of events in the last six weeks; that of possible pressure on a cabinet minister to follow along with the government's thinking on the issue and then punishment for showing resistance towards that train of thought does raise concerns.

The banishment of the former Justice Minister to the Veterans Affairs portfolio, a troubled outpost if ever there were one, raised many eyes at the time.

For the most part she had been seen as a more than capable member of the cabinet who had steered some fairly large and controversial files to the finish line only served to spike some interest in what was really happening in the cabinet room.

The added undercurrent of a somewhat ham handed attempt to discredit her work and even her reputation, through a whisper campaign as to how she was hard to work with and not a team player, has only served to make the Liberal machine look vindictive.

The fact that Ms. Wilson-Raybould has retained the Honourable Thomas Albert Cromwell CC, a Former Supreme Court Justice as her legal representation suggests that she is ready to provide her account of events, if the government ever allows her to share her recollections on the public record.

In answer to the resignation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the Prime Minister held a short press conference Tuesday in Winnipeg, with the backdrop of a Transit maintenance garage and a fleet of buses behind him, the Prime Minister in effect threw his former cabinet colleague under a bus, suggesting that she had been neglectful in her duties by not bringing up issues related to the SNC-Lavalin file directly to him and expressing his personal disappointment in how the situation has evolved.

The optics of the Prime Minister's televised denunciation of his former Minister's handling of the issue was best captured by comedian Mike Critch of 22 Minutes fame, who clearly found the right  focus for the day's events.

All of the above brings us to a committee room in Ottawa yesterday and the call of the Conservatives and NDP members for a full inquiry in the SNC-Lavalin situation, with Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen taking the lead for the New Democrats on the issue.

As part of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Mr. Cullen's comments of Wednesday have provided for a most effective narrative of how this situation is evolving and how the Liberals are being held to account.

Mr. Cullen followed up on the latest approach to the way the Committee will approach its business and the ebb and flow of that discussion isn't painting the Liberals in a positive light.

The Opposition parties know when they have a government on its back foot and in this instance the Trudeau government is flat footed and stumbling around and appearing very much like they are looking to run out a clock without having any kind of full investigation of the issues take place.

Creating a list of those to speak to the issue, that for the most part doesn't include anyone with actual knowledge of what has transpired between the former Justice Minister and the Prime Minister and his staff is making for theatre that is not getting the best reviews.

Try as the may to rag the puck, the Liberals are finding that the opposition members are not going to be giving them any kind of space and the media that covers Parliament Hill are making sure that the issue does not slip off the radar

The resignation of Mrs. Raybould-Wilson is set to unravel a fair portion of the Liberal party blue print of the last four years, leaving the Prime Minister to face a significant amount of damage control in any number of directions heading into an election campaign this fall.

That is of course, as long as things don't get any worse for him and the party and at this point, there's  every possibility that this is only the beginning of what will be a very troubling period for the government.

Over on our political portal D'Arcy McGee, we have been archiving the growing list of excellent news gathering and opinion pieces out of Ottawa in the last few days, it makes for a handy guide as to what has led to this treacherous moment for the Liberal government.

You can review the range of media notes on the story from our Ottawa Observations archive.

For items of interest from Ottawa related to MP Nathan Cullen see our House of Commons archive here.

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