When it comes to the world that we live in, it’s amazing how some principles from one field remain very true in others. In regards to politics the world over, it’s equally amazing how some of the principles of physics apply just as well in the political sphere. And think when you think about it, it’s very true. “What does up, must come down”, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” and many others. In modern politics, so same laws apply in democratic societies and we have numerous examples of those.
But in following the news over the weekend and into today the big news in the Canadian political scene right now, the SNC scandal, another law came to mind for me that speaks so well to what we are seeing unfold before us; “nature abhors a vacuum”. Politics abhors a vacuum too, and right now we are witnessing what happens when a political vacuum is created and it’s not dealt with. So what is the vacuum we have now? The continued silence from the Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
It’s a silence that has become more and more troublesome for the government as the days have dragged along in this scandal. And with every speaking point the government has come out with that does not involve the Minister giving her side of the story, that vacuum gets bigger, hungrier and continues to spread.
Today we saw the Ethics Commissioner announce that he will be accepting the NDP’s request to investigate this matter, stating in his reply letter to the NDP that “I have reason to believe that a possible contravention of Section 9 may have occurred”. That section “prohibits a public office holder from seeking to influence a decision of another person so as to improperly further another person’s private interest.” We also saw two Liberal backbench members speaking out, one from New Brunswick supporting the Oppositions call for a Justice Committee study, the other speaking out in support of Minister Wilson-Raybould. By the way, that meeting will be taking place on Wednesday afternoon and we’ll see what the government members do there, especially after the new Justice Minister David Lametti took to the airwaves on the weekend to state that he believed the PM and felt here was no evidence to support such a study. Oh yeah, then today he was quoted stating that a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin could still be on the table. Hmmmmm….
That was all topped off with two bits of news from the end of the day. Firstly, the Prime Minister stated that while Minister Wilson-Raybould can’t speak due to privilege (which the PM himself can waive), he could tell us all that he spoke with her in the past day. And according to the PM, “she confirmed” to him that they supposedly had a conversation about this and everything is hunky-dory. So let me get this straight; he invokes privilege to keep the Minister from speaking about her side of the story, but then goes onto give us his version of her side of the story? This is just odd and contradictory, especially in that how do you get to invoke privilege, but then talk about the privileged topic supposedly on the behalf of the person who can’t speak because of that same privilege? And then we’re just supposed to accept that all as the end of it? Nah sorry, that doesn’t wash and brings about a lot more questions than it answers. And like last week, the only person who can answer those questions is Jody Wilson-Raybould. But the second story to come out this afternoon adds a whole other layer to this situation that could get extremely sticky for the government. In the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, a case in which the government has stuck to privilege too, a development came out that not only causes problems for the crown in this case, but puts the SNC case in a potentially different and more problematic light.
The federal government is fighting defence requests for the release of un-redacted notes from meetings between officials at the Privy Council Office (PCO) and Crown lawyers.https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mark-norman-davie-shipyard-breach-trust-1.5014538
In an email sent to Norman’s lawyers on Friday, one of the lead prosecutors, Barbara Mercier, said the documents being sought by the defence are being censored because they deal with “trial strategy” and censoring them is entirely appropriate.
“We maintain that discussions about how to run the trial are protected by litigation privilege,” Mercier wrote.
That prompted defence counsel Christine Mainville to accuse the Prime Minister’s Office of trying to direct the case.
She also said the Crown should not be discussing strategy with PCO because the PCO instigated the investigation into an alleged leak of cabinet secrets Norman has been accused of orchestrating.
This discovery led the judge in this case to quip on the record “so much for the independence of the PPSC”. So here we now see the allegation that the Privy Councils Office, the civil service side of the PMO, was discussing a trial and its strategy with the crown. That is a huge no-no and raises a lot more questions in this case. But to make matters worse for the government, this story starts to have eerie similarities to the SNC case. Happening once might be an accident, but a similar thing that’s such a clear no-no happening twice? That starts to raise a lot of questions.
So in the span of less than a week, we’ve seen this story grow wider and wider, with the vacuum the government left open growing bigger and filling more and more of the story. It was said by many pundits on Thursday that if Minister Wilson-Raybould spoke out then and there was really nothing to this story, it would have killed it in it’s tracks. If that had happened, do you see backbenchers starting to get antsy? Do you give NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh the oxygen of a story where he seems to be starting to find his feet? Do you end up with this similarity with another big legal case? And do you end up with so many of your talking points that you’ve come to rely on in other cases, like “we are a country of laws”, getting blown up?
No one can say for sure but it feels safe to say that things would have been mitigated much more by the Minister speaking. So in the meantime, that vacuum that was created by the governments silence on this issue has been filled, and ably so by their opponents and circumstance, and now this issue is much messier and muddled than it was before. Yes, nature does abhor a vacuum and we’re seeing the effect of that in politics right now in spades.