24 hours can feel like a lifetime in politics, and right now I bet that the Prime Ministers office would agree. Today’s big news of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from the Liberal cabinet was quite the shock to the system, almost more because of how it happened rather than it actually happened.
When the Globe and Mail story broke last week and the Prime Minister’s team refused to give a clear answer to the obvious questions that came from that reporting, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before something gave. Something had to give, either allowing the honourable Minister to speak and waiving privilege to allow that, or she had to leave cabinet, either by her own choice or by the PM’s choosing.
The fact that it took until six days for that “something” to happen is not good, and I would argue that for the government, this was the worst option for their hopes to putting this story to bed. If they had done nothing wrong, then allowing Wilson-Raybould to speak would have been the best option. She could have given her side of things and this story might have died right there.
By not taking that option, you were really only the left with the option of her leaving cabinet because there was no way for her to stay there under these circumstances without this issue being addressed. But when it came to that, the PM made it pretty clear last night that he didn’t plan on removing her from cabinet. It made that clear with his now famous statement that “her presence in cabinet should speak for itself”, as if her presence there was some kind of tacit approval of the governments story and approach.
If the PMO had been paying full attention here or truly practicing those “sunny ways” approach that they ran on, they would have seen the dangers and how this result would have come. It seems that through out all of this that they have underestimated her and thought they could push her back into place with no fall out. That’s hubris that’s now coming back to bite them in the rear.
Trying to make the case for a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin was already going to be very difficult politically, especially in an election year. Adding this whole scandal on top of that raises the bar of difficulty that much more, then adding to that is the news that’s come out today that SNC may now be facing more charges in relation to a contract to refurbish Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge. That makes this that much harder for the government to do, let alone explain. And given that this government changed the law in the last budget to create the loophole to allow that agreement, there is nowhere else they can point a finger of blame. All of this right now is of their own doing.
Going forward though we’ll see where the story leads. We still have a lot to hear from Jody Wilson-Raybould, and by retaining a former Supreme Court Justice as her counsel to advise her, you get a strong impression that she does plan on speaking at some point. Further to that, this whole story has managed to do deep damage to the Prime Ministers relationship with Indigenous peoples, as we’ve seen more and more Indigenous leaders come to Jody’s defense, on the record. Being a big part of the Liberals coalition that helped to elect them in 2019, this will have lasting consequences beyond this scandal.
Tomorrow we’ll see the House of Commons Justice Committee have an emergency meeting to try to start a study on this issue. We’ll also see if the Liberals on the committee try to kill this in it’s tracks, or if they allow it to go ahead. Trying to kill it would look even worse given todays news, but so far that kind of consideration hasn’t stopped the PMO from other attempts to stop this that now look just as bad.
If we can say anything for sure about this week, it’s that if anything is going to change the narrative going into this Fall’s election, one that seemed so set in stone, this is probably it. This story brings back old narratives from past governments that this Prime Minister had no connection to, and puts a lot of tarnish on the narrative that they are better than before. Add to that yesterdays news about the Ethics Commissioners investigation, an amazing 5th investigation in less than four years of this government. And that doesn’t include economic anxieties that are out there and other pressures coming from all over, this does not bode well for the government.
Now if any of the opposition parties can actually take advantage of this or present a better image to the Canadian public, that remains to be seen. Before today none of them have shown that they are able to. But you never which straw will actually be the one that breaks the camels back and brings everything crashing down. I’d rather not play around and find that out by testing it, but to avoid testing it you need to have control of your message and such.
Right now the government has lost that; they created a vacuum by trying to get out of this by saying nothing, and now the narrative is getting pretty firmly set by others, events and a now-former Cabinet minister. We’ll see what happens tomorrow at the Justice committee and we’ll see what extra oxygen is brought into this story, but one thing is clear here; this has made the jump from “story” to “scandal”. It took us only six days to get here and heck, it’s only Tuesday. This might prove to be the longest break week this government has had so far.