Today we saw MPs return after their Family Day break and get back to work in Ottawa. As I wrote about last night, today promised to be one of the most consequential days in the life of this government and after over a week away from Ottawa, today offered the Opposition parties their first real chance to go after the government in person since the SNC/PMO story broke. And today offered all kinds of opportunities and events to feed into that narrative.
To start the day, the Federal Cabinet had their usual Tuesday morning meeting. The House of Commons Justice Committee was scheduled to meet in the afternoon “In Camera” to discuss witnesses for a study into this issue. The NDP had an Opposition Day and they used it to bring a motion up for debate that went right at this issue head on. And on top of all of that, you had the usual scrumming MPs, getting them on the record, all of what can squirm out of that and the usual things we don’t see coming.
So what did the day bring? Well the debate on the NDP Opposition Day went ahead as a normal one, with debate all day on this scandal and what should happen. The Conservatives decided to indicate their support while the Government hadn’t made a commitment one way or another, but more on that in a bit.
The Federal Cabinet meeting was one that brought some of the most unexpected and surprising results of all. First of all, the meeting ran long, very long and given the events of the past week, that made complete sense. But it was what happened directly in the aftermath of the meeting that had jaws hitting the newly-renovated floors in the West Block.
So before Question Period even started, news had come. Not only had Jody Wilson-Raybould appeared outside the Cabinet meeting that no one expected her to be at, it turns out that she asked to talk to caucus too? That’s a big development by itself, but it was one put in greater context by what came in the next two hours.
In a stretch of less than three hours, Jody Wilson-Raybould shows up at Cabinet, speaks to them, takes her seat in the House like nothing had happened, the Liberals on the Justice Committee change their tune and ask her to testify, and then she speaks more to the media as she walks down the Hill. All of this is very different, and for many, very confusing. Most people when at the centre of such a situation keep their heads down, stay quiet until the right time to speak, stay away from Caucus (let alone showing up at Cabinet after resigning from Cabinet), stay away from the House and wait. In 270 minutes, Jody Wilson-Raybould did the opposite of all of that.
But what’s most amazing in that doing the opposite, we are actually no closer to knowing what happened and no closer to a resolution to this whole situation. In speaking, Wilson-Raybould didn’t actually tell us anything more than we had already heard and didn’t help the government clean this story up. Last week when Prime Minister Trudeau said before her resignation that “her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself”, those words came back to bite him the next day. But today it’s ironic because her very presence in that Cabinet room and in her usual seat in the front row of the government benches also spoke for itself; it’s just that no one is sure what she said by it yet.
Looking ahead from this point today surely didn’t clear the air but if the Liberals are feeling a bit better tonight I can’t blame them. Sure all of this didn’t exonerate anyone, but it was far from the worst case scenario that todays Question Period alone potentially offered. If anything, the mixed signals and decisions taken today have slowed down the progression of this story. But there are still big potholes ahead here for them. For starters, now that Wilson-Raybould will testify before the Justice Committee, that makes opposing the Opposition motion calling on the Prime Minister to waive his privilege that much harder. Either Wilson-Raybould gets to testify fully at the committee, which involves the privilege matter being dealt with, or she testifies and gives a series of “I’m bound by privilege so I can’t speak” answers, which will just undo any good will and effect that allowing her to testify would have gained. But as much as the House of Commons still offers the Liberals issues, the biggest problem on the horizon might actually come from the Red Chamber thanks to the Conservatives there:
If the Senate actually decides to launch an investigation in line with that motion, this story won’t go away and will fester until election time. For the government, this all becomes a high-stakes test of the true independence of the Senate that the Prime Minister has been trying to set up. The first test will be if the motion itself even passes. If it does, then you have the spectacle of the committee study, with no members on it that are formally a part of your government. And then there’s the actual result of the committee, the report and possible fall out; The government would have no way to officially pressure members on the committee to vote it down, and if they did try to pressure the Independent Senators that they nominated, it seriously undermine what they had promised to deliver on that front. None of that promises to be good for the Liberals and it’s a factor that’s totally outside of their control.
For the Opposition parties, they still have work to do. There is only so far they can go with the information that’s out there now, and the performance today in Question Period didn’t have the big impact that they need it to. The upside for the Opposition tonight is that they have more time, more Question Periods and more of this story to come. No government can have perfect Question Periods for weeks on end, and in every caucus, people get nervous and speak out. So while today was a good day for the Liberals, they can’t be expected to have perfect days forever. And finally for the Opposition, you will now get your chance in the Justice Committee with Jody Wilson-Raybould; the question is can you make it count when it comes? That’s the part that remains to be seen.
The rest of this week ought to be very interesting, especially given that tomorrow morning will be Caucus day for all parties on the Hill. We’ll see what comes out of those caucus rooms after they all get together and hash out the events of the past two weeks. And of course, there could still be more news to break in this story. Today was a day with a bit for everyone to be happy with, but this story is far from being over. We’ll see tomorrow what Wednesday brings.