Wednesdays in Ottawa are very interesting when the House of Commons is sitting. It’s caucus day for all parties, which can bring some interesting stories, and in this Parliament, it’s the day that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes every question in Question Period. Given the news of the past two weeks and the PMO/SNC scandal, that made for a very interesting Wednesday.
Today was one of those days you wish you could be a fly on the wall of a committee room in Ottawa, and this time that room was the Liberals caucus room. Given everything that’s happen in the past two weeks and the newest news in this story from the Globe and Mail, this was the first chance for the entire Liberal caucus to be in the same room together like this. Of course, after the events of yesterday, everyone still included Jody Wilson-Raybould. The Liberal caucus meeting ran very long, which is not surprising given the circumstances, but nothing earth shattering seems to have come out. Most people left the meeting without saying a word while the Prime Minister came out to give a belated public apology for the anonymous comments made attacking Wilson-Raybould, which was a bit odd to see happen and came more than a week too late.
Then we went to Question Period, where it promised to be a grilling on the scandal that’s taken up all of the oxygen in Canadian politics in the past two weeks. This all set up for a potentially explosive and wild QP, but it honestly failed to deliver on that. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used every question they had to try to batter the government on this scandal but honestly failed to land a single blow or draw new details out. The New Democrats didn’t even use all of their questions on the topic, eventually moving off of the topic to go onto other topics. They also didn’t land any shots of consequence this time around. And even Maxime Bernier got a question today and he also failed in his attempts at the same. In fact, the only news that came from Question Period was the announcement by the Finance Minister that the budget will be tabled on Tuesday March 19th.
To wrap it all up, after Question Period we saw a vote in the House of Commons on the NDP Opposition Day motion calling for the Prime Minister to waive privilege and call a public inquiry. That motion went down to an inglorious defeat with only two Liberals, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Wayne Long, voting with the Opposition. The Prime Minister basically said he believes that the Ethics Commissioners investigation and the Justice Committees study was enough, which has its own level of irony given the events of the past two weeks.
The result of the vote though was overshadowed by a move taken by Jody Wilson-Raybould herself right after as she rose to speak on a point of order:
So, a day that started with a lot of promise and potential on this story really didn’t seem to move the needle but brought more confusion. After days of progression and worsening in regard to this story, today marked two consecutive days of stasis, lack of movement and genuine confusion. For the government, you can’t say that these have been good days, but they are days that could have been so much worse so given the circumstances, you can’t help but think they will take this. Despite that, there still seems to be many shoes to drop out there, which Wilson-Raybould’s point of order was a stark reminder of.
For the Opposition parties though, you have to start asking yourselves what more you can do with this story without more information and/or evidence coming from the media. Almost all of the motion that’s come on this story has come from the media and really the Opposition Parties haven’t managed to bring much new to the debate. That has helped to stall the story and has left everyone in this weird place. There are questions that still lay out there and that will continue to give the Opposition grist to run through this mill, it’s just a matter of how much will come out the other side at this point.
But at this point something has to give, because while the governments story so far hasn’t been totally dismantled, it seems that it won’t take much more information to do that. We’ll see if the Justice Committees work will help contribute to that but that will surely be some must see TV. One thing is becoming pretty clear though regarding the privilege involving Jody Wilson-Raybould, and it was Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star who wisely pointed it out today:
The fact is that you can’t continue to claim privilege over and over again when the subject of that privilege (i.e.: The Prime Minister) keeps talking about it. Furthermore, if the reporting is true it feels safe in saying and assuming that if Wilson-Raybould is speaking to the cabinet and Liberal caucus about it must have some effect on the stability or strength of said privilege. It’s one thing to say, “I can’t talk to anyone so I won’t talk”, but that position gets damaged when that person is presumably talking about this matter in private places like Cabinet and Caucus. The Prime Minister won’t be able to keep up this line regarding privilege and it feels more and more like a matter of time before either he waives it himself or Jody Wilson-Raybould gets a legal opinion that tells her that she can speak.
As it sits today though, this story seems to feel a lot like a storm that was lost some steam. It’s not dead and it’s has many opportunities to flare up again, but at this moment it’s in a weird place. It’s not going away, but it’s not advancing. We can’t really tell if the government has gotten up on the mat or if they are stuck in the mud. Either way, things could be a lot worse for the government and that must feel like a win after the past two weeks they’ve had. We’ll see who is feeling like a winner come the end of Friday.