It’s a Monday after a relatively quiet weekend, and I can’t help but think that no one is happier about that fact than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal caucus. After three weeks of seemingly unceasing new stories and details coming out in the SNC/PMO Scandal, this weekend seemed to let up a bit. Sure, there were other stories of consequence that came out, but right now this is where everyone’s focus is.
So as the week starts, I’m sure that there are many ways that the PM would have hoped that it could have started. As he started the day on Prince Edward Island, I feel safe in saying that he hoped for a quiet start to this week. But that hope must have went away fast once this cover from the newest edition of Maclean’s started to make the rounds:
Ouch! That’s quite the statement right there, and the piece of the same title by Paul Wells is equally strong. I suggest you check it out because it’s on the mark and honestly, I can’t do it enough justice here. But what I can do though is go into a point here that I believe is getting lost in this story, and from some circles, a part of the story that’s trying to be buried and forgotten. What is that you ask? Well, that’s the standard that the Prime Minister set for himself, for his party and sold to Canadians during the last election.
With that in mind, I went back to the mandate letter that the Prime Minister gave to then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould; that letter happens to be the same one that new Justice Minister David Lametti operates under. Here is what that letter said about the Prime Ministers expectations of his Justice Minister and Attorney General:
We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. It is time to shine more light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians. It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect – they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest….
You have a double role as both Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada. As Minister of Justice, you are the legal advisor to Cabinet. In this capacity you are responsible with the administration of justice, including policy in such areas as criminal law, family law, human rights law, public law and private international law, constitutional law and Aboriginal justice. As the Attorney General of Canada, you are the chief law officer of the Crown, responsible for conducting all litigation for the federal government and for upholding the Constitution, the rule of law, and respect for the independence of the courts.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, your overarching goal will be to ensure our legislation meets the highest standards of equity, fairness and respect for the rule of law. I expect you to ensure that our initiatives respect the Constitution of Canada, court decisions, and are in keeping with our proudest legal traditions. You are expected to ensure that the rights of Canadians are protected, that our work demonstrates the greatest possible commitment to respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that our government seeks to fulfill our policy goals with the least interference with the rights and privacy of Canadians as possible….
We have committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards, and applies the utmost care and prudence in the handling of public funds. I expect you to embody these values in your work and observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do. When dealing with our Cabinet colleagues, Parliament, stakeholders, or the public, it is important that your behaviour and decisions meet Canadians’ well-founded expectations of our government. I want Canadians to look on their own government with pride and trust.”https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-justice-and-attorney-general-canada-mandate-letter-november-12-2015
You can hear the tone all through out those quotes; “a higher bar for openness and transparency”, “respect for the independence of the courts”, “in keeping with our proudest legal traditions” and “observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do”. In all the mandate letters to all ministers in this government, you see similar phrases and tones, you hear how this government is going to be different and how important that is to be better. As this letter said, the Prime Minister wants “Canadians to look at their own government with pride and trust”. Something tells me that the events of the past few weeks wouldn’t lead a lot of Canadians to feel that way.
It’s reached the point where some polling is now showing the effect this story is having. Nanos Research released results last night that say that 1 in 4 Canadians are now saying that this story will affect their vote. That’s rough, but there is a lot of wiggle room inside that. But some other numbers released by Greg Lyle of Innovative Research goes at this question a bit differently, and I believe comes back with a much more damning result:
Take that in for a moment folks; “37% of respondents thought Trudeau represented positive change but now have a worse opinion of him”. That’s not 37% of the overall population, nor is it 37% of other parties’ supporters. No, that’s 37% of people who viewed the PM positively. Almost 2 in 5 of them. That’s a very bad sign, I don’t care how you look at it.
So why might people be feeling that way? Well because Justin Trudeau sold Canadians on a bill of goods; he told everyone he was going to be better, that he had learned from the mistakes of Liberal governments past and that with Sunny Ways, he’d be different. And that is why this story hurts the Liberal brand and the PM so much; because it is showing him to be no different than anyone else that he used to decry.
Now some people out there are talking about how no laws were broken and such, but last time I checked legality was not the bar at which we judge governments. Something can be very legal and ethically dubious, and you can point to many things the Harper Conservatives did that met that very description. And folks, that’s what Justin Trudeau promised to fix, he said it right in those mandate letters, including Jody Wilson-Raybould’s. To me, that’s one of the ironies we face in this story, because the more we learn about this episode, the more it sounds like Jody Wilson-Raybould was simply following the letter and the spirit of the mandate letter that the Prime Minister gave her.
In the end, she was trying to meet that high bar the PM set, to be highly ethical not just merely legal, and tried to deliver on work that would help Canadians have pride and trust in their government. She was trying to be the minister the PM described in writing and posted on his website. So, when it seems that the PMO started to veer from that, it’s easy to see the internal conflict that would arise. And the blame for that rests not with Jody Wilson-Raybould. That rests with the person who set the high standard then seems to have gone on to treat it as nothing more than electoral rhetoric; rhetoric that many Canadians took to be as solemn promises of better. When those promises get broken, people who believed them don’t forget.