This morning we heard some very long-awaited testimony from Prime Minister Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts. Remember, he resigned seemingly forever ago because “he did nothing wrong” and to “not be a distraction”.
Giving those reasons, you kind of expected the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould would have had Butts names all over it. Yet, when she came before the committee, Butts name came up a grand total of two times. What a distraction, hey? So, with that in mind we looked ahead to todays testimony, not exactly sure what we would get or what it would do for the story. The morning would prove to give very few new details and raised more questions than answers:
The best way I can describe Butts testimony was muddled and contradictory. He said that the decision around SNC-Lavalin was all about “policy”, yet he kept repeating the line about all the jobs at risk. Of course, when asked about that allegation about the jobs by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, he sheepishly admitted he had seen no evidence or studies that would prove that these jobs are, in fact, at risk.
Some moments of Butts testimony also managed to make the PMO look more aloof than I think that most of us would have expected. One great example of this was his testimony around the January cabinet shuffle. He repeated the line that if it wasn’t for Scott Brison, nothing would have happened, which didn’t sound good the first time and hasn’t gotten any better with age. But he also went into why he moved Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Justice Minister position. In his and the Prime Minister’s view, they needed her to go to Indigenous Services; he went so far to say that Wilson-Raybould was “right and only person” to take the job.
For two people who have coined the phrase “there is no relationship more important than the one with Indigenous peoples”, as an Indigenous person I’m blown away that they thought that this was a good idea or that she’d accept it. During his first round of testimony Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick testified that Wilson-Raybould would never accept that and that she viewed it as being like the “Indian Agent”. And even in his own testimony, Butts admitted that Jane Philpott raised concerns about this idea, saying that she wouldn’t accept it. Yet they went ahead with this because they thought it was some kind of honour? When did Daniel Snyder start working in the PMO?
That piece of testimony leads to one of only two conclusions; either they knew what they were doing and how bad and insulting this was, or they had no clue about something they should have had more than a clue about? Either scenario looks bad and doesn’t reflect well on the government. And oh yeah, only one of them can be true.
And folks, that’s the big take away from Gerald Butts testimony today; he said that a lot of things that Jody Wilson-Raybould didn’t happen, stuff that she documented and backed up. He said the first he heard of her decision on SNC-Lavalin was on TV last week when she testified, yet she testified that she told the PM in person on September 17th, six months ago. Of course, he also went on to say that he doesn’t think that she could have reached a decision already, yet when asked by NDP MP Murray Rankin if any new evidence had come forward that would lead her to have changed her mind, he said there was none. That’s the kind of contradiction that we saw all morning.
But one thing became pretty clear through out his testimony today; Gerald Butts was doing his damnest to say that Jody Wilson-Raybould was being less than honest without ever daring to say those words or worse. That left this very strange, lingering sensation out there and undercut a fair bit of his testimony.
If the Butts goal for today was to blunt this story in its tracks, he failed on that account. He didn’t do terribly, and it could have gone much worse for the Liberals if he came out on full attack, so the self-restraint that he showed helped some. But the answers were just empty calories; no substance with very little proof to back it up. And when the Committee moved a motion to try to get Butts to table his emails and texts, the Liberals summarily voted it down. Sunny ways indeed.
This afternoon we’ll hear from Mr. Wernick again and that will be another riveting piece of testimony, as we’ll see what he has to say in rebuttal to Mrs. Wilson-Raybould and Mr. Butts. But if today is making anything clear, it is that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s call for a public inquiry is looking more and more like the right idea. No wonder 85% of Canadians are supporting the idea.