We are now just a bit more than a day past the Federal Budget, and normally this would be a time when government ministers would fan out across the country talking about the virtues of the document. Being an election year, this would especially be the case. And of course, with the SNC/PMO Scandal swirling around, there was some hope from the Prime Ministers office that this budget would help to draw attention away and maybe help turn the page.
So last night, as MPs voted late into the night and into the morning, we found out just how far this budget would go to quelling the SNC story and the answer was barely more than a day. Yesterdays media blitz by SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce was giving the scandal bearing their name a bit more oxygen, but it hadn’t managed to totally drown out the budget. But overnight, we had a development that seemed to do the trick, and it’s not good for the Liberal government:
Former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott gave an interview to Paul Wells of Macleans’, in which she opens up a bit about her resignation. It’s the first such interview she’s given and comes after it was reported yesterday by CBC that she had a “rough” regional caucus meeting with her Ontario Liberal colleagues yesterday. In that reporting, it says that Philpott received tough questions for her colleagues about her resignation while some of those members to the chance to remind her that other Liberal MPs had “made compromises on sensitive issues”, like the medical assistance in dying legislation that Philpott was involved in advancing.
In the interview, Philpott says some things that shine a good light onto what has happened, as she sticks her neck out to point out that something wasn’t right with how the government handled this:
Q: When you left cabinet, did you have a strategic goal in mind? What was the point of resigning?https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/jane-philpott-theres-much-more-to-the-story-that-needs-to-be-told/
A: I resigned because I could not maintain solidarity with cabinet on the specific issue of the management of the SNC-Lavalin issue. I felt that there was evidence of an attempt to politically interfere with the justice system in its work on the criminal trial that has been described by some as the most important and serious prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.
Q: Have all of the things that concerned you about the handling of that file come to light at the committee?
A: No. There’s much more to the story that should be told.
She felt there was evidence of attempted political interference and that there is more to this story to be told? Wow, that looks especially bad on the government given that they killed the study into the matter in the Justice Committee barely 24 hours before this. But she had more to say:
Q: Mr. Butts said, essentially, ‘Come on, this doesn’t rise to the level of harassment, or bugging, or even sustained engagement. It’s 20 interactions over four months. It’s two phone calls and two meetings per month.’https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/jane-philpott-theres-much-more-to-the-story-that-needs-to-be-told/
A: The constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system is such that the attorney general of our country should not be subjected to political interference in any way. Whether there is one attempt to interfere or whether there are 20 attempts to interfere, that crosses ethical and constitutional lines.
Q: In recent days, including on Monday, the Prime Minister and the government have announced a series of steps: getting advice from Anne McLellan; a change at the clerk level; and the Liberal majority on the committee has written that they have heard enough. How would you assess that series of steps as a response?
A: When I decided to become a politician, I made a commitment to represent the people of my riding. People of my riding want to hear more. They do not feel that they have heard the whole story. And I believe my primary obligation in representing them is to ensure that they have confidence that nothing untoward took place. And they have understandably been concerned about why there’s been an attempt to shut down the story.
When I read this interview, but especially that passage, I thought back to something I wrote back when Mrs. Philpott resigned, which repeated something that I wrote when Jody Wilson-Raybould did the same. At those times, I pointed out how in their mandate letters from the Prime Minister, he spoke about being better, about making Canadians proud and about setting a higher standard. With this interview, it’s clear that she didn’t see those words as flowery puffery not to be believed. She was trying to live up to those words, especially when it became clear that the PMO wasn’t as interested in them.
There was one more exchange in the interview that I believe needs noting, mostly because of part of the tone it’s set and how it ties into her party’s reactions:
I remember, when the Finance Minister made those comments, thinking how tone deaf those words were. Did he not realize how belittling a comment like that was? Did he not think about it would be received? You can’t help but wonder if comments like those have pushed her to do an interview like this, escalating matters for sure. But it seems that it’s not just the Finance Minster who needs to think about their reactions and words in this matter. As MPs were doing their marathon voting session overnight, I saw a tweet from the chamber at the time that the Wells/Philpott interview broke. I’ll just let these words speak for themselves:
So, as we start this Thursday, the Budget that the government hoped would change the channel is an afterthought and everyone is continuing to buzz about the newest details of the SNC/PMO Scandal. By trying to hide and burry this scandal, the government has given it more and more life, making sure that it’s not going away. One thing though is very clear here when it comes to Jane Philpott and her view of things; this is not a matter of politics or doing “politics as usual”, this is a matter of being ethical and striving to be better. This isn’t about lowering her standards to meet the norm in Ottawa, it’s about rising the standards of Ottawa to where she believes they should be. In my mind, there is nothing “pathetic” about that and her actions are far from a betrayal to the group that matters most to her; her constituents. We keep saying that we want better from our politicians and we complain when fail to do so. She is standing on principle, which is a refreshing thing to see. The government won’t be able to sweep that principle away and if they ever succeeded in doing so, we are all worse off for it.