What a way to end a week in political Ottawa, right? The news of this recording by Jody Wilson-Raybould has the power to have a big effect on this story and on the future of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. With the SNC/PMO Scandal, the Liberals have gone from a near shoe-in for a second majority to a position where they are firmly in second place in most polls, and falling, while the NDP starts to find new life.
But all that being said, on the long drive home from work tonight I had more time to reflect on the testimony, what it brings to light and what it might all mean. So I decided to do a quick follow-up piece to my post earlier, that goes deeper into these points. I’m going to take point to some extracts from the recording bit by bit, and I’ll start with this first one, which I believe drives home part of the answer about motives:
In that clip, she makes her objections very clear, as she had been through out. What jumped out was Wernick’s line about the Prime Minister “being in a very firm mood about this”, giving rise to the point that his main concern didn’t seem to be the law. And for her part, you can sense her exasperation at the end of that clip, where she raises her voice asking if anyone has actually tried to explain this to the PM. That’s a big point here, as it gives the feeling that she’s been trying and trying to drive this point home for months and it’s just not sinking in.
In the next clip, Wilson-Raybould leaves no question as to how she views this and the potential stakes. She says it clearly, “This goes far beyond saving jobs. This is about the integrity of the prime minister and interference.” This is either a message that the just didn’t sink in with the PMO or it was one that they heard and simply didn’t care about. It starts to feel more and more like it was the second choice. You also have to ask yourself the question “How could SNC get a DPA after all of this?”. You would think that the door would be shut, but remember from her testimony before the House Justice committee last month, before the shuffle she found out that the head bureaucrat in her department was instructed to meet with the new Justice Minister to discus…… tada…. a DPA for SNC-Lavalin. That makes this piece from her written testimony so amazing, as she lifts the veil somewhat on why she eventually resigned.
For all those people who have asked why she didn’t resign at the first hint of trouble, that right there lays it all out pretty well. In the end, she decided to trust the Prime Minister at his word, that the shuffle had nothing to do with her decision on SNC-Lavalin. But she promised to herself that if the next minister to follow went through with it, she would leave. And then when the PM tried in Vancouver to make it sound like she was onboard with his hacked up version of events, that was a bridge too far. That I can respect, because it would be very clear at that point what the PM wanted to do and that he wasn’t interested in what she had to say.
I’m going to post the full audio of the conversation at the bottom of the blog, but there are a couple of other points that came out of that conversation that could constitute new news, and they seem to revolve around Gerald Butts and his testimony. Firstly, Wilson-Raybould stated that the Section 13 report, which the prosecutor had to write in regards to her decision on a DPA, had been sent to the PMO months before this phone conversation. She made it clear that the Prime Ministers Office had a copy. But remember, Butts testified the first that he had heard of Wilson-Raybould’s concerns came in February when she told the Justice Committee her side. That strained credulity at the time, and now with this recording, it raises more questions about that testimony.
Did Mr. Butts mislead the committee, or did he simply not know? It seems to be a bridge too far to believe that he didn’t know about the Section 13 report months after it was sent to the office that he was helping to run. That report explained all the reasons for saying no to a DPA, and yet the PMO still claims to not know why too. I believe that Mr. Butts was busy with NAFTA negotiations, but he wasn’t 100% unaware of what was going on. Plus NAFTA 2.0 was done by the Fall, and still in February he knew nothing? That seems like a bit much. On top of that, through out the call Mr. Wernick kept saying that he would have to report back to the PM about this, and then referenced his mood on the topic. Are we to believe that when that reporting back happened, Butts knew nothing of that too? Come on, that’s just not believable. So you do have to ask the question about the honesty of his testimony, and that opens another can of worms.
In closing though, there is one theme running through all of this story that I find amazingly baffling, that comes up again in this call. You hear Mr. Wernick talk about he’s not a lawyer, which is true. The Prime Minister is not a lawyer, Mr. Butts is not a lawyer, and Ms. Telford is not a lawyer either. The aides in the PMO pushing this? They aren’t lawyers either. The only lawyers involved in this were Wilson-Raybould and the prosecutor herself. The only lawyers in this case kept pointing to the legal and ethical issues with this proposal, and it was the non-lawyers who had the nerve to say to Wilson-Raybould “maybe we need to get an outside legal opinion”, as if somehow their legal judgement was at fault here. Talk about nervy, talk about insulting.
When I worked on the Hill, I had the chance to work for two outstanding and respected lawyers in their field. I knew politics and procedure, but they knew the law. So whenever a question or issue about laws or how to interpret them came about, I knew my lane on this and I deferred to them and learned from them. I’m a teacher by profession who has taken two high school law classes; I knew that I knew less than one of the best jurists in Canada and one of the top lawyers on Indigenous rights on the planet. How then didn’t the Prime Minister, a teacher himself as he never fails to mention, stop himself and heed her advice? At the end of the day, if you didn’t think that she was qualified to serve in those roles, why did you appoint her to begin with?
This all smacks of hubris of the worst sort from the PMO, and while we didn’t learn a lot that was new today, hearing those voices say that testimony did change a lot. When the House of Commons comes back on Monday, it’s going to start a wild two-week ride for everyone in that chamber. The government can’t just hope this story goes away now, it’s here to stay and the voices in that phone call are going to ring in the ears of Canadians for a long while to come.