Well, it happened. The deed was done around 6 pm today, and it really folks, it speaks for itself.
I can honestly say that the fact that this happened today isn’t a surprise to most observers; the situation couldn’t continue as it was and something had to give, that’s very true. But do I believe this was the right move? Not at all, quite far from it actually. And when you listened to the comments the Prime Minister made to the caucus after, and read the comments from some cabinet ministers after the meeting, you can see just how far off the mark they are. They seriously don’t get it, how this looks or the stakes they are dealing with.
You see, to hear Justin Trudeau say it, it’s the “team” that was most important thing out there; forget the rule of law, forget the independence of the judiciary, and forget the alleged attempts to circumvent them both for purely political reasons. No, no, no, it’s all about the Liberal team. This sends the worst kind of message to the Canadian public and while some will argue that other past Prime Ministers would have been much harsher, I would just put this question out there: Give me the example where a past Canadian Prime Minister expelled a whistleblowing MP or Cabinet Minister from their caucus? Show me it, because I don’t think you’ll find it.
The fact is that what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did tonight was highly unprecedented, damaging to our democratic system and morally wrong. I know that the name of Jean Chrétien has been dropped many times in conversations about what the PM should have done, that Chrétien would have never put up with this. But the irony is that even Ti Jean from Shawinigan never did this. He didn’t fire Cabinet Ministers over Adscam, he didn’t throw people out of the caucus. And that’s the closest thing we can find in our recent political history to point to. Not even Stephen Harper had the audacity to do what Justin Trudeau did tonight, let that one sink in.
Folks, one of the biggest constants of this saga has been the amazing of the Liberal Party of Canada to continue to give this story oxygen and keep it moving. Tonight, the PM just strapped a massive oxygen tank to the back of this scandal and sent it walking aimlessly into the Canadian political scene. And in the end you have to ask “Why?”. Why would you take this route? Why won’t you admit that you were wrong and back away from DPA talk for SNC-Lavalin? Why are you doing everything you can to try to silence investigations, stop studies and keep the truth from coming out? These are not the actions of an innocent group, far from it.
These expulsions tonight won’t stop anything, and tonight it seems like the dye is cast in a few veins. Firstly, you now have two highly ethical and respected MPs out there, showing by their very presence in the House of Commons that Justin Trudeau’s promises of “Sunny Ways” were nothing short of untruths. The Liberal Party wins nothing by this move, and I would argue the damage done to the Liberal brand and image is irreversible, particularly before the 2019 election. If the Liberals lose that election, they can point to tonight as the turning point.
Secondly, tonight puts the current Attorney General in a completely emasculating position. After this move tonight, does anyone believe that the Liberals aren’t hell bent on SNC getting a Deferred Prosecution Agreement? Seriously, can anyone honestly picture the scenario where SNC doesn’t get the DPA now? If a DPA was off the table at this point, the Liberals could have salvaged all of this, thanked Wilson-Raybould for her making sure the government acted properly and everyone goes forward. But instead we saw what we saw tonight. So if I’m David Lametti, someone who rose to this position due to this circumstance, himself a distinguished lawyer, you have to feel like you’re in a total no-win position. If you stand up to the Prime Minister and say no to a DPA, are you going to be the subject of the next Tuesday night Massacre? And if you say yes, overrule the prosecutor and deliver for SNC, you look like you’ve been reduced to the role of a hand-picked errand boy, a yes man, picked for the role not because of your legal acumen but because you could be counted on obey the Prime Ministers wishes.
And finally, and maybe most importantly, there is no undoing this move; there is no going back and there are no apologies that he can give after this evening that will suffice. This will colour the electorates view of this party and will strip that last of the shine from 2015 off for good. I don’t think that the MPs who were applauding the PMs speech tonight and his decision will feel the same when they are wearing this and explaining it on the doorsteps in September and October, facing the very real prospect of losing their seats. And given that it seems for a number of them who were quoted on the record in the media, that seems to be their foremost concern in all of this, principles of an independent judiciary be damned.
Back at Christmas, it looked like nothing could sink the good ship Liberal; they looked to be in a position to cruise to a second majority in the Fall and in the process, push the NDP below the waves. They were in a position to put the squeeze on New Democrats, going back to the old Liberal fall back strategy of saying to progressives “You have to vote Liberal to stop those scary Conservatives”. In the early days of this story, we’ve seen some Liberal partisans on social media getting upset at New Democrats, trying to use a version of that line, saying that they’re helping to elect Andrew Scheer.
But here is the thing folks; the Liberal Party that we just saw before us tonight is not in any position to try to claim the moral high ground in an election to come. Trying to put that same squeeze on progressive voters now won’t have the same allure, when the message basically amounts to “Vote for the progressivism, but you have to take the corruption too”. In 2015, many left of centre and younger voters flocked to Justin Trudeau because he convinced them that he was different than past Liberal leaders; he was untainted by the past scandals and he was going to be better. That drew just as many people as any one policy proposal did in that campaign. As we head into the 2019 campaign, the Liberals have now squandered every bit of that advantage. To make matters worse, Justin Trudeau doesn’t just look like any other politician he promised to be better than, he’s now done something that others haven’t. That starts to make him look worse, and that impression won’t go away anytime soon.