We have reached the end of April and while Spring is coming bit by bit, it can’t get here soon enough for many of us. One group of people happy to see the end of the month are surely those who work in the PMO and sit on the government benches in the House of Commons. The month started with fireworks from the SNC/PMO Scandal still burning bright, but over the past two weeks or so it felt like it had gone into hibernation. We didn’t see the ritual daily breaking of new news in the story and it fell to the side. It even looked like we might get out of the month without anything new. Well, that almost happened:
And like a bear coming out of hibernation in the Spring, the SNC/PMO scandal has awoken again, with documentary evidence to boot. CBC’s The Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada’s Enquête broke this new angle to the story this morning, providing information and evidence of illegal donations to the Liberal Party of Canada, coming in at over $100,000. According to their reporting, the donations in question were made to the Liberal Party centrally, to four party leadership campaigns and four riding associations in Quebec. They also made over $8,000 in donations to the Conservatives.
Elections Canada found these donations to be illegal, but SNC-Lavalin avoided the charges by signing compliance agreement in 2016 with the Commissioner of Canada Elections. And what was the promise for their compliance you might be asking? Well it was to promise not to break the law again. Yeah, they came down so hard on them.
Now some may be asking “What’s the news here? We already knew about illegal donations” and that’s true. We did know about the illegal donations in question, but now we know the names behind them and also there are details here about accountability and transparency that come to the surface. Let’s start with the who first, courtesy of Elections Canada:
According to the reporting, those who made those donations were told “their political donations would be reimbursed in the form of bonuses from SNC-Lavalin.” The story even goes on to quote one of the donors, Jean Lefebvre, who said he was asked to give to the Liberal party and “We were given a bonus that was double the amount donated.” Now if this all sounds familiar, the details, the scheme, the idea, well it should, because we’ve seen this done before on a different scale:
Yep, that was part of the whole mess involving former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro. Remember the stories about his cousin allegedly doing the same thing, paying workers in Mississauga to give to Del Mastro’s local campaign in Peterborough? In that case, the Crown gave evidence showing 22 donations of $1,000 made to that campaign by employees of Deltro Electric, owned by Del Mastro’s cousin. Afterwards all of those who gave all later received cheques from the company in the amount of $1,050. $50 isn’t the doubling that Lefebvre said that SNC gave him but getting a big tax credit of hundreds of dollars for nothing is nothing to sneeze at.
In that case, the Crown took that case to court but lost in the end. As for Del Mastro himself, he ended up being convicted for other finance issues, basically giving too much to his own campaign by paying for campaign expenses out of his own pocket. But the question does remain here why SNC-Lavalin was given a compliance agreement in this case, one that you can’t ask in isolation given all the other legal news around them. Compliance agreements are a common tool because, frankly, people do make mistakes in campaigns. But like any other tool like this, their use should involve an accounting of who they are dealing with, their track record and such. So as was the case with the Deferred Prosecution Agreement issue that came from the start of the scandal, the question has to be asked if this company was the right group to receive such largess? There’s no case to be made here for the “saving of jobs” when it comes to illegal donations to a political party.
And to that point, this story brings out another detail that, in theory, should have weighed heavily on the Elections Commissioner and their decision regarding their pursuit of this case. In the reporting, Pierre Anctil, a former SNC-Lavalin vice-president, is identified as one of the donors in question. The reporting states that he was paid $4,462.88 by SNC-Lavalin as compensation for his donation to the Liberal Party of Canada, something that he still denies despite the evidence. But that’s not all the story has to say about Mr. Anctil:
“In an affidavit in 2015 filed with the Charbonneau Commission, which was probing corruption in the Quebec construction industry, Anctil stated he knew the firm was running a similar political donation scheme at the provincial level. He said he was initially reluctant to get involved but went ahead after his boss, SNC-Lavalin president Jacques Lamarre, insisted.
Anctil said he was asked to solicit employees to make donations. Anctil said while he never received any of the bonuses personally, he told other employees they would get compensated by SNC-Lavalin if they asked.”
Wait, you’re telling me that a full year before Elections Canada gave SNC-Lavalin a compliance agreement, Anctil testified under oath before the Charbonneau Commission (into corruption) that SNC did a similar thing at the provincial level in Quebec? You mean that allegedly they are a repeat offender, that this was allegedly a part of how they just did business? Yeah, that really smells.
So, this now raises a very serious question about how SNC got off light with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist and a stern warning. Bad SNC, go stand in the corner for 15 minutes and promise never to do it again. Compliance Agreements exist for a good reason, for people (mostly volunteers) who make honest mistakes in the course of their work on elections and they admit their mistakes. Everything in this story seems to lack a basic admission of guilt by SNC, a lack of accountability for their actions, and evidence of this being more than a one-off goof by a volunteer.
This evidence makes it look more and more like a coordinated business practice than an honest mistake. This evidence also makes it look like a higher-level version of the scheme that Dean Del Mastro’s cousin was charged with and went to trial over. So why didn’t SNC get that same treatment here?
This part of the story was a sideshow to the main attraction that played out on the Hill, but with this evidence now out there, it raises more questions about this part that raises its profile while adding more stink to the stench coming from this scandal. The Liberals had leaned in on “saving jobs” when it came to SNC all along, as if that absolved everything. Yet how does this decision from Elections Canada wash with that standard? I feel safe in assuming that we’ll hear more about that in Question Period today and we’ll see what the Liberals have to say in regards to this. But in the meantime, the SNC/PMO scandal has come out of hibernation, at least for a little while, just in time for the last stretch of this last part of Canada’s 42nd Parliament.