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The SNC Tapes

Late this afternoon we finally got to see the documents that Jody Wilson-Raybould submitted to the House of Commons Justice Committee in regard to the SNC/PMO Scandal. Given that the governing Liberals have made a point of keeping Wilson-Raybould from testifying again, that has left her with fewer options to speak. That led her to submit her notes, emails, texts and documentation from that time period, to support her testimony before the committee before. But like so many things in this story, there was a new twist that came out before we even got to that point, a Nixonian one at that:

Yes, a tape…. There was an audio recording included in the documents, one that now turns out to be of the entire phone conversation between Wilson-Raybould and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, the one that took place on December 19th. You can download the audio here, but wow, it’s a must-hear:

Wow everyone, that recording…. it’s hard to put into proper terms how damning hearing that whole seventeen-minute conversation is for the government. On the part of Wilson-Raybould, I heard a Minister trying her best to get across the point of why SNC-Lavalin shouldn’t be getting a DPA. She made it painfully clear, to the point where she was imploring Wernick to explain this to the PM, that she was trying to save him from himself. Amazingly, in my opinion, Wernick sounds better in my estimation than he has previously; in listing to Wernick speak, I heard a civil servant trying to make two ends meet, trying to find a solution. I didn’t hear the caustic tone that he used when he testified before the Justice Committee twice before.

If anything, here though, this document dump supports Wilson-Raybould’s testimony and when you hear the voices in that conversation, it just raises everything to a whole new level. It also shows that the government has lost complete control over this, and it further supports the NDP’s call for a public inquiry, that’s clear. It’s a bit surprising that as we close in one the second month of this scandal that we keep getting game-changing news like this, yet here we are. If I’m the Prime Minister, I’m not feeling good tonight and if I’m in the Liberal caucus, I’m worried what else Jody Wilson-Raybould has to say. After these documents, the cries to hear more are only going to grow louder and more insistent.

Magical Recruitment

When most people think about government ministries, many well earned stereotypes come to mind. People think about long lines, fees, being passed from person to person to person, and normally a certain degree of frustration. Yes, we do get good experiences too, but those are the stereotypes. There are also stereotypical views that some in society have of those who decide to go and work in the civil service. Some view civil service work as a step down, somehow lesser than working in the private sector or worse.

As someone who spend some time in the civil service, I’ve heard my fair share of the comments over time. It all came with the territory and it rolled of our backs, but you knew it was a part of the discussion. As a result, sometimes the civil service has a hard time recruiting people to go work for it. That’s especially been true in the last few years, as we’ve seen the billion-dollar Phoenix Pay System boondoggle play out, seemingly with no end in sight. So, on top of taking on a job that might not be overly appreciated, now you add to it that you might not get properly paid for years on end and deal with all the havoc that causes? I can easily see how that would make recruitment difficult.

In tough times, that calls on some creativity and outside the box thinking, something that civil servants are great at and used to having to do. So, it was with that in mind, I saw the following bit of news and I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle a bit at this creative recruitment attempt by the Treasury Board Secretariat:

Yes folks, this is for real; you can check it out for yourself right here. And what’s not to like about the creativity in this? It catches the eye, is clever and likely to connect with lots of millennials out there. Plus look, you can become a wizard without all those years at Hogwarts, the dangerous adventures that come from attending that place, and all without risking any facial scars that will last for a lifetime. I call that a win-win situation.

In all seriousness, I tip my hat to the cleaver HR staffer who came up with this idea; it made an impact, cut through the noise and put a nice shine on a job that might not seem as so exciting. Plus, it drew some good attention to the civil service. It’s an A+ for effort and execution, and I appreciate the fun in it. Now we’ll see which department picks up the wand and comes up with the next creative recruitment message in the same vein. Let’s hope this becomes a good trend in public-service Ottawa.

“Thanks for your Donation”

Having worked in politics and with politicians for a decade, there are some things you learn on the job that you might not have thought that you would have going into it. One such thing that I discovered over my time is that politicians, like everyday people, have quirks, ticks, things they say or expressions they give off that are just part of who they are. Sometimes those can be really good, and you try to work with those to help the politician in question. But sometimes, those can be really, really bad, to the point that you do whatever you can to try to stop them, change them or avoid putting the politician in question in a spot where they can be highlighted. The bad ones can lay bare all of the worst criticisms of that person and do so in such an effective way that an opponent could never dream of pulling off.

Last night we saw a glaring example of this from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Toronto. He was at a Liberal Party fundraiser, with a $1,500 minimum donation required to get in the door, so you know this was already rarified air. And at that event, the PM got interrupted by protesters, which for an PM is nothing new. This is especially true, as many of the PMs events lately have been getting interrupted by protesters for a variety of reasons. So, you’d think that Mr. Trudeau would be used to this, used to dealing with it and would do so in a respectful way, right? Well last night one of those quirks about this PM came flying out of his mouth, and in so doing, highlighted the worst:

When I first saw this video last night, my initial reaction involved a lot of four-letter words that I had to muffle so my young daughter didn’t hear Daddy swearing. This was just so bad, so wrong, so galling on so many levels. For starters, the PM never fails to miss a chance to tell us that the most important relationship to his government is that with Indigenous Peoples, so you’d think that he’d leave the smarmy sarcasm in his back pocket in his situation.

Secondly, what makes this even worse is the issue that the protestor was protesting about; the mercury poisoning of the Wabigoon River, which brought Minamata Disease to the communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong in Treaty Three territory. For those that don’t know what Minamata’s is, that is a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning. This poisoning of the Wabigoon, leading to the poisoning of the fish in the river that sustained the communities and their economies, happened back in the time of Pierre Trudeau, and is still having long lasting effects to this very day. Generations of people from the community are living with the health effects of this action. Last year it was reported that residents of Grassy are up to six times more likely to suffer from a wide range of debilitating health problems like these:

  • Almost six times more likely to have a neuropsychological disorder.
  • Five times more likely to have stomach and intestinal problems.
  • Four times more likely to suffer from a range of problems, including hearing loss and joint pain in people over 30 years old.
  • Three times more likely to have blindness or vision problems.

On top of that, a 2015 study showed that more than 90% of the residents of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong were showing signs of mercury poisoning. Image if that had happened in any other community in Canada and what the outcry would have been. Then add the fact that the Province of Ontario hid the truth about the mercury in the river for decades, saying that everything was fine. Now add to that the fact that the Liberal government promised funds in 2017 for a treatment centre, only to find that nearly two years later, a grand total of 1% of the funding promised has flowed through for the project. That is the context in which that protestor was there last night, that is why they were upset and that’s what the PM mocked when he jokingly thanked them for their donation, while a room of well to do donors applauded. And that’s the way he reacted to the people he has the most important relationship with? So probably unsurprisingly that video has gone viral, and has brought out a lot of reaction, of which I’ll just share some below:

After the last two months the PM has had, you really have to wonder where his head is at because that video and those words are the kinds of things that do amazing damage to whatever is left of his brand. That video showed the worst of the smugness and hoity arrogance that he has been accused of having in the past. For all the Conservatives cries about trust funds and silver spoons, those words have had and will have nothing close to the effect on voters as that video will. People have liked Justin Trudeau for a long time because they felt he was different, he was woke, he was better than what we have seen in the past. But over the last two months, he’s managed to take a wrecking ball to all of that, in an amazingly effective way.

Those words last night not only sound arrogant and smarmy to many Canadians, but for Indigenous Peoples, they sound so much like those of his father, in tone and context. For Indigenous peoples, getting past the idea of voting for the son of the man who brought forward the White Paper was already a hard thing to do. Yet somehow in 2015 Justin Trudeau managed to do that, because he convinced people he was different, that he wasn’t his Dad and he had learned from the past. But that words we heard uttered from that guy we last night could have easily been mistaken for one of Pierre’s very own, right up there with “fuddle duddle” and “just watch me”. In the end, I am just gobsmacked by the events, the words, the disrespect and the callous disregard for those communities that he showed last night. That might have been one of the worst evenings of Justin Trudeau’s leadership, and one that will have a lasting impact on voters across the country.

Election Time on PEI

This year the election that most Canadians will be focused on will be the big Federal election in the Fall, but this isn’t true all over the country. Last week Alberta’s provincial election kicked off, setting up a mid-April vote to see if Rachel Notley or Jason Kenney will lead the next government of the province. The Alberta race is one that many Canadians are watching, for very good reason. But its another provincial election that was called last night that might fly under the radar for most Canadians, yet might deliver one of the biggest stories of the political year:

Yes, Prince Edward Islanders are off to the polls, with election day coming on April 23rd. This is a campaign that promises to be different for two big reasons. The first is that there will be another referendum on electoral reform attached to this provincial vote, which will present advocates of changes to our voting system another chance to change the course on this issue.

Normally that kind of referendum would garner more attention, but I would argue that it will be the sideshow to the main event in this campaign, and that’s who will form government. Going into the campaigns, the polls are in a place we’ve never really seen them in Canadian history:

Going into the campaign the PEI Greens, led by Dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, at 38% in the polls. That marks a doubt-digit lead over both the PC’s and incumbent Liberals, both who sit at 27%, while the NDP sits at 4%. The Greens have been riding high in the polls in the province for a year now and after winning their first seat ever on the Island in the last election, with Bevan-Baker’s win, they also won a by-election to bring their seat count to two.

This race will be one to watch because while the Greens go into this campaign pretty far ahead, the party has never elected more than three members in any provincial legislature and has never even formed the Official Opposition, let alone won government. And unlike many first-time governments, this party is not made up of many people who have ever been in government. As a result, if they won, this would be the greenest government formed since World War II in more ways than one.

Also, it’s interesting to watch this race because of where it is happening. PEI has one of the most stable, two-party electoral histories that you’ll find in Canada. They have rarely elected third-party members to their legislature, let alone to government; a Green win would mark the first time in the Islands history that they haven’t elected a PC or a Liberal government. As a result, I doubt that many people would have picked PEI as the place the Greens would potentially first form a government.

But at the same time, the idea that the Greens would do well in PEI makes some sense. In some ways, the Island is ahead of the curve on some environmental measures. For example, did you know that according to the National Energy Board, as of 2016, 99% of the Islands electricity generated on the Island came from renewables, mostly from wind? Wind actually supplied 98.1% of that 99% in 2016. Compare that to 2005, where the province generated 91.4% of it’s electricity generated on the Island came from oil and gas generators. The Island also has connections to New Brunswick through underwater cables. Ironically according to the NEB, PEI actually imports a large percentage of its consumed electricity from New Brunswick while it exports a significant portion of its locally produced renewable electricity back to the mainland.

This is all to say that while this seems like an odd phenomenon, maybe it makes a lot of sense. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch for political observers across the country. While the Greens have the lead in the polls, they lack the resources and volunteers that the Liberals and PCs have, so we’ll see what effect that has in this campaign. Also, federally for the Greens, could a win in PEI boost their fortunes in the region during a Federal election? We’ll have to see, but it’s very possible that a post-election honeymoon glow on a Bevan-Baker government could be a boon for Elizabeth May and her team. Conversely, if the party falls short, it could have a reverse effect.

So as the writ has now been dropped, we’ll be watching this scene play out on the East Coast. By the end of April, after the votes in Alberta and PEI, the Canadian political landscape could look quite different, which will undoubtedly have an effect on the big election to come in the Fall. It’s time that the rubber hits the road on all of our best educated guesses, and something tells me that the red dust will fly around PEI.

Sorry, Not Sorry

Over nearly two months now, the whole SNC/PMO Scandal has had some ups and downs, and that’s understandable. With all the pressure this has put on the government and the effect it’s having on their poll numbers, it’s understandable that some people inside the caucus would start to get antsy and maybe a bit upset. But that’s no excuse for going too far and for smearing people’s good reputations.

If you remember over a month ago, rumours were starting to be peddled by anonymous government sources about Jody Wilson-Raybould, rumours that frankly stank. They also backfired completely on the government to the point where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to do this:

Remember that? Remember how he said that those kinds of comments were “absolutely unacceptable” and that he took too long to condemn them. That moment was the closest the PM has come to uttering the words “Sorry” in this whole affair. At the time it seemed like it might be a turning point, where the PMO realized they couldn’t get their way out of this using those methods. But now after developments from yesterday, it seems that it really wasn’t the case, or another case of “Sorry, Not Sorry”:

Folks, I have to say I’m blown away by this development for a few of reasons. Firstly, it’s now plainly obvious that the Liberals really don’t get it when it comes to how this all looks, that they think they can anonymously smear Wilson-Raybould like this again. And when you add the comments from Mr. Joyal about his reasons for removing his name from consideration, it makes this line of attack look all the more unseemly It’s ugly and does nothing to help the governments position.

Secondly, this leak goes totally against so many of the PM’s varied talking points over the past month. Remember how he values a diversity of opinion? Remember how they hold an open caucus with vigorous discussion and debate? And of course, the topper, remember how if it hadn’t been for the retirement of Scott Brison, Wilson-Raybould would still be in her position today? Yeah, all of that gets blown up real good when you start to smear her as supporting an allegedly anti-choice, anti-LGBT Supreme Court appointment. And it’s that point that really blows this all up; seriously, if the PM was so put off by her suggestion, by her view on the recommendations made by the independent panel that judged the potential judges, how did he keep her in that portfolio for so long? Are we seriously supposed to believe that he felt that Wilson-Raybould was a closet arch-Conservative whose judgement he found questionable, but he didn’t remove her from her portfolio for over a year and a half? That doesn’t pass the laugh test, let alone the smell test.

Thirdly, and maybe most consequentially, is a matter of law. As Wilson-Raybould pointed out herself when she was quoted in the media about this most resent development, the process of naming a Supreme Court justice is confidential, and information about it isn’t just floating around. There are very few people who would have this information, and leaking this confidential data is not just unethical, it’s potentially illegal.

You think I am exaggerating? Tell that to Vice-Admiral Mark Normal, who is currently on trial for having allegedly leaked the outcome of a November 2015 cabinet meeting, during which the newly-elected Liberal government made a major decision on ship procurement. Remember, the PM himself said publicly on more than one occasion that he expected the Norman case to end up in court, which was odd because most elected people never comment on cases that are or could potentially be before the courts. Something tells me that he won’t muse in the same way about any potential case that could be brought against anyone anonymously leaking confidential deliberations around the nomination in question.

It amazes me how every time this government tries to dig itself out of this hole with one big scoop, they dig themselves so much deeper. And this leak yesterday, what do they seriously expect it to accomplish? It hasn’t burnished the governments credentials or credibility at all, and looks like a desperate move, on top of the potential illegality of it all. Moves like these are a great example of why the old adage is so true; the cover-up is worse than the crime. We’ll see if the Prime Minister comes out this time and offers Wilson-Raybould another apology for these anonymous leaks, but something tells me that won’t be coming. And as we settle in to watch the House of Commons Ethics Committee meeting today on this, you can’t help but feel that we’re going to see another example of “Sorry, Not Sorry” from this government. It didn’t work before, and it’s doubtful it will work this time.