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Magpie Brûlé Podcast – Jody, Justin, Gerry and the SNC/PMO Scandal

Today I took the chance with a relatively quiet day to record Episode 4 of Season 1 of the Magpie Brûlé podcast. In this episode, I discuss the latest events in the SNC Lavalin/PMO scandal, the testimony heard before the House of Commons Justice Committee the past two weeks, the Prime Ministers press conference on Thursday and where we now find ourselves as we enter month two of this story. You can listen at the link below or your can download it on iTunes. Enjoy!

Caesar-Chavannes Speaks

One of the things that has been remarkable about the SNC/PMO Scandal has been the near steady flow of news and stories coming from it. For a month now, it’s felt like there has been something new that’s happened every, single day and there have been very few days that have gone by with nothing happening. So today felt like it might be one of those few days without a big detail or a bombshell getting dropped from the crew at the Globe and Mail. But maybe I should have simply paid more attention, especially to this tweet that the Liberal MP for Whitby Celina Caesar-Chavannes put out in response to the Prime Ministers statement yesterday morning.

That Tweet was a part of the discussion yesterday, mostly because most people didn’t know what it was referring to. Many people were wondering, but given all of the news and reactions that came out of yesterdays press conference it got a bit lost in the shuffle. Well that’s no longer the case after this:

Wow, with everything that’s happened so far you’d think it would be hard to still be shocked, but I’m floored by the details in this story. That would be the case on any day of the week, let alone at the end a week like this. Add to it that today is International Women’s Day, this is that much worse. To me there were two quotes that really say it all:

Ms. Caesar-Chavannes, a first-term MP from the Toronto area, said she told Mr. Trudeau in a phone call on Feb. 12 that she would be announcing her decision not to run again in the October election. She said Mr. Trudeau told her to wait, because Ms. Wilson-Raybould had quit cabinet that day. She felt that he was worried about “the optics of having two women of colour leaving,” Ms. Caesar-Chavannes said.
A source with the Prime Minister’s Office who was not authorized to discuss details on the record said Mr. Trudeau was concerned that her decision would be associated with the SNC-Lavalin affair, but did not raise any concerns about race.
Ms. Caesar-Chavannes said she told him that she hoped he could one day understand the impact that political life has had on her family. She said threats to her safety have been made against her in the past.
“He was yelling. He was yelling that I didn’t appreciate him, that he’d given me so much,” Ms. Caesar-Chavannes said.

She said Mr. Trudeau apologized again later that day, prior to a vote on a Conservative motion in the House of Commons. Opposition MPs have told The Globe she appeared visibly upset.
“He came back in and said ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,’ ” she said. “I was upset and I left. I was angry. I was angry, because this guy holds a lot of power and in the first conversation I asked him to consider the impact on my family, and he didn’t do that.

Reading those words, those quotes, there was no way to read them and think that was alright, for many reasons. For starters, yelling things like he is quoted there saying would look bad on any normal politician; they look that much worse on a politician who has built his image around being a woke, feminist Prime Minister of the age. Given what he said to the Press Gallery on Thursday morning, I can easily see why she reacted now the way she did when he talks about his team and how he leads them.

The other part of those quotes that jumped out at me was the comments about her family. She has been a visible MP who hasn’t been afraid to take on tough issues, which has lead to her run-ins with Maxime Bernier. So from there, with everything that’s going on in our political culture these days, it shouldn’t come as a shock that threats have followed. She tried to tell him about the impact this has had on her family, and that she wasn’t willing to risk that anymore. But when his reaction should have been understanding and comforting, he allegedly screamed at her, called her ungrateful. I don’t care who you are as a political lead, that is not an acceptable response. It wouldn’t be acceptable in a normal workplace and it’s not acceptable in an abnormal one like elected politics. It hasn’t been acceptable decades before now, and it sure as hell isn’t acceptable now.

One final, striking thing I noticed about this story was the response from the PMO about it. I’m going to quote it below and see if you notice the same thing that I did:

In response to detailed questions from The Globe and Mail, Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said, “The Prime Minister has deep respect for Celina Caesar-Chavannes. There’s no question the conversations in February were emotional, but there was absolutely no hostility. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, he is committed to fostering an environment where ministers, caucus, and staff feel comfortable approaching him when they have concerns or disagreements – that happened here.”

Yes, “things got emotional” but there was “no hostility”. He has deep respect for her, yes words were exchanged, but they weren’t hostile. Take that response, and compare it in tone and wording to what he said about Jody Wilson-Raybould yesterday. Then compare that to what he said in other earlier incidents in his tenure as Prime Minister that come to mind. There is a pattern there; he tends to acknowledge that for the other person “situations were experienced differently”, but then goes on to try to invalidate that “experience” by saying that there was no ill intent, no malice, no nothing like that. Also there is usually a complete absence of two words: I’m sorry.

Regardless of how you may feel about the Prime Minister or your partisan leanings, stories like this one tonight leave an impression. After everything that’s happened this week, this story hurts that much more and is one that won’t be forgotten for a while. It’s a story that not only shines a terrible light on the Prime Minister, it feeds into the growing perception of a government that’s lost the plot and lost control. This feeds into that view because in situations where things are going well, you don’t get reactions like this from your leader. It will remain to be seen what more the PMO will have to say about this but this part of the story will not be going anyway anytime soon, nor should it.

A Different Look at #cdnpoli

Having worked in Parliament for nine years and now working literally across the street from it, it’s always interested in me how people perceive the place, the people elected there and how it works. The majority of what I hear from people usually isn’t good, as they perceive a hyper-partisan place where everyone is baying for the blood of the other while taking dirty attacks to new, low levels. Most people picture what they see in the worst of Question Period and extrapolate that over the whole place. I can’t say that isn’t a perception that isn’t earned from time to time and I surely can’t blame everyday people  for jumping to that conclusion.

But the reality of Parliament is really much closer to a bad high school comedy than it is to House of Cards. Yes, there are moments and things that do happen from time to time that would make Francis Underwood tap his ring with approval, but most of it is much more subdued than that. One thing I’ve always said about working in Parliament was that in my time there, I made friends in all parties, including some Conservatives that would surprise you. But at the same time, there are people in all parties that simply rub me the wrong way and I just don’t care for, including in my own. That’s a normal thing to experience in life, regardless of if it was in school, your workplace, or anywhere out and about.

Yet still that perception of politics and Parliament remains as well engrained as any stereotype you can think of. So last year when TVOntario started a new series called “Political Blind Date”, where they took two politicians from very opposite views and put them together to talk about an issue from each of their perspectives, I perked up and took notice. To me, this idea was a great way to show a different side of Canadian Politics, one that I got to see everyday; a side where people get to know each other, talk about things in a respectful tone and keep the yelling and spittle out of it.

So recently TVOntario started to air episodes from Season Two, and it was the episode that they aired last night that I thought typified everything this idea could be. It was also an episode that touched home for me in many ways. The episode paired Indigenous Liberal MP for Thunder Bay – Rainy River Don Rusnak and Cree New Democrat MP for Abitibi – Baie James – Nunavik – Eeyou Romeo Saganash.

I was blessed with the chance to work for Romeo for five years, right after his first election in 2011. For me, it was the chance of a lifetime and an experience that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. I got to work on issues that meant everything to me, I got the chance to help make a difference and I got the chance to learn from one of the pre-eminent Indigenous leaders of his generation. With Romeo, I got to learn first hand from the man who helped negotiate the “Paix des Braves” and helped draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With him, I also got to learn things that I always wanted to try to take back home, to Northwestern Ontario and Treaty Three territory, to try to make things better there.

And that’s where this episode also touched me; back home. My first job on Parliament Hill, the person who first took a chance on me and gave me the shot to live my dream, was John Rafferty, the former NDP MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River. John was beat by Don Rusnak in 2011. But for me, being able to work in Ottawa, for someone who represented part of what I called home; my mothers’ family is from Rainy River, I did my last year of high school at Rainy River High School (Go Owls!) and I went to university in Thunder Bay. It was a chance to affect change and make things better back home from afar, and that was a chance I relished.

Through out the episode, I saw all of these places I knew so well, from all parts of my life and it wasn’t lost on me. But to me the bigger thing was watching these to politicians, passionate and with strong views, taking everything in, listening to one another and learning from each other. They took in the experiences from each others’ communities and you could see that they were trying to see how they could be used to improve their own.

And to me, that is the power of this show. It shows that more human side to our elected officials that people don’t see enough of, but it also shows that most politicians are in this for the same good reasons; to serve and make their communities better.

In these charged times, I feel that whenever possible the voting public needs to see exactly what this show shows people. That doesn’t mean that we can’t disagree, it doesn’t even mean that we must never get angry or passionate, but it shows that politics is not about living in that state all the time. Sure, it doesn’t make for the excitement of House of Cards, but real life isn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to remember that, that we can be better, and this show is a great example of what that can look like.

No Apologies

Early this morning in the National Press Theatre, something happened that the Canadian public has been waiting for now for a while. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a press conference, at which he was expected to address the SNC-Lavalin scandal that’s embroiled his government for four weeks now. As I mentioned yesterday on the radio, rumour was there might be a statement of contrition coming from the PMO or the PM himself. So, what exactly did the PM have to say? What new did he bring to the table? Well, not a lot as it turns out:

In no part of this press conference did the words “I’m sorry” escape his lips. Not a word of apology, and as the Q&A session went along, he sounded less and less the less apologetic. Folks, that doesn’t cut it and I’m floored that those words.

What blows my mind even more about this is that in response to a straight-up question from Global News on if he does apologize, he made a quip that he’ll be going North to make an apology to the Inuit and that’s it. Imagine how the folks receiving that long overdue apology later today feel to hear the Prime Minister make any reference to that in this context, let alone in the kind of dismissive, smirky way that he is sometimes known for. That quip must make some people think twice about the sincerity of the only apology coming later today, and I doubt he intended to do that.

I have to admit that this whole story has been so fascinating to me, and it’s mostly based on the governments continued butchering and terrible handling of it. What exactly did the Prime Minister accomplish today? He didn’t stop this story, which is now running live on every news network and radio station wall to wall today. He brought next to no new detail to this story, which it should also be said seems to be a third version of this story that the PM is telling; it’s moved a long way from “the Globe and Mail story is false”. And in the process, he’s added more fodder for the Opposition to go at him with.

As this day goes along, I would think that we should expect more shoes to drop. I am personally looking forward to hearing what the reaction of the Liberal caucus, and specifically Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, will be. That will be the telltale sign as to where this story goes. Did this press conference help to ease the worries of Liberal MPs or did it just raise their anxiety? The hours to come will prove that one way or another. But the early quotes from at least one caucus member, quoting the PM’s statement this morning, isn’t that good for them:

Yep, this didn’t take care of it and after another bungled attempt to stop this story, you can’t help but wonder how many more chances do they get to fix this. How many strikes do the Liberals get here? Today could have been the last one, but only time will tell us that for sure. Stay tuned folks.

Talking SNC/PMO Scandal on CFRA with Evan Solomon

Today I got the chance to talk more about everything that took place in the Justice Committee of the House of Commons. This time I joined CFRA’s Evan Solomon, along with Warren Kinsella and Melissa Lantsman to have a talk about Gerry Butts, Michael Wernick, what might come next and where this all might lead. And I even accidentally let my age slip (yes, I’m getting older it seems). You can listen to the audio below, starting right at the beginning. Enjoy!

Talking Gerald Butts with CFRA’s Rob Snow

So today has been a big day so far, with all the testimony before the House of Commons Justice committee, and it’s still not done yet. In between the two sessions of testimony, I got the chance to go on CFRA in Ottawa to talk about the SNC-Lavalin Scandal, the testimony and what it all means. You can listen to the audio of it here below, starting around the 17:00 minute mark. Enjoy!

Wednesdays with Gerry

This morning we heard some very long-awaited testimony from Prime Minister Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts. Remember, he resigned seemingly forever ago because “he did nothing wrong” and to “not be a distraction”.

Giving those reasons, you kind of expected the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould would have had Butts names all over it. Yet, when she came before the committee, Butts name came up a grand total of two times. What a distraction, hey? So, with that in mind we looked ahead to todays testimony, not exactly sure what we would get or what it would do for the story. The morning would prove to give very few new details and raised more questions than answers:

The best way I can describe Butts testimony was muddled and contradictory. He said that the decision around SNC-Lavalin was all about “policy”, yet he kept repeating the line about all the jobs at risk. Of course, when asked about that allegation about the jobs by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, he sheepishly admitted he had seen no evidence or studies that would prove that these jobs are, in fact, at risk.

Some moments of Butts testimony also managed to make the PMO look more aloof than I think that most of us would have expected. One great example of this was his testimony around the January cabinet shuffle. He repeated the line that if it wasn’t for Scott Brison, nothing would have happened, which didn’t sound good the first time and hasn’t gotten any better with age. But he also went into why he moved Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Justice Minister position. In his and the Prime Minister’s view, they needed her to go to Indigenous Services; he went so far to say that Wilson-Raybould was “right and only person” to take the job.

For two people who have coined the phrase “there is no relationship more important than the one with Indigenous peoples”, as an Indigenous person I’m blown away that they thought that this was a good idea or that she’d accept it. During his first round of testimony Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick testified that Wilson-Raybould would never accept that and that she viewed it as being like the “Indian Agent”. And even in his own testimony, Butts admitted that Jane Philpott raised concerns about this idea, saying that she wouldn’t accept it. Yet they went ahead with this because they thought it was some kind of honour? When did Daniel Snyder start working in the PMO?

That piece of testimony leads to one of only two conclusions; either they knew what they were doing and how bad and insulting this was, or they had no clue about something they should have had more than a clue about? Either scenario looks bad and doesn’t reflect well on the government. And oh yeah, only one of them can be true.

And folks, that’s the big take away from Gerald Butts testimony today; he said that a lot of things that Jody Wilson-Raybould didn’t happen, stuff that she documented and backed up. He said the first he heard of her decision on SNC-Lavalin was on TV last week when she testified, yet she testified that she told the PM in person on September 17th, six months ago. Of course, he also went on to say that he doesn’t think that she could have reached a decision already, yet when asked by NDP MP Murray Rankin if any new evidence had come forward that would lead her to have changed her mind, he said there was none. That’s the kind of contradiction that we saw all morning.

But one thing became pretty clear through out his testimony today; Gerald Butts was doing his damnest to say that Jody Wilson-Raybould was being less than honest without ever daring to say those words or worse. That left this very strange, lingering sensation out there and undercut a fair bit of his testimony.

If the Butts goal for today was to blunt this story in its tracks, he failed on that account. He didn’t do terribly, and it could have gone much worse for the Liberals if he came out on full attack, so the self-restraint that he showed helped some. But the answers were just empty calories; no substance with very little proof to back it up. And when the Committee moved a motion to try to get Butts to table his emails and texts, the Liberals summarily voted it down. Sunny ways indeed.

This afternoon we’ll hear from Mr. Wernick again and that will be another riveting piece of testimony, as we’ll see what he has to say in rebuttal to Mrs. Wilson-Raybould and Mr. Butts. But if today is making anything clear, it is that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s call for a public inquiry is looking more and more like the right idea. No wonder 85% of Canadians are supporting the idea.