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The Perfect Box

Over four years ago, with a growing family and living in a small apartment, my wife and I decided to move out of the city to purchase our first home. So since that time, I’ve been doing the daily commute back and forth to Ottawa, a drive that’s normally an hour and a quarter without traffic. So once you add in the traffic on a regular week night, that normally gives me between one and a half and two hours to relax, unwind after the day, listening to the satellite radio and think about a lot of things.

Tonight on part of the drive I was listening to the news and it all got it thinking more about the whole SNC/PMO scandal. The rubber really seems to be hitting the road and after observing everything happening in the House today and outside it, it feels very different. It feels a lot like it’s about to jump up to another level, one that I don’t think that we totally understand the importance of yet, one that might have a long time effect on the historic path of the Liberal Party.

For starters, my former colleague Karl Bélanger made a comment on CFRA that I think perfectly encapsulates the Liberals current position; it’s seems like they don’t want to move on, they want to be right, but they’re wrong on this. When you hear the reactions from Liberal caucus members who went on the record today, the comments seemed to drip of that sentiment. At the end, to accept Jody Wilson-Raybould’s truth, you also have to accept that the Prime Ministers Office did something very wrong here, and they just don’t seem willing to be do that.

But those earlier comments really helped to set the context for the scene that came at the end of the day today. One of the great things about the new temporary chamber in the West Block is that there is literally nowhere to escape to; it’s a tight, confined space and the doors to the place are right on the street. That makes is easier for reporters to talk to MPs, which helped to bring us a scene like this below, where Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke again:

Over five minutes, Wilson-Raybould showed great strength but also showed how this situation is the near perfect box that the Liberals now find themselves stuck in. Wilson-Raybould points out that she’s simply doing her job, obeying the law and argues that she shouldn’t be removed from caucus for that reason, which is ultimately reasonable. Isn’t that what we want more elected people to do? When you compare that to comments from other Liberal MPs who said they “can’t trust her”, “don’t feel safe” with her in the caucus and that “she is costing us our jobs”. That makes a cold contrast, one that the Liberals can’t win in.

Now I saw this as someone who worked in a party caucus on Parliament Hill for nine years, so I get the whole “support the team” sentiment and the importance placed on trust. But I also understand that has its limits, which is different for every MP. And sometimes being in that position, in the vice of dealing with an ethical and legal dilemma, while also trying to be “trusted”, something has got to give. And in Wilson-Raybould’s case, she just laid that out well, especially when she tried to explain why she recorded the Wernick phone call.

And when you heard the Liberal MPs who reacted today, you saw why the Liberals can’t win this and can’t be right in the way that they want. The fact that these MPs jumped to attack and rush to conspiracy theories about leadership coups, instead of jumping to the more reasonable assumption that “hey, something was up here”, shows the depth of the Liberals problem. They are acting like everyone will believe that every politician is craven and power crazed, and the idea that someone would do something like this on principle is crazy. I know how most of the public is reading this, and it’s not what the Liberals are hoping for.

The worst part of the box the Liberals find themselves in is that there is no clear, quick answer to this issue. Expelling Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott will not help, and making them political martyrs will only make their situation worse. Doing so only makes it look like they have more to hide, and that something worse is lingering out there. But you know another way you can help spread that view? Well how about this nugget tonight from La Presse:

It turns out La Presse did an Access to Information request for documents, letters and emails from the Privy Council’s Office, specifically from the Clerk Michael Wernick, from November 1st to December 15th around the SNC case. Under this law, the department facing the request gets 30 days to give an answer with documents. But in this case, the Privy Council Office asked for an extension…. of an extra 240 days. 240 days would mean that the documents wouldn’t be released until after the election. Hmmm, I’m sure that’s all a big coincidence. Again, another action taken here that doesn’t look or smell like the acts of an innocent party. I’m not saying there is anything there to see, but when the Liberals are seemingly doing everything under the sun to try to avoid answering all the questions in the scandal, this turn of events just smells.

So at this point, it seems to me that the Liberals have to face facts. They want to be right, they want to say everyone else is wrong, but it’s their actions so far that have been wrong. They need to get their heads around the fact that the problem isn’t the person who blew the whistle on the problems, it’s the people whose actions caused the problem. So in that same vein, I find it disturbing that the anonymous Liberal who was quoted worrying about his job, wasn’t wondering aloud why the Prime Ministers actions aren’t putting his seat in danger. From this view if I was in the Liberal caucus, especially if I got elected riding the Prime Minister’s coattails in 2015, I’d be more worried about that then focusing on he actions of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott. Because ejecting them won’t get the Liberals out of this perfect box of their own creation.

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April Foolin’

It’s April 1st, April Fools Day, a day for good jokes and people from all over to show their sense of humour. Of course, in the House of Commons, business is coming back and with the SNC/PMO Scandal still going strong, this day makes for an odd backdrop to the events taking place today. Sure, it would be easy to crack jokes about it all, but this is serious stuff. And there have been more and more developments so far today, with more seemingly to come before the end of the day. So, let’s start at the beginning with the first action from today, one that the government didn’t seem to see coming:

Yep, the Conservatives are filibustering again, or I should say, Pierre Poilievre is. You see, the Conservatives are taking advantage of the rules of the House, but one in particular that’s particular to the debate around the budget. Under the rules, the first Official Opposition member to speak to the budget speech gets an unlimited amount of time to speak. So as long as Poilievre can hold the floor and speak, he can hold everything up. This isn’t the first time this has happened in recent history, as New Democrat Peter Julian did the same to the Harper government back in 2012. But to make matters worse for the Liberals, this filibuster can have a bit of a knock-on effect for other legislation going forward:

Ahhh, as you see, the rules of the House state that the government can’t actually introduce the actual budget implementation legislation until AFTER the budget speech passes. So, the longer that Poilievre drags this out, the longer it will take for the government to introduce the budget, let alone pass it. And with merely dozens of sitting days left in the House calendar, and lots of big legislation still to pass, a long enough delay could lead to the death of important government legislation that’s been allowed to sit on the order paper.

That would be a big price to pay for the attempted moves by the Liberals to stop questions about the SNC/PMO Scandal. Of course, the Conservatives are saying they will stop the filibuster under one condition; the Liberals let everyone involved in the scandal testify, including Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. On that front, we got some more new news about what we might see tomorrow:

Yippee!!! Another document dump, the promised Gerald Butts papers will be released no later than 3 pm tomorrow. As I mentioned yesterday, while I don’t expect this to bring a lot, if any, new information, it will still make for quite the spectacle. The government is spinning, the backbench is getting frustrated, and the pressure is rising inside the Liberal caucus. And that brings us to what might happen later today, if the reports are to be believed:

Emergency meeting? Oh my, to be a fly on that wall. We already know that at the last Ontario Liberal caucus meeting it was rough, and now the Hill Times is reporting that a similar scene played out in the British Columbia Liberal caucus meeting. So, will Liberal backbenchers give Wilson-Raybould and Philpott the heave-ho? In all honestly, I don’t see how this doesn’t happen now. When you see senior MPs like Marc Garneau and Wayne Easter come out and speak out the way they did while going into the House today, I would say the writing is on the wall. But as she entered the chamber, Jody Wilson-Raybould had this to say:

And you know what, I agree with her. Why is the one that was trying to stop the law from being broken be cast out? Why should the one who stood on principle be forced out? Seriously, what does that say about the current state of the Liberal Party of Canada when those are the people you decide cannot say? I agree that the situation is very difficult and untenable but expelling Wilson-Raybould and Philpott sends an even worse message to the general public. So, will it actually happen? I guess we’ll know at some point tonight or tomorrow. But once we know the end result of that potential meeting, I feel safe in saying that this story will be far, far, far from being over and the days of Sunny Ways will be a distant memory.

The Next Drip

Sunday mornings are times that I look forward to; it’s a nice time to usually take it somewhat easier, spend some time with the family and given the person who I am, usually taking in the Sunday political shows. It’s usually interesting to see everyone different takes on the week, and given the developments of Friday, today promised to be especially interesting. So what did the Sunday shows have to say?

Yeah, not exactly glowing reviews for the government, but I doubt we were really expecting that today. After this though, a lot of people have been wondering what could possibly come out next, and that’s a fair question. One of the hallmarks of this story has been the constant drip of details to come out day after day, week after week. It’s honestly been quite remarkable to see play out, but it’s something that couldn’t possibly happen again, right? How many drips could the be? Well, seems like the tap hasn’t been turned off quite yet:

Another document submission to the Justice committee, meaning another document release to come, this time from Mr. Gerald Butts of all people. While I have to admit this is an interesting twist in this story, given how little Mr. Butts had to say before the Justice Committee and most of that seemed to revolve around their early December meeting at the Chateau Laurier and the meeting in late December with Wilson-Raybould’s Chief of Staff. He didn’t have much more to say when he appeared before, and since then, the only new details that have seemed to come out directly involving conversations with him involved talking with Jane Philpott.

With that being the case, I don’t expect the Butts Papers to have the same effect and impact as the Wilson-Raybould Tape. But this story has delivered surprise after surprise, so I guess it wouldn’t be completely unheard of for that to happen. The only way I would expect anything new would involve something that was probably held back when he testified before, and for that to be impactful, it would have to have been something very significant, something that probably shouldn’t have been withheld. I guess we’ll see what that day brings, whenever it comes this coming week.

So while we will all look forward to the release of these notes and text messages, the story will continue to drip along. Will this release help to turn the tide for the government or undo the effects of the documents Wilson-Raybould submitted last week? I put my money on no. With a two-week sitting for the House coming ahead, before the last major break before the House rises for the election, tension will be high in Ottawa for sure. The pressure will be on under the glass dome of the West Block and we’ll be watching it closely.

Magpie Brûlé Podcast – The SNC Tapes

Today I sat down to record Episode 5 of Season 1 of the Magpie Brûlé podcast, but with the developments from late yesterday, I decided to do this episode a bit different. I decided to take a deep dive into the SNC/PMO Scandal and go through the recording of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Michael Wernick that everyone is talking about clip by clip. I offer my analysis and discuss what this all might mean going forward. You can listen at the link below or your can download it on iTunes. Enjoy!

The SNC Tapes – Second Thoughts

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.