Opinion » Maxed Out

Oh Canada, grow up!

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The melodrama spooling out of Ottawa and wherever former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has been holing up would be laughable if it weren't for the fact it's pretty much brought the governing of Canada to a standstill. Launched on the flimsiest of foundations, fuelled with petulance, steeped in irony, perpetuated by adolescent titillation and misguided moral compass, it's quickly becoming another I-can't-believe-we're-this-gullible saga.

To put this potentially government-destroying tale into perspective, it all began on Feb. 7, when The Globe and Mail published a story citing "sources" claiming justice minister and attorney-general W-R came under "heavy pressure" from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to persuade Canada's Public Prosecution Service director, Kathleen Roussel, to negotiate a remediation agreement with Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin in a criminal case involving the company bribing Libyan officials to secure contracts in that country.

That is the sum total of the foundation on which this nonsense is based. Public speculation has blown it up from there. It seems ironic a respected publication that repeatedly calls on the government to be more transparent can make such serious allegations based on evidence so opaque.

We don't know who those sources are, although the use of the plural form suggests more than one. We don't know what the source of the sources' knowledge is. We don't know why we should believe them. We don't know what "heavy pressure" means. And whomever they are, they're not talking.

Faced with anonymous allegations of "wrong doing," the Prime Minister and senior members of the PMO said no undue pressure was brought to bear on W-R. Much was made of the first statement by the PM that he didn't "direct" W-R to issue a directive to the Public Prosecutor to negotiate a settlement. Subsequent denials said no pressure was brought to bear and W-R was told it was her decision alone.

Let us ponder for a moment how adults in high places make decisions. In the case of Ms. Roussel, we don't know how she decided not to pursue a negotiated remediation agreement. We don't know that because she didn't issue any reasons. Fair enough. She doesn't have to.

We don't know why W-R chose not to direct her to do so, something within her power. She too didn't explain her decision and was under no obligation to do so.

But we do know there was discussion between her and the PMO about whether it was a good idea to bail SNC-Lavalin out. There were arguable justifications to do so for purely economic reasons. There were also good reasons to do so for political purposes, not the least of which is the strong support the Liberal party enjoys in Quebec.

This is how people, at least people who work together, make decisions. You argue your position, I argue mine. At the end of the day, whomever is empowered to make the ultimate decision makes the decision. This seems to be what happened here.

Is that what the "sources" meant by heavy pressure? I hope not.

Let us digress for a moment. In the real world, deals get done. All decisions are, to some extent, political decisions. SNC-Lavalin is not a company that's easy to love, especially if you live outside Quebec. It seems to be, or has been, a poster child for the kind of sleazy corruption and government bailouts we read about so often in La Belle Province. It was largely the lobbying of the company that convinced this Liberal government to bring in legislation establishing the ability of the Public Prosecutor to cut remediation agreements, something done in other countries we generally compare ourselves to, favourably.

But that too is the way things work in the real world. In the early 1980s, Nova Scotia's "Michelin Bill" changed the way the province's Trade Union Act operated. Having successfully signed up enough workers at one Michelin plant to force a certification vote, the company lobbied successfully to require unions to certify all company plants simultaneously, notwithstanding they operated independently. The effect was to insulate the company from efforts to unionize.

Closer to home—and not even in the same league—B.C.'s ski resorts successfully lobbied the former provincial Liberal government to change the date of February's Family Day holiday to a week prior to when it was celebrated in other provinces, arguing it would help boost business on an otherwise quieter weekend. That exercise in enlightened self-interest didn't last long.

Back to the case at hand, the only person(s) who know what the heck "heavy pressure" means aren't talking. At least not for the record. If it's people who were actually present during those discussions, or if it's W-R herself, we'll only know when they come forward. In the meantime, all there is is an allegation that can't be refuted because no one knows what it means and no one has any basis with which to judge its credibility or lack thereof.

Of course, things got worse. W-R was shuffled to what is universally seen as a less powerful cabinet position. Was she booted because she wouldn't bend to the heavy pressure? Don't know. Is it within the Prime Minister's discretion to promote, demote or remove cabinet ministers? Why, yes, it is. Have former Prime Ministers demoted and/or removed cabinet ministers who are seen as not being team players? Only every single one of them ... except Kim Campbell who wasn't around long enough to do that. Did JT remove W-R so he could put in a puppet that would direct the Public Prosecutor to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin? We'll never know because not even he is dumb enough to direct or even allow David Lametti to do that at this point.

Of course, things got worse. W-R quit her new cabinet post. Why? She won't say. But this added fuel to the fire. She hired a former Supreme Court justice to advise her what she could say. He must be getting paid by the hour because it sure is taking a long time to figure this out.

JT's has his new attorney-general trying to decide whether he can waive attorney-client privilege and let W-R talk. Based on what I understand about that privilege, he's effectively waived it based on his own public statements of what transpired.

I wish they'd put an end to this melodrama though. It's getting old. There's so much smoke at this point I'm wondering whether there's a fire or just a smoke bomb. There's work to be done that isn't getting done. There's a country to run and, hopefully, move forward. Won't someone please call the adults back into the room.

Editor's Note: Since G.D. wrote this column, Jody Wilson-Raybould has addressed cabinet and is to testify before a Parliamentary justice committee.

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