Sunday, February 10, 2019
A Big, Fat Nothingburger
I don't know who did what in the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has ensnared Justin Trudeau. The question seems to be did the prime minister twist the arm of then Justice Minister Jody to take Lavalin off the hook and then retaliate against her for defying him by banishing her to the veterans affairs portfolio.
Some Liberals, taking a page out of the playbook of Congressional Republicans in the first two years of the Trump era, are dismissing the whole thing as a sort of nothingburger. Nothing to see here. Cabinet ministers serve at the prime minister's pleasure. No evidence of meddling, at least not yet. Yada, yada, yada.
Others, including the odd Liberal pundit, already have Justin Trudeau charged, tried and convicted of all manner of corruption and backroom skulduggery.
Who is right? I don't know but I don't much care either. I have no dog in that fight. What I have is a sense of the problem.
It looks bad and it smells even worse. No matter how you cast the bones and read the entrails, it brings to the surface the ugly reality that, in Canada, there is one law for the big and well-connected and another law for the rest of us schmucks and the law they have for us isn't nearly as nice as the law reserved for "them."
Most of us don't like the idea of judicial outcomes being manipulated behind closed doors in the prime minister's office. Whether it's KPMG's Isle of Man tax scam or Lavalin, nobody ever seems to go to jail. No, the Greybar Hotel is for the plebs. After a while the government starts to look like some 17th century Cardinal flogging indulgences.
What we need here is transparency and accountability, that magical elixir that prime ministers have been promising us for, well, forever. We need red lines that even a prime minister dare not cross.
Obama tells the story of when he first took office. He summoned his A.G. and all the district federal prosecutors from around America to the White House. He told the gathering that they did not work for him, the president. No, they owed their duty and their loyalty to the American public, not some political boss.
We could use a dose of that independence in our own administration of justice. If the prime minister wants to transfer a minister from agriculture to industry and trade, that's fine. If he wants to so blatantly demote his Attorney General, that's a different matter. He needs to be seen to be firing his Attorney General for legitimate reasons. Whim and prerogative aren't enough. He owes the public an explanation that assures them that the fix isn't in.
And for Christ's sake, Justin, stop with the weasel words. When you give a strained, technical explanation about how you didn't "direct" her to do something untoward that's not convincing. That's no assurance at all. It sounds bad and it smells even worse.
We know that Justin isn't always straight with us. The way he so freely jettisoned so many of his campaign promises taught us a bit about his credibility. Then there was that business about groping a young journalist in Creston "back in the day." He really flubbed that one. The KPMG business? Well that's not even on anyone's horizon today but it hasn't entirely gone away either. These things have a cumulative effect and it works to erode public confidence in what the prime minister says when he gets in a tight spot.
This, I think, would be a perfect opportunity for a clear restatement of the role of the Attorney-General and her/his place within the federal government. Justice must be done but it also must be seen to be done.
This prime minister has a lot of catching up to do.
If you haven't read it already, do check out Andrew Coyne's take on the Trudeau-Lavalin scandal. He makes a number of compelling arguments that show this is anything but a nothing burger.