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.


rumleyfips said...

The thing that makes me doubt is that every pundit talks like SNC L has evaded prosecution. They didn't. They are now trying for that result before a judge and the Justice department is opposed.

Strangely enough, many of the chattering class ( scribes and bloggers ) bemoan today's factless news while loudly propagating a myth.

Trailblazer said...

If the charges are true and I suspect that they are, I doubt a Conservative government would do anything differently.
Big business has a hold on all parties that have governed this country.


John's aghast said...

While we bemoan the fact that someone may have tried to influence the Justice Minister (bad), it either failed, or didn't happen (good).
The fact of the matter is that it appears justice will be served and
the good ol' boys will go to trial.
Now, it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be. It would appear difficult to change the course now.

the salamander said...

.. regardless of how this Lavalin tale unfolds.. the point is well made.. Hell, really its undeniable. A double standard DOES exist.. and astonishingly or not, certain peoples slither away from Law & Order. Epstein & his accomplices, Dersowitz and Trump in the US of A is a classic.. Michael Bryant, the Attorney General of Ontario was not even charged nor given a breathalyser test after leaving the fatal scene of a ludicrous run in with a somewhat deranged & impaired bike courier on Bloor Street, Toronto. Think of the US stock market thieves and villains or Canadian inside traders within our governments .. its pervasive.. A 'blind trust' means nothing to a public servant who is married and has a willing partner & they 'chat' over dinner.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sal, I'll see your Michael Bryant and raise you one Rene Levesque who had a late night drive with some poor ex-pedestrian jammed into his wheel well.

The Mound of Sound said...

Rumley, this isn't about the state of the Lavalin prosecution. It is about the independence of the A-G and whether the prime minister strong-armed her.

The Mound of Sound said...

TB, this isn't about "they all do it." It is about wrongful meddling in the administration of justice behind closed doors. We need to find ways to prevent that and to ensure that justice is seen to be done. That means justice must be effected out in the daylight. If a company like Lavalin is "too big to fail" or too big to convict that needs to be put to the public.

This verges on the "stakeholder" dynamic that I find so offensive because it invariably is used to subordinate the public interest to corporate and political party interest.

The Mound of Sound said...

John, I quite disagree with your take on this.

"someone may have tried to influence the Justice Minister (bad), it either failed, or didn't happen (good)."

The misconduct is the alleged attempt to strong arm the Justice Minister, not the outcome. It is based on the same rationale as witness tampering or suborning perjury. The offence is the attempt, the effort, not whether it succeeded. The "no harm, no foul" argument is irrelevant.

Lorne said...

While I have drawn an inference that may or may not e true about what Trudeau attempted in this situation, Mound, undeniable is the fact that it was his administration that introduced the program that allows for the diversion of criminal charges against corporations. That in itself confirms the duality of justice in this county. Too big to fail? Make that too big to criminally charge.

The Mound of Sound said...

No argument here, Lorne. I share your fears. It strikes me that, if the economic ramifications are so great as to make diversion necessary, then the offender corporation should be broken up into several companies that are less of a threat to our economy and administration of justice. Let's say that Lavalin is a conglomerate of perhaps four or five businesses. Cut them a deal but on condition that they divest themselves of a number of these entities.

Purple library guy said...

It's true . . . I don't know if Trudeau is guilty of anything in this case. But it's also true, as Mound is basically saying, that the way things are, we can expect any administration in Canada to do a fair amount of that kind of thing--certainly any Liberal or Conservative administration, we have the track record there. I'm sure if Trudeau didn't do this, he did some other similar stuff (starting with the $weetheart deal with Kinder Morgan), and Harper did that kind of stuff too, and let's not even get into Lyin' Brian, and Scheer is just salivating at the prospect.

Indeed, perhaps the only part of the story that strains believability is not the idea that Trudeau, or a prime minister in general, would ask his Attorney General to go easy on SNC-Lavallin, but that a Liberal attorney general would say no.

the salamander said...

,, caught your update, thanks
I thought Andrew Coyne's article was very much in the vein of the Glove and Mail 'report' thst seems to have energized Warren Kinsella among many others. We see the entire spectrum of opinion, speculation by MainMedia, pundits, political animals screetching in high dugeon now. Tar Sands, wild salmon, First Nations, train wrecks.. pfft - the ravenous hordes rush to the holy Globe grail.. Coyne among them.

The core matter is actually before the court and in the preliminary stages. So can we assume such prosecution is likely to proceed ? That is the story. Coyne simply provides echo chamber speculation, turning and churning phrases into innuendo, guessing games.. then begins building stronger dark suspicions of conspiracy upon the house of cards. I saw the laughable hysteria of Evan Solomen on CTV with his erudite panel plus Tom Mulcair coming in remotely.. (remotely.. hmm, a good choice of words) Why didn't they invite Brian Lilley or Peter McKay ? It would nave been even more amusing.

Now (breathtaking breaking news !!) Andrew Scheer has sent Justin Trudeau a lettter.. yes he did ! That crafty seasoned mealy, vspid veteran on conspiracies in his own right.. harking back to the good old daze of Stephen Harper, the dupreme drone of dark manouvres.
Said letter 'demands' two tasks. One, to release Ms Wilson-Raybould from the client/soliciter silence.. and by the by.. please send me every communication in regard to your nefarious scheming on behalf of Lavalin.. Deary me.. that toadling Scheer sounds truly aggrieved ! Will Jagmeet Singh send Trudeau a letter ? A double letter whammy so to say. Well, I suspect all the 5-7 hundred an hour lawyers clambering all over this furor.. and all the elite punditry and all the kings horses will rush to their fainting couches & stables and TV sets & 'smart' phones & laptops will burn mucho midnight oil and chilled vodka.. or hay

Personally, I think Scheer now looks like a hysterical horses as on the matter.. but he has to be him.. eh ! And Coyne has to seize the moment.. er uh .. seize the easy loud stuff that just fell in his lap..


Northern PoV said...

They passed a law* in 2017 to allow for exactly what took place ie discussions about diversion from the criminal side and it would have been legal to follow that route (perhaps not politically viable, mind.)

*Based on similar corporate friendly laws in UK/USA

Don't like the law that lets companies off the hook?
Fair game. Rant about it - change it if you can.

In the meantime ..... yawn

Anonymous said...

Although Huawei hasn't been in the news lately, I wonder how this will play out with the Chinese government, given that the Canadian government has insisted that it remain independent from the judiciary.

Anonymous said...

IMO Northern PoV hit the nail on the head. The current government created the ability to turn the possibility of criminal prosecution into a strictly financial risk/reward determination for any company large enough to lose the profits of a deal/project if they get caught being naughty.

Not only did they add this wonderful benefit for SNC-like corporations at a time when SNC needed it and after SNC had helped their coffers, but they slimed it into an omnibus budget bill of the sort they promised to do away with.

Don't parties usually wait until a second term to be this underhanded?