Those looking for moral leadership from politicians must have been sorely disappointed in recent weeks.
The Prime Minister’s Office is alleged to have pressured then-justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to go easy on SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based global engineering firm accused of paying out $48 million to Libyan government officials between 2001-2011.
This is the same Libyan government deposed by NATO in late 2011, with active Canadian participation.
According to reporting in the Globe and Mail, the company had lobbied the federal government to impose a deferred prosecution agreement, which would impose a fine on SNC-Lavalin and allow them to continue being able to bid on government contracts, which they would be banned from doing if found guilty in court.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly denied he “directed” the attorney general to drop the criminal charges against the company, but when asked by reporters whether he “pressured” or “influenced” her, he repeated his assertion that he hadn’t “directed” anyone, which is suspiciously specific wording for a denial.
Wilson-Raybould, the country’s first Indigenous justice minister, was unexpectedly shuffled out of her high-ranking cabinet position into the lower-profile Veterans Affairs portfolio before the allegations were made public.
She’s forbidden from speaking about the case under the guise of solicitor-client privilege, which the prime minister can lift if he chooses to do so. That he won’t is certainly suspect.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet after the allegations came out, issuing a statement thanking her constituents, staffers and Canadians at large, but Trudeau’s name was conspicuously absent, furthering the narrative that he threw her under the bus as part of a larger cover up.
She tendered her resignation the day after Trudeau cited her continued presence in cabinet as proof that there’s nothing to see here. Clearly, she was sending the prime minister a message.
In an interview with another news outlet, Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner MP Glen Motz said if the allegations against the PMO are true, Wilson-Raybould should be applauded for her principled stand. And he’s right.
However, the Tories’ hands aren’t clean when it comes to political interference in the judicial system either.
It was, after all, the Conservatives who wanted the minister of public safety to interfere in the independent judiciary by ordering the transfer of convicted child killer Terri-Lynne McClintic from a healing lodge near Swift Current.
And a few days after the allegations against the PMO came out, it was revealed in the Toronto Star that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer discussed the possibility of a DPA with SNC-Lavalin, although it’s unknown what position he took on the matter.
Will this scandal hurt the prime minister’s electoral prospects later this year?
It depends how far up the chain of command it goes.
There’s currently no evidence the prime minister was lobbied directly by the company, although they did meet with PMO staffers 14 times, including at least once with Trudeau’s close confidant Gerald Butts.
So it will be difficult to prove the prime minister’s direct involvement, giving him plausible deniability and the ability to blame some rogue PMO staffers.
This saga serves to illustrate that far too often we have two sets of laws in Canada – one for the rich, powerful and politically connected, and another for everyone else, making Trudeau’s “Real Change” election slogan ring extremely hollow.