The dog days of summer, I must admit, had pushed the Justin Trudeau/Jody Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin story into the back of my mind in recent weeks. That changed abruptly yesterday, with the release of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s “Trudeau II 2019 Report.”
Yes, it is worthy of note that this is not the first conflict of interest and ethics report about our smiling, sunny ways Prime Minister, who was investigated in 2017 by then-Commissioner Mary Dawson. Her report found his family visit to the Aga Khan’s private Bahamian island was a gift that contravened Section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Act.
“Tantamount to political direction”
This report, called a “bombshell” by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, has no doubt put a considerable damper on Trudeau’s summer, his smiles at yesterday’s media appearance in Niagara on the Lake notwithstanding.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion did not mince his words, calling Trudeau’s actions with respect to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin “flagrant attempts to influence” then-Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and to “improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin.”
Finding Trudeau in contravention of Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, Dion wrote:
“The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his influence, sought to influence the attorney general. The prime minister . . . used various means to exert influence over Ms Wilson-Raybould. The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) as well as the authority of Ms Wilson-Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”
Dion was also critical of Trudeau for his failure to allow him access to all the information he felt he needed to complete his review properly:
“I am convinced that if our Office is to remain truly independent and fulfill its purpose, I must have unfettered access to all information that could be relevant.”
Did the PM apologize?
Trudeau said some of the right things when he spoke with reporters about Dion’s report.
“We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made.”
Compare those words with his statement last February when responding to the Globe and Mail’s breaking story about this issue:
“The allegations in the Globe story are false.”
As Robyn Urback notes, that statement was both a lie and foolish:
“With hindsight, it seems silly to make such an unequivocal statement about something easily verified. But a belief in one’s own righteousness, along with a record of previous political infallibility, can make a prime minister and his staff do some very silly things.”
But was there an actual apology from The Great Apologizer? He refused, twice, to apologize for something he had not even been asked about: defending Canadian jobs.
As for his actions that led to the findings of the Ethics Commissioner? No words of apology about that.
Lining up to crow
Not surprisingly, the leaders of both the Conservative Party and the NDP were quick to comment on the report. After all, the federal election is just over two months away, and there is no time to waste when an opportunity to disparage an opponent presents itself.
Andrew Scheer, whose own record is only unblemished because he has not yet achieved a position from which he could behave unethically, wants the RCMP to be called in to investigate whether criminal charges should be laid. Singh, whose NDP is low in both the polls and money, opined: “Mr. Trudeau cannot be the prime minister of Canada.”
Both the Conservatives and the NDP have called for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons Ethics Committee, which seems unlikely to happen since the majority of that committee’s members are Liberals.
Elizabeth May, leading a Green Party on the rise across the country, took a broader look at the situation, tweeting:
“He owes Canadians an apology. But the issue does not end with the PM. We need a full inquiry. The government system as a whole needs an inquiry.”
The woman at the heart of this story, Jody Wilson-Raybould, is on the campaign trail in her riding, where she is running as an Independent in this fall’s election. She said the report was a vindication of sorts, because it “confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with Canadians and affirms the position I have taken from the outset.”
With an election looming, I am full of questions. It is just possible that voters have the short memories politicians like to say we do and that, absent this report, Trudeau may have been able to lurch across the finish line with at least a minority government. However, it now seems likely that this issue will be front and centre for some, perhaps many, voters.
Where does that leave those otherwise-Liberal voting Canadians? Surely, not turning to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives? Can Jagmeet Singh and the NDP get it together to present themselves as a viable alternative to voters looking for a new and progressive home? How much of a role will the recent popularity of the Green Party play on election day? Will JWR and Jane Philpott win their seats as Independents and, if so, what will that look like when a new government forms?
About the only thing I know right now is that I wish I lived in Vancouver Granville so I could vote for JWR on October 21st.
Let’s let JWR have the final word for today. In commenting on her Facebook page about the report, she wrote:
“I also have feelings of sadness. In a country as great as Canada, essential values and principles that are the foundation for our freedoms and system of government should be actively upheld by all, especially those in positions of public trust. We should not struggle to do this. The report reminds us that we must all remain vigilant.”