Even though on some level I knew it was inevitable, I was stunned when I saw the headline late Wednesday that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott had been expelled from the Liberal caucus.
I had just emerged from the second day of a two-day national meeting of women’s equality activists, where the SNC-Lavalin scandal, the woman at the centre of it, the PM, and the possible impact on October’s federal election were a hot topic of debate. The only consensus in the room of about 150 women was that both women and Indigenous peoples have seen some positive results from this government, many of which may be in jeopardy if the election results in a different party in power.
However, there were those of us who felt that, progress notwithstanding, the sunny ways the PM loved to talk about had been much less than promised. We also spoke to the importance of calling out wrongdoing such as the PM’s actions surrounding SNC-Lavalin, even if doing so has electoral ramifications.
A question of values
In her letter to caucus written the day before the ouster, JWR’s words presented a challenge to Trudeau’s insistence over the past few weeks that there is room in the Liberal party for a diversity of opinions:
“the choice . . . is about what kind of party you want to be part of, what values it will uphold . . . whether we are a caucus of inclusion or exclusion; of dialogue and searching for understanding or shutting out challenging views and perspectives . . . of the old ways of doing business or new ones that look to the future.”
It appears that at least some in the caucus share her view. New Brunswick MP Wayne Long said, last week, that it would be a mistake to kick out JWR and Philpott, and that he was:
“proud to be a member of a caucus in which members who share the same set of progressive values are free to express their views and those of their constituents even when they disagree with our leader or the majority of caucus members.”
Secret recordings and interviews
The recording JWR made of her December 19th conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and Philpott’s interview with Maclean’s magazine seem to have sounded the death knell for their continued presence in the caucus.
However, the recorded conversation – even if it verged on the unacceptable – appears to confirm JWR’s position that the PM/PMO were acting improperly by bringing pressure on her to change her stance with respect to the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
Given that the evidence of the recording is not being used in a criminal trial to convict anyone of anything, surely it is more important to focus on its content than on whether Miss Manners would have approved of it being made. The other side in this saga has not exactly played nice itself.
When I read the Maclean’s interview, I was struck by the respect Philpott showed for both the Liberal caucus and the Liberal party as well as her compassion for those of her colleagues who worried that her actions would cost them the next election. She was clear that she believed the Liberal party was the best suited to lead the country, both now and in the future.
“I did not initiate the crisis now facing the party and the Prime Minister. Nor did Jody Wilson-Raybould.”
Since the SNC-Lavalin matter came to light, thanks to a Globe and Mail story in early February, much has been made of JWR’s personality and possible motivation. She has been painted as aggressive, hard to get along and ambitious; as having placed her own agenda ahead of others; as having manipulated or perhaps even intentionally misstated events.
These personal attacks on her have been a distraction from the central issue of this story, which is whether the PM improperly attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution that was properly in the hands of the Justice Minister/Attorney General to manage.
“Let’s just assume for a moment, since many have already, that Jody Wilson-Raybould’s actions as they relate to the SNC Lavalin saga have indeed been driven by a toxic combination of malevolence and self-importance. . . Yes, perhaps Wilson-Raybould had the worst of intentions – take down the leadership, destroy the party, ennoble her reputation, profit somehow. Great. If true, that’s an interesting peripheral element. But Wilson-Raybould’s character has no bearing on whether the Prime Minister’s Office tried to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavalin, which is the principal question of this entire affair.”
That is what matters – or should matter – to all of us. Not whether JWR is perfect: she is not. Not whether her motives were 100% pure: whose ever are? Not whether she is ambitious or has an ego: would white male politicians be criticized for such characteristics?
What matters is whether the Prime Minister acted improperly by attempting to interfere in a legal process by putting pressure on the JMAG. And it seems clear that he did.
But there is more
There is one other issue that should matter to all of us. Even if we reach the conclusion, as I have, that JWR’s version of events is the right one and that she, Jane Philpott and Celina Caesar-Chavannes acted righteously and with good intentions, what are we to do now?
Young women — more than 300 of them, representing every riding in the country — in Ottawa this week as part of Equal Voice’s Daughters of the Vote program knew what to do. Some of them turned their backs on both the PM and Andrew Scheer when they spoke in the House of Commons.
A federal election is just over six months away. The weak position of the NDP across the country forces us to consider the very real possibility that the Conservatives could form the next government.
Is this an election where we have to hold our noses and vote on the basis of who is the less bad? If so, how do we also make it clear to the PM that we condemn his behaviour in this matter and, should he be returned to his position on October 21st, we expect much better in the future?
Call me naïve, but I am still hoping for the election that will let me vote for a party and candidate because I really and truly think they will do a good job and not just because they are better than the other choices.