Oh Gerry, how can we miss you if you aren’t actually gone?
In what has to rank among the least surprising of political events in Canada, Gerald Butts is back in the good books of the governing Liberals, returning to power as a senior player on Justin Trudeau’s re-election campaign. While he hasn’t reclaimed his role in the Prime Minister’s Office, his new, or at least newly announced, position is still a significant one.
Not bad for a guy who six months ago resigned in disgrace amid the SNC-Lavalin scandal. This is especially significant considering it was only he and former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick who faced any sort of consequences.
Well, that’s not true. The whistleblower, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, and her ally, former treasury board president Jane Philpott, lost their cabinet portfolios along with their standing in the Liberal Party of Canada.
Trudeau, who ultimately laid the pressure on Wilson-Raybould through Wernick and Butts, remains virtually unscathed. Neither Butts nor Wernick admitted to any wrongdoing when they stepped down. Butts tried to position his departure as magnanimity and not a political calculation. His return is at least consistent with his claim that he didn’t do anything wrong.
It also serves as a reminder of words I wrote for this very platform back in March.
“Trudeau will weather this scandal.”
I wasn’t the only one expressing such a take, but I received a fair bit of backlash for it, particularly from conservatives who thought this whole thing would spell the end for Trudeau. Indeed, Andrew Scheer even called on Trudeau to resign, though the suggestion wasn’t embraced by the prime minister.
Just because something should happen doesn’t mean it will – politics tells us this time and time again. My prediction didn’t stem from thinking the SNC-Lavalin affair is a nothingburger, but rather from a cynical understanding of how giant stories can so easily become historic footnotes.
Charming as it was that so many predicted a Trudeau sunset, Butts’ comeback shows the Liberals’ investment in the idea that Canadians have moved on. The only thing worse than this arrogance is the realization that Trudeau is probably right.
That was umpteen news cycles ago, and while Conservative and NDP leaders Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh expressed their displeasure with Butts’ new gig, their condemnations were an afterthought in what was ultimately a one-day process story about who’s helping the Liberals out behind-the-scenes, in an election that’s still nearly three months away. To most Canadians, this might as well be three years away.
By welcoming Butts back with open arms, if he ever really left, Trudeau is claiming victory over the SNC-Lavalin scandal. He’s telling Canadians he won. It didn’t even take a master stroke of strategy to achieve this – just the passage of a few months’ time.
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, both seeking re-election as independents, are likely to make a bit of hay on the campaign trail, albeit this may be more from media intrigue than their own efforts: they’ve been very careful to not take aim at the Liberal brand, so it’s unlikely they will field any real opposition to Trudeau on the SNC-Lavalin file.
Even MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who in March resigned from the Liberal caucus after publicly calling Trudeau out for an angry and hostile outburst towards her, seems to have moved on. In June, she tweeted a photo of herself doubled over on a picnic table laughing as Trudeau sits beside her with both his hands on her. In the caption, she says “we must move forward and work together for the greater good. Our communities, country and world are counting on it.”
Given how fervently she criticized Trudeau just a few months prior, one would expect this to be a sort of blink-twice-if-you-need help photo op, but she seemed to be enjoying herself in the snapshot, to which Trudeau’s account replied with a “Great seeing you, Celina.”
I will never fault anyone for finding forgiveness, though I still reserve the right to lament the lack of any criticism of Trudeau’s conduct from the people most qualified to level it.
It makes the “everything is fine” schtick almost believable to Canadians, which will cost us in the long run.
Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.