It’s time for Trudeau to follow his father’s footsteps in the snow

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Should Justin Trudeau resign as prime minister?

The question’s been posed now by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, after a jaw-dropping and frank bit of testimony by the former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Wednesday.

In that testimony Wilson-Raybould took a can full of gas and a handful of matches and did her damnedest to set alight the collective pants of the residents of the Prime Minister’s Office.  And, you know, she did a pretty bang up job for one afternoon’s work.

If you were among those thinking the last few weeks of simmering scandal on how SNC-Lavalin wasn’t given a sweetheart deferred prosecution, despite pressure from the PMO placed on the former attorney general, was a big nothingburger, I have bad news.  If you thought this whole thing was a creation of the media, I’m afraid you’ll have to hang onto your Butts — though not Gerry’s — because things just got wild.

Wilson-Raybould sat in front of the committee and not only confirmed all the bad things we had been hearing, but added detail showing how much worse the reality was to the vague sketches we had read up to this point.

At the very top she said, “For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with SNC-Lavalin.”  And then it went downhill from there.  (You can read her full opening statement here.)

What’s clear now, after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, is that many, many people in Trudeau’s office tried to “find a solution” making SNC-Lavalin’s corporate prosecution go away.  Putting pressure, through suggestion, half-concealed threats, sly references to jobs — those of Quebecers and maybe someone else’s, if you catch my drift Jody — and then even the prime minister himself, in Wilson-Raybould’s words, reminding her of his position as a Québec MP, and that SNC is an important employer, Jody, and you know how much Quebecers like jobs, Jody.

The former attorney general went through a series of her interactions and her staff’s interactions with Trudeau, with his chief of staff Katie Telford, with his (former) principal secretary Gerald Butts, with the clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick, and on and on, and how each of them in their own way told her how important it was, in not quite so many words, that this whole SNC thing go away.

And what her hours of testimony lay bare is to what lengths this government works not for you, or I, but for the interests of all the big corporate forces politicians in this country have always looked out for.  That no matter what the law said, or what the prosecutors on the ground said or what the attorney general said, what was important — I’m making inferences here again — was winning seats.  Holding power, keeping the narrative intact, playing for Team Trudeau, was what was important.

She detailed one phone call, while she was not long for her post as justice minister, with the top bureaucrat, the supposedly non-partisan Michael Wernick.  He told her several times how important the jobs at SNC were, and how important the prime minister thought they were, and implied that her job was perhaps at stake if something couldn’t be done to protect the company from a lengthy trial.

By the end of the day today, Trudeau found himself in Montreal, at a party for Rachel Bendayan’s volunteers, nominally to thank them for their help getting her elected in this week’s by-election.  He was more of a bring-down, lamely insisting his was the party of jobs and Canadians would make the right choice come October’s election.  Nothing says party quite like questions in French and then English asking whether you think you should resign your job.

And lately, that’s been his role.  The spoiler, the downer, the sad grump thrown in to ruin everyone’s day.

But despite all this, is Scheer right?  Does the prime minister need to resign?  I’m not sure that’s a question for me.  That’s a question for Trudeau.

It’s maybe time for him to have a really good think about just what it is he’s doing in the office and why he wanted to do it in the first place.  Standing grim-faced in front of a bunch of downtrodden volunteers, while the MP just off a victory stands grinding her teeth at his side is probably not why he got into this.

So if I may, I’d like to fumble about in cliché for a moment.  Feb. 28, 1984 — likely today 35 years ago, when you’re reading this — Trudeau père, took his mythical walk in the snow.  Pierre Trudeau would announce the next day that he was retiring, that he was done as prime minister.

But, that wasn’t his first walk in the snow.  He’d made previous walks.  The one I want to focus on was in December 1979.  After losing an election to Joe Clark, and announcing he planned to resign, Trudeau decided he would stay on after all, and Clark’s government fell before a leadership convention could be held.  (It was a different time.)

When Trudeau Sr. got up in front of the press the next day, after his walk in the frigid night, he was dull and somewhat listless.  But said something interesting, something his son echoed this Wednesday night.  He said the Liberal Party had “a vision of Canada which I feel is the correct and just vision of Canada.”

Justin Trudeau tried to make a similar point Wednesday when he was asked for his thoughts on Scheer’s call for him to resign.

“Canadians will have a very clear choice in a few months time about who they want to be prime minister of this country and what party they want to form government in the general election,” Trudeau said.

He then went on to list the last few year’s job creation and economic growth, and how those were thanks to his party.  Then contrasted that with the dastardly awful Conservatives, and the spectre of Stephen Harper.

He also had at one point either the gall or the obliviousness to talk about the Tories’ polices as ones that “consider the best way to create economic growth is still to give advantages to the wealthiest.”  Which, like, my dude.  What exactly do you think SNC-Lavalin getting out of a bribery trial with a fine and a wrist slap is, but an advantage for the wealthiest?

But back to my little historical diversion.  At one point, the since-retired Jeffery Simpson wrote* of the 70s how Trudeau Sr. “had read the press notices after his resignation and had not liked what he had seen: the general impression was of a man and a prime minister who had failed to fulfill the promise expected of him when he took office in 1968.”

Sound familiar?

This government, here now in 2019, was formed around the idea that Trudeau was its core, its heart.  And they would govern from the heart out.  And by doing so, by putting Trudeau’s good intentions, best wishes, sterling ethics, and love, at the centre of everything, they would do government better.  Differently.  For Canadians.

What Wilson-Raybould showed us was how diseased that heart has become.  How one company with enough leverage, and cachet, and brute lobbying muscle could get the whole engine of the executive to put not Canadians first, but an undeserving corporation.

Someone needs to take a long walk and figure out just why it is they’re doing this.  Because if Trudeau’s in this just for the likes of SNC-Lavalin, he may as well get out now and save us the trouble of wasting another four years.

***

*As quoted in John English’s biography of Pierre Trudeau, Just Watch Me,p437.

Photo Credit: National Post

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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