Liberals are hoping the SNC-Lavalin story will lose steam this week

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It’s been over a month now since the SNC-Lavalin affair blew up.  When the Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Trudeau and his officials tried to interfere in the criminal case by pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould to grant the Montreal-based company a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, I had a simple comment: this is big.

But I didn’t realize how big.  After all, Jody Wilson-Raybould was still in cabinet.  But now we knew why she was demoted.  Little did we know that four weeks later, Jody Wilson-Raybould would be out of cabinet, along with Jane Philpott.

Little did we know that Gerald Butts would be out of the PMO, in a futile attempt to jump on the grenade to protect his boss and friend of 30 years.  Unfortunately, Butts missed the grenade and the shrapnel ended up all over the Liberal party.

Crisis management is one of the hardest things to do in politics.  It is even more of a truism ever since the advent of social media.  Killing a story is really hard.  It’ll take a life of its own, even if the mainstream media move on.

There is no question, however, that the incapacity of Team Trudeau to keep its story straight on what happened has hurt the Liberal brand.  There has been a series of inconsistencies, contradictions and incoherence every single time Trudeau and his team attempt to put a lid on the story.  From the very beginning, Justin Trudeau and his entourage have not been in control of the narrative.  Their attempt at damage control has done more harm than good.

The story kept going in the first of two parliamentary break weeks.  Every day since the story first broke, the crisis has been splattered on the front page of this country.  The Liberals are hoping that, finally, they have turned a corner and that the story will lose steam this week.

The House resumes on the eve of the tabling of the Federal budget, in effect the Liberal’s pre-electoral platform.  Trudeau is certainly hoping that it will be enough to move on from SNC-Lavalin.  That’ll be up, partly, to the opposition parties.  This is their best chance yet to convince Canadians to throw the bums out.

Still, despite all of this, it is way too early to declare that the Liberal government will perish in the upcoming October election.  In politics, seven months is forever.  And if there is something we know about Canadian politics, it is that the Liberal brand is resilient.

There is no question that the Liberals’ re-election is in jeopardy today, something that seemed unthinkable just five weeks ago.  Trudeau’s bid for another majority government has taken a severe hit.  The Liberals are tanking in the polls and the Trudeau brand has been severely damaged.  We don’t know yet if the damage might be greater and if it is beyond repair.

What we do know, however, is that the Liberals are lucky the opposition parties have not been able to make more out of this than they already have.  Certainly, when given the opportunity, the opposition members of the Justice committee have performed well.

But Andrew Scheer’s premature call for Justin Trudeau’s resignation is not resonating with Canadians.  It was an overreach to say the least.  Too soon, too high, Scheer has nowhere else to go.  So now, he looks foolish calling for Trudeau’s resignation again.  And again.  And again.

Jagmeet Singh did better by calling for a public inquiry.  Everybody realizes that the Ethics Commissioner doesn’t have the jurisdiction nor the resources to really get to the bottom of this affair.  The Liberal-controlled Justice Committee will also try to move on from this topic sooner rather than later.   The call for a public inquiry, echoed by Elizabeth May, is the only mechanism that would be satisfactory.  Which is why we won’t get one: the Liberals have learned their lesson from the Sponsorship scandal and the Gomery commission.

That said, both the Conservatives and the NDP are hitting a problem on a very fundamental point of this story.  What would they have done for SNC-Lavalin?  What would they do if they form government in October?

To these basic questions, both parties have skated and danced around.  I have heard MPs from both parties claim that they would be more transparent, more open, more respectful – but that a DPA had to remain an option.  Not that much different than Justin Trudeau, then.  Except, of course, that “we are not in government” I heard the same MPs say.

That is simply not good enough.  Which might explain why NDP Parliamentary Leader Guy Caron starting talking about a possible nationalization of SNC-Lavalin last week.  While not being entirely clear on why Canadians should acquire such a corporation, it at least has the merit of taking a different route than the Liberal government.

For now, the Conservatives are basically saying just trust us.  We’d do the same thing the Liberals did.  But better.  Somehow, that is not very convincing.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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