So much for silly season.
No more fun in the sun for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the serious days of the campaign have been thrust upon him by the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.
Mario Dion has found Trudeau broke the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his government tried to get a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, instead of the company having to face trial for bribery and other charges.
Much of the report confirms what we’ve already known, putting the facts, such as they are, on the public record officially. But there are a few tidbits of new information.
What stands out the most is that while members of the Prime Minister’s Office and other top bureaucrats were encouraging then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to get an opinion from a former Supreme Court justice, they had already approached the justice on their own to see if there would be any interest.
This they quite conveniently never mentioned to Wilson-Raybould.
I feel like by now, everyone’s views on l’affaire SNC have become pretty hardened. What you think about this probably correlates pretty closely to how you feel about the Liberal party.
But now we have a public record of what happened in a quite detailed report. Detailed as it might be, I deliberately have not said it’s complete. Dion says in his report cabinet confidence was not waived to allow some witness to testify fully.
Trudeau has said he accepts the commissioner’s report, even if he disagrees with some of the analysis and conclusions. He doesn’t, for example, think talking to the attorney general about this prosecution — or any prosecution, one assumes — despite the fact that’s central to why Dion found Trudeau broke the ethics law.
And even if you accept, for whatever reason, that the government did nothing wrong in trying to get JWR to change her mind on the decision not to accept the prosecutor’s finding, things get much weirder when you consider SNC sued to make the prosecutor change their mind. Once that happened, there was a case before the Federal Court. And yet, government officials were talking to SNC about the ways the company might get a prosecution agreement.
I’ll let Dion take it from here:
“The principles of prosecutorial independence and sub judice make it clearly improper for one branch of the Government of Canada to be communicating with applicants to a judicial review challenging a decision made by another branch of the Government of Canada, without the knowledge or involvement of the Attorney General or their delegated representative.” (Emphasis Dion’s.)
Ah, but jobs were at stake.
In the end, the prime minister could not bring himself to say sorry Wednesday. While mistakes may have been made, there was nothing to apologize for.
“My job as prime minister is to stand up for Canadians and defend their interests,” Trudeau said. “Yes, it is essential that we do that in a way that defends our institutions and upholds prosecutorial independence, but we need to talk about the impacts on Canadians right across the country of decisions being made.”
He went on: “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs.”
But he could apologize.
He was not standing up for the interests of Canadians, he was standing up for the interests of a corporation. The interests of Canadians, the public interest, is being defended by the office of the public prosecutor.
The interest of the public is to stomp out corruption. Someone truly looking out for the public interest would see that. You can contort yourself as much as you want to say the jobs of several thousand engineering employees constitute the public, but they don’t. They are a small fraction.
The government does not see that these are not the public interest. They’ve conflated the interests of SNC-Lavalin shareholders and Liberal politicians with the interests of the rest of us.
However much the prime minister says he accepts the ethics report, the underlying issues remain. The interests of a particular company were put ahead of justice, ahead of the people of this country.
This is made most clear in the way the prime minister’s office put its efforts not behind the efforts of justice, not to bring a company that had acted badly to heel, but to help them escape prosecution.
Once more, Dion:
“Thus, in the days following the September 4, 2018 decision [not to negotiate a DPA], SNC-Lavalin crafted a public-interest argument that it could present to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the hopes that she would revisit her decision. Both the Department of Finance and the Privy Council Office actively assisted SNC-Lavalin in developing this argument.”
Here are two of the governments most powerful ministries helping the company. And SNC seemed pretty sure whose side the government was on. When it came to light the prosecutor would not negotiate with the company to avoid prosecution, the company forwarded a report titled “SNC: Thanks for Nothing, DPPSC” to the PMO.
That’s what this comes down to. The interests of SNC are actually contrary to public interest, they’re the ones being prosecuted.
This why the prime minister can’t say sorry. Saying sorry would mean admitting who this government is really for: for corporate monoliths looking to rip off the rest of us.
Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics
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