Why is SNC-Worth it? Don’t ask Trudeau

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“If any of those six hundred valiant fools who rode in The Charge of the Light Brigade had any doubts about what they were doing, they kept it to themselves.  There is no room in Crusades, especially at the command level, for people who ask ‘Why?’ ” — Hunter S. Thompson, The New York Times, Jan. 1, 1974

Look around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office today, and you won’t find many people wasting time asking the question “Why?” because the crusade they’re on now, almost inevitably leads to SNC-Lavalin avoiding a criminal trial.  And to ask why, at this late date, would be worthless.

The order has been given, the horses are already at a gallop, why pull up short now?

Although, perhaps “order” is the wrong word.  The former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was not directed to overrule the public prosecutor, after all.  She was merely reminded on numerous occasions the dire consequences for the company should it not be given the golden ticket of a deferred prosecution.

The prime minister had an interesting opportunity today to put a stop to it all.  Now that he’s had time to digest the testimony of a former member of his cabinet and a former member of his office, to pick apart how those two stories diverged, and how they interpreted events differently, he could have come to the realization the answer to the question “Why?” has a lot going for it.

After all l’affaire Lavalin has done a serious amount of damage to his government, and his image.  It’s hard to argue you’re leading the party of the middle class, when it comes to light how much easier it is for members of the executive class to pick up a phone, hire a pack of lobbyists, and get what they want.

So, Thursday morning he stood before reporters for the first time to talk about SNC-Lavalin, and only SNC-Lavalin, and had before him a choice.  He could turn the rotten thing around, or he could charge ahead.

He grabbed the bugle and called the charge, once more.

Here was the prime minister saying as clear as he is able how he does not see anything wrong with his government’s repeated attempts to bring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould onside with the idea SNC deserved a deferred prosecution.  Jobs were at stake, by extension votes, and damn anything else.

Trudeau said after Wilson-Raybould told him she had made her decision, and she would not overturn the prosecutor’s decision, he asked her to reconsider.

“I said to her that I was preoccupied by the number of jobs involved in this in Quebec and obviously across the country,” he said.  “I asked her if she could revisit that decision, if she was open to considering, to looking at it once again, and she said that she would.”

“I’m obviously reflecting on lessons learned through this and I think Canadians expect that of us,” he said.  “There are things that we have to understand and reflect on and do better next time.”

What those lessons are was never given much explanation.  Thursday’s press conference was a less-forthright rehash of the testimony of Gerald Butts the previous day.

It’s as if Jane Philpott’s departure made absolutely no impression on him.  It was just Monday, remember, when Philpott resigned from cabinet, specifically citing what she said the dangerous ethical and constitutional ground the government was playing on.

You may remember what she wrote, but I think it’s worth revisiting: “Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” she wrote.  “Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.”

Surely there must be a lesson there, something about how the continued conversations with the attorney general were bad?  Or maybe that the difference of interpretation might also cross into something unethical?  That maybe someone should have asked “Why are we still pressing after the decision maker has decided?”

Alas, no.  The most Trudeau would say about what he learned, was that he did not do enough listening.  There was a breakdown of trust in his cabinet that he didn’t know about, or see in time, and in the future he should make sure his door was more open so he could hear the concerns of a troubled minister.

And if that’s a big take a way, I think it’s time we just prepare ourselves for the announcement some Friday afternoon the new attorney general has decided the prosecutor should be over ruled and SNC-Lavalin should be freed from the possibility of a trial.

The last week or so has had me boiling over with incredulity.  I feel like I’ve gone mad, that the world has spun entirely off its axis.  This is, to an extent, hyperbole.  Water still runs from the taps, planes have not fallen from the sky, and the sun continues to rise in the east.

But at no point has anyone in the government seemed to grasp the fact their original sin was to hide they were going to even make deferred prosecutions an option, by burying it in 200 pages deep in a budget bill.

No one asked why all of these arguments for how great and good and important this change was in public, until they were caught in the open.  At no point did someone ask why the prime minister couldn’t make an honest argument to the public.

They hoped their crusade would happen with minimal fanfare.  Even now they’ve been made for cannon fodder they can’t bring themselves to ask, “Why?”

Photo Credit: CNN

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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