Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to announce a small cabinet shuffle this morning at Rideau Hall to tidy up the damage done after his last cabinet shuffle in January.
As Mr. Trudeau has told reporters many times in recent weeks, the shuffle in January came about because Scott Brison – the Treasury Board president since 2015 – stepped down from cabinet because he did not plan to run in the next election. (Weeks later, Mr. Brison quit his seat in the House of Commons and got a job at the Bank of Montreal.)
It was in that cabinet shuffle that Mr. Trudeau moved B.C. MP Jody Wilson-Raybould out of the high-profile justice portfolio and into the smaller veterans affairs role. Ms. Wilson-Raybould later left cabinet altogether when The Globe and Mail revealed the pressure she had been under by the Prime Minister’s Office to give SNC-Lavalin a deal that would allow the Montreal-based construction giant to avoid a criminal prosecution. Ms. Wilson-Raybould told a Commons committee this week that she believes her resistance to the PMO’s wishes contributed to her being removed from the job of attorney-general.
In all, 11 people were involved in those meetings that the former attorney-general described as inappropriate pressure. The Globe has profiled all those people here. One of the major operators, the Prime Minister’s former right-hand man Gerald Butts, has asked to testify at the justice committee looking into the matter. The committee has also announced it is calling back top bureaucrat Michael Wernick to testify again. His testimony a week ago centred on saying the pressure that Ms. Wilson-Raybould faced from her colleagues was entirely appropriate to the job.
According to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Liberal aides repeatedly raised the concerns that a criminal trial would jeopardize SNC-Lavalin’s future and the thousands of Canadians it employs. Quebec Premier François Legault echoed that concern yesterday. “If the SNC-Lavalin can’t have public [federal] contracts for 10 years, if the trial goes on for two or three years, it creates big problems and big risks for workers,” Mr. Legault said.
The Liberals say the federal Ethics Commissioner will get to the bottom of whether there was an impropriety, but it’s not clear that the investigation is actually properly in the commissioner’s remit.
And as always, the SNC-Lavalin affair continues to dominate the opinion pages. Here are some of the columnists’ views today:
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail): “Jody Wilson-Raybould’s actions have confounded Justin Trudeau and his advisers because she stands outside their world. They just cannot comprehend her. This is also why Western anger at the Liberal government has become so intense. Mr. Trudeau and his kind have never understood the West, or cared to try. That indifference is coming home to roost.”
Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail): “The greatest damage done by this affair, then, may not be the threat to the independence of the judicial system that it has raised. By serving to perpetuate every negative stereotype the rest of Canada holds about politicians pandering to Quebec, the SNC-Lavalin scandal will further inflame regional resentments – and may even backfire spectacularly.”
Jen Gerson (The Globe and Mail): “Even Liberal diehards aren’t really trying to defend this. The only recourse is this anemic plea for jobs, or to assure themselves that the Conservatives would be worse, probably. It’s not hard to detect the nihilistic shrug behind all of this, though. This is the way it’s done – the way things have always been done. That’s how the country really runs. This is who it is run for.”
Barrie McKenna (The Globe and Mail): “Perhaps even stranger, Mr. Trudeau and his top advisers blindly accepted as real the threat that the engineering giant would move its Montreal head office to London if it didn’t get its way. But a look at SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.’s obligations to Quebec makes it clear the company isn’t going anywhere soon.”
Margaret Wente (The Globe and Mail): “Liberal governments tend to see no difference between the good of the country and the good of the Liberals. Mr. Trudeau promised he’d be different but he’s not.”
Hayden King (The Globe and Mail): “Here is the inescapable paradox: Jody Wilson-Raybould understands well and has illuminated this alleged abuse of power. And yet, she is a champion of Canadian institutions all the same, perhaps a manifestation of the best of them. An Indigenous woman and member of Parliament just held still-colonial Canada accountable like few others have done, teaching us all a lesson in the process, whether we are Liberals, civil servants, or Indigenous critics.”
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay in Ottawa. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
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