We now know why the prime minister, the finance minister, their most senior aides and the country’s top bureaucrat put so much pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould last fall to intervene in a criminal court case on behalf of a Montreal company.
It was the votes — votes the Liberals in Quebec City and the Liberals in Ottawa thought they were sure to lose if that company, SNC-Lavalin, decamped from its Montreal headquarters for foreign shores, a move it was threatening to make to avoid punishment, should it be found guilty of the corporate fraud it is alleged to have committed in Libya.
“SNC announcing they’re leaving six months before the election is bad,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s senior adviser Mathieu Bouchard allegedly said to Wilson-Raybould as he was pressuring her to intervene. “We need to be re-elected.”
Well, here’s some news for Bouchard and everyone else in the Trudeau PMO: you know what’s worse than SNC-Lavalin moving out of Montreal six months before an election? The testimony Wilson-Raybould gave Wednesday afternoon at a House of Commons committee. It was bad. Real bad.
Wilson-Raybould’s careful, measured testimony — based on copious notes she took after each and every one of the 10 instances last fall in which she or her staff were bullied to intervene in SNC-Lavalin’s court case — was one jaw-dropping revelation after another of misbehaviour in the most senior offices in the land.
Steve Saideman, a political science professor at Carleton University who keeps a keen eye on Canadian politics, turned to Twitter to neatly sum up the afternoon’s revelations: “Liberals ditched an Indigenous woman who was first to have such a visible and important post to pander to a corrupt company to avoid losing votes in Quebec, right?”
That’s pretty much it, professor. A prime minister who built a nice little international brand as a feminist, who preached reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples as his top priority fired a female, Indigenous justice minister because she wouldn’t help the team win some votes in Quebec.
WATCH: Global News coverage of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee
Wilson-Raybould described herself as a descendant of Kwakwaka’wakw matriarchs who are “truth-tellers,” and after a long afternoon of fulfilling that destiny, Trudeau called reporters for a quick early evening press conference in Montreal to essentially say there was no truth to what she had told. Oddly, he conceded that he had not watched all of her testimony but was nonetheless able to “strongly disagree” with the testimony he did not see. He suggested she had got it all wrong without offering a single specific instance of a fact Wilson-Raybould presented that was false. Well, if she was so wrong, Mr. Prime Minister, why is she no longer the country’s justice minister?
And how would they know Wilson-Raybould was wrong? While Wilson-Raybould was at pains Monday to explain her prodigious note-taking, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick — one of Wilson-Raybould’s tormenters — proudly boasted to the same justice committee last week that he took no notes during the meeting with Wilson-Raybould in mid-December, during which he allegedly delivered what Wilson-Raybould described as “veiled threats” that she should come around and bail out SNC-Lavalin.
This is where I have to take issue with Wilson-Raybould’s use of the phrase “veiled threats.” They were not veiled at all. They were naked threats, vicious threats, threats that could not be missed. And, most damning of all, they were threats on which a vengeful prime minister made good on Jan. 7, telling Wilson-Raybould in person that she was no longer his justice minister and could instead serve Canada as veterans affairs minister. (She would resign, shortly afterwards, from cabinet completely, though she remains, as of Wednesday night, a member of the Liberal caucus.)
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould — I was pressured to “help out” in SNC case
Had Wilson-Raybould succumbed to this pressure and ordered the independent prosecutor to alter course on the SNC-Lavalin case, there would have been commendations and compliments. Wilson-Raybould testified that the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, could “line up all sorts of people who could write op-eds to say what Jody is doing is proper.” That’s nice to know that Canada’s PMO, much like China’s presidency, can just order up a bunch of newspaper editorials to sing the praises of the ruling party.
Meanwhile, Liberal MPs on the Justice Committee embarrassed themselves Monday by insinuating it was Wilson-Raybould who had done something wrong. Did she not have “an obligation” to holler wolf when all this inappropriate pressure was being applied? Why didn’t she quit? Was she sure she had the timing right? It’s impossible to report on politics without running into obsequious politicians but, good heavens, those Liberal MPs took the cake.
After she was fired from her job, Wilson-Raybould sat down with Gerald Butts, who has since resigned as the prime minister’s principal secretary. She knew what had just gone down. A strong, independent, Indigenous woman with the law on her side had spoken truth to white, male power — and had been punished for it.
“I know this is because of SNC-Lavalin,” she told Butts.
“Are you questioning the integrity of the prime minister?” Butts replied.
“I didn’t reply,” Wilson-Raybould told the committee.
She didn’t have to.
The answer is crystal clear.
David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.