COMMENTARY: On SNC Lavalin affair, the Liberals have thrown away their credibility

The credibility of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured in Halifax on February 20, 2019, and the Liberal Party has been torn to shreds as the SNC Lavalin affair has unfolded. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

If the Liberal strategy for dealing with the increasingly messy SNC Lavalin scandal is to simply ask Canadians to trust them and give them the benefit of the doubt, then they’ve done an atrocious job in laying the groundwork for that strategy.

Frankly, their dishonesty and shifting narratives around this story have preemptively torpedoed any sort of strategy that hinges on credibility. Over the last four weeks, the Liberals have frittered away a remarkable amount of credibility which stands in stark contrast to the integrity — and more important — the believability of Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The only hope now for the Liberals is for some sort of smoking gun to emerge showing that the former attorney general has lied about how this affair played out. But at the moment, there’s ample evidence showing that the Liberals are the ones who have lied.

READ MORE: Justice minister and attorney general — Jody Wilson-Raybould, experts suggest they could be separated

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The remarkable testimony from Wilson-Raybould this past week certainly appears to have confirmed the original Globe and Mail story. In fact, as damning as that story was, to hear it all in detail from Ms. Wilson-Raybould was far more harrowing than what was first reported.

Remember, this is what was reported on February 7th: “Trudeau’s office attempted to press Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister to intervene in the corruption and fraud prosecution of Montreal engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., sources say, but she refused to ask federal prosecutors to make a deal with the company that could prevent a costly trial.”

The former attorney general described in great detail — backed by contemporaneous notes and text messages — numerous attempts to pressure her to overrule the director of public prosecutions and allow for the company to secure a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). And as we know, she refused to intervene.

The Liberals do not appear to question the veracity of her account but are rather arguing that the pressure was not inappropriate or illegal and that Jody Wilson-Raybould simply has a different interpretation of these encounters (“disagreements in perspective,” as Trudeau called it).

Yet, the immediate response from the prime minister was to deny it all.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” he declared the day the story broke. Clearly, that was not an accurate statement.

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READ MORE: Lametti says he didn’t know Wilson-Raybould rejected cutting SNC-Lavalin a deal when he took over

That same day, the current attorney general, David Lametti, declared that “neither the prime minister nor his office put my predecessor or myself under pressure nor gave any directives… These allegations contained in The Globe and Mail are false.”

The following day, Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary for justice, declared in the House of Commons that “at no point has the current minister of justice or the former minister of justice been directed or pressured by the prime minister or the Prime Minister’s Office to make any decision on this or any other matter.”

Perhaps Messrs. Lametti and Virani were unaware of the extent of the approaches to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, but there was certainly pressure on her. So these are additional false statements.

The following week, the Liberals went from denying there was any pressure at all to acknowledging that there may have been. On February 13th, Trudeau accused Wilson-Raybould of not speaking out saying that “if she had felt she had received pressure, it was her obligation to come talk to me, but she did not do that in the fall.”

He repeated that claim two days later, saying that “she, of course, should be coming to me and explaining that, and she did not.”

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But apparently, she did. On September 17th, Wilson-Raybould met with Trudeau and it was the latter who very quickly broached the subject of SNC Lavalin. As Wilson-Raybould described it:

“At that point, the prime minister jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that ‘I am an MP in Quebec — the member for Papineau.’ I was quite taken aback. My response — and I remember this vividly as well — was to ask the prime minister a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked: ‘Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.’”

WATCH: Global News coverage of Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC Lavalin affair

On December 5th, Wilson-Raybould met with Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts. At that meeting, she says she “raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate.”

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According to Wilson-Raybould, though, her words fell on deaf ears: “Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff.”

It appears, however, that Wilson-Raybould’s concerns were very much raised with both the prime minister and his right-hand man. So, once again, we have a dishonest statement from the prime minister.

Unless we’re to believe that Wilson-Raybould invented all of these conversations that never actually took place — something not even the most zealous Liberal partisan has asserted — then there was indeed considerable and sustained pressure on her. The prime minister and his defenders can choose to argue that such pressure was not inappropriate or illegal, but that becomes rather disingenuous after having previously denied that there never was any pressure to begin with.

This dishonesty is hard to square with the proposition that the prime minister and others have done nothing wrong here. They want us to believe them now, but why should we?

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.