The House of Commons justice committee heard the testimonies of former principal secretary Gerald Butts, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick and deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin last week. They provided different accounts to what former Justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould told the committee about allegedly being pressured by the prime minister’s office to get involved in the SNC-Lavalin court case.
A major controversy occurred just after Butts’s testimony. There was an opposition motion to recall Wilson-Raybould to the committee for further questioning. She had confirmed interest in doing so during her testimony, so it seemed like a straightforward request.
The motion was defeated 5-4.
Why would the Liberal majority have done this?
Yes, they’re probably tired of their leader, party and government being dragged through the political mud for over a month. There’s also a risk it would set a precedent and force the committee to keep calling back witnesses like Butts, Drouin and Wernick (for the third time).
Nevertheless, Liberal committee members did something that was far worse. They created a horrible public image of a government unwilling to get to the bottom of an important controversy – and was seemingly more than happy to let it keep festering.
Were senior Liberal advisers behind this strategy?
I would imagine so but even if it were junior Liberal staffers, it’s the wrong thing to do, period.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should lift the “gag order” on Wilson-Raybould. He “must let her speak” so the committee could recall her and Canadians could hopefully find out why the former senior minister left the Liberal cabinet.
He’s right. Scheer certainly isn’t the first person to have said it but he should be the last one who has to request it.
No one is questioning that cabinet/caucus confidentiality has its place in politics. There are things said behind closed doors by party leaders, cabinet ministers, backbenchers and staffers that the general populace doesn’t necessarily need to know. Not because it would be a breach of national security or public trust, but because tempers occasionally flare and people’s emotions sometimes get the better of them.
If a politician wishes to discuss a private incident with a caucus colleague in public, that’s his or her prerogative. Liberal backbencher Celina Caesar-Chavannes recently revealed details of a tense phone conversation she had with Trudeau, first on Twitter and later in an interview with the Globe and Mail. “He was yelling,” she alleged. “He was yelling that I didn’t appreciate him, that he’d given me so much.”
That being said, most private conversations between politicians and/or political staff tend to blow over pretty quickly. Cooler heads prevail and the participants moves on.
In the case of Wilson-Raybould, a much bigger issue is at stake. Trudeau’s order of privilege prevents her from discussing private cabinet/caucus conversations she had with him and others related to being pressured to intervene in a criminal proceeding. Even if the justice committee changed its mind and invited her back to testify, the gag hasn’t been loosened and there’s little she could say.
Considering that the Federal Court dismissed SNC-Lavalin’s appeal for a judicial review last week, since it believes prosecutorial discretion doesn’t fall under those guidelines, that’s a good reason to remove the gag order and bring Wilson-Raybould back to testify.
Considering the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) Working Group on Bribery is concerned about the Liberal government’s potential interference in the SNC-Lavalin matter, that’s also a good reason to remove the gag order and bring her back to testify.
Considering most Canadians are tired of these shenanigans and deserve an answers about the Liberals’ respect for peace, order, rule of law and good government, that’s the best reason to remove the gag order and bring her back to testify.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.