Canada’s Ethics Commissioner released a report Wednesday on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair. The report concludes that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his deputies attempted to influence Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, an engineering company with offices in Trudeau’s home city of Quebec. Despite the finding, Trudeau says he will not apologize for his behavior:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains he does not need to say he is sorry for violating the Conflict of Interest Act with his improper involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair, even as two of his former cabinet ministers say Canadians deserve an apology.
“You apologize when you did something wrong,” Mr. Trudeau said in an interview with The Globe in New Brunswick. “What I did in this situation was do my very best to stand up for Canadian jobs, while at the same time doing everything I could to protect the integrity of our judicial system.”
The story behind this scandal dates back to September of 2018 when the Director of Public Prosecutions determined that she would not offer a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavilin. The DPA would have allowed the company to essentially pay a fine rather than face prosecution. The Prime Minister’s office subsequently made 20 separate contacts with Attorney General Wilson-Raybould and her deputies seeking to have her intervene and override the DPP’s decision. One of those contacts involved Trudeau himself. Two weeks after the decision not to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal, AG Wilson-Raybould had a meeting with the Prime Minister on another topic. But as soon as she arrived the PM wanted to talk about SNC-Lavalin. Here’s how that meeting went according to the AG’s own testimony which she delivered in February:
The Prime Minister asks me to help out – to find a solution here for SNC – citing that if there was no DPA there would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal.
In response, I explained to him the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act around issuing Directives or Assuming Conduct of Prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the DPP.
In response the PM further reiterated his concerns. I then explained how this came about and that I had received the section 13 note from the DPP earlier in September and that I had considered the matter very closely. I further stated that I was very clear on my role as the AG – and I am not prepared to issue a directive in this case – that it was not appropriate.
The PM again cited potential loss of jobs and SNC moving. Then to my surprise – the Clerk started to make the case for the need to have a DPA – he said “there is a board meeting on Thursday (Sept 20) with stock holders” … “they will likely be moving to London if this happens”… “and there is an election in Quebec soon”…
At that point the PM jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that “and I am an MP in Quebec – the member for Papineau”.
I was quite taken aback. My response – and I remember this vividly – was to ask the PM a direct question while looking him in the eye – I asked: “Are you politically interfering with my role / my decision as the AG? I would strongly advise against it.”
The Prime Minister said “No, No, No – we just need to find a solution.”
After AG Wilson-Raybould testified about the influence campaign, she was pushed out of her job and eventually resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet. A second cabinet minister resigned a short time later. The Ethics Commissioner’s report effectively backs up the AG’s decision to bring the matter to public attention and makes the decision to demote her look very political.
The big problem for Trudeau is that there is an election coming up in October and his Liberal Party was in a dead heat with the Conservatives before the Ethics Commissioner’s report. The NY Times reports that even a slight shift in votes could be enough to end Trudeau’s time as Prime Minister:
Over the summer, when attention to politics in Canada fades, the Liberals have returned to roughly the same level of popularity as the Conservatives in several polls.
But Richard Johnston, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia who specializes in polling, said that the comeback “wasn’t particularly robust.”
In his province of British Columbia, for example, Professor Johnston said that even a relatively small loss of votes from Liberals to the New Democratic Party, which is to the Liberals’ left, or to the Green Party could lead to as many as 20 seats turning Conservative.
“It’s not like they are back where they were a year ago,” he said.
Conrad Black, writing for the National Post, argues that, unless there’s some sort of rhetorical miracle, Trudeau is in trouble:
Misleading Parliament on the scale that Trudeau did, with the full support of his caucus, whatever the MPs’ private misgivings, on the heels of the even more scandalous and malicious prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, all overlaid on a very inadequate general performance in government for the past four years, should place the government as clear underdogs in the election in two months. Unless Trudeau runs the greatest and most persuasive election campaign in Canada’s history, he and his partisans should be thoroughly punished and defeated by the voters for a combination of incompetence and deficient ethics that this country has not seen in Ottawa before.
At a minimum, Trudeau’s time as the young, hip icon of liberal politics is over. His supporters may vote for him again but this time they’ll have to hold their noses to keep out the stench of scandal.