Cabinet solidarity comes undone
Speaking on cabinet unity, Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “Gentlemen, if we have to lie, let’s lie together.” For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, two powerful ministers refused to heed the British Bulldog’s warning.
The Liberal narrative has shifted to “he says, she says” to create maximum confusion. The story now is that the former Justice Minister told “her truth” and now the Trudeau loyalists are telling “our truth.” The biggest causality of this narrative is transparency and accountability.
Trudeau had a similar narrative during his defense of a groping, pre-politics incident with a young journalist:
“I know that there is an awful lot of reflection to be had as we move forward as a society on how people perceive different interactions.” Thus, the issue came down to different versions of how the groper and victim, respectively, perceived that interaction.
In the SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau spindoctors are suggesting something very similar. On the one hand, former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s principled stand to uphold the rule of law by not interfering in the prosecutor’s independent decision-making. On the other, the efforts by Trudeau’s people to persuade her to offer leniency.
It’s simply a matter of how each side perceived those interactions.
Despite this new narrative with an objective to create confusion, the facts of the case stand undisputed.
Fact: SNC-Lavalin lobbying was able to bring a remediation agreement amendment “expeditiously” through the omnibus budget bill.
Fact: Despite this SNC-Lavalin-friendly amendment to the Criminal Code, the prosecutor’s office did not think the company’s legal issues fit the criterion of the new amendment.
Fact: The calls, text messages and meetings of Team Trudeau with the former Justice Minister had one objective – to pressure her to change the prosecutor’s decision.
Fact: The political considerations of an upcoming Quebec elections and the Prime Minister’s home constituency of Papineau were explicitly cited.
Fact: Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould remained steadfast.
Fact: Wilson-Raybould was removed from the Justice portfolio shortly thereafter.
Fact: New Justice Minister David Lametti was brought in to deliver what Jody Wilson-Raybould refused; he has already started the process of seeking an external legal opinion on issues raised by the controversial SNC-Lavalin case to deliver what the company lobbied for.
Yes, Cabinet unity is important to maintain the secrecy and integrity of government decisions. However, when ministers are asked to show unity to hide the truth from public about a prime minister’s intervention in a criminal prosecution case of a corporation – that’s simply disgraceful.
Of course, not all ministers agreed with Churchill’s dictum, “let’s lie together.” Jane Philpott submitted her resignation, acknowledging the convention of cabinet solidarity, she stated it had become “untenable” to continue.
Here is an honourable person, who has shown the principle of public service not only to her colleagues but also to future generations.
Canadians deserve such honour and dignity, not spin and obfuscation.
Dr. Shinder Purewal is a professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, a regular political commentator, and the author of two books, Tandoori Democracy and Sikh Ethnonationalism and the Political Economy of Punjab. He lives in Surrey.