It was another week of developments, and non-developments, in the ‘Lavscam’ scandal/affair.
Where to begin? Let’s start with Jane Philpott. Remember her? She was the minister of something who resigned from office in solidarity with Jody Wilson-Raybould (again, heretofore to be referred to as JWR). Was this the start of a mass exodus from the Trudeau cabinet? Was there a cabinet revolt brewing? Turns out, the exodus ended with Philpott; nobody else left, and others lined up to pledge their support for Justin Trudeau.
Philpott’s timing was not good. Her bombshell announcement (everything’s a bombshell these days) was entirely overwhelmed by the next day’s testimony of Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s right-hand man and best buddy.
Butts made a compelling witness. Essentially, if I can distill four hours of testimony into one line from Cool Hand Luke, it would be this: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Butts made the case that there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the “pressure” put on JWR about the SNC case. He said he and the PM were surprised to hear that JWR was upset; in their view, they were just making sure that JWR knew all the options, and the consequences of whatever option she took. And gosh, they didn’t know she was upset.
So what do we know about this whole grubby affair? Here’s my take, for what’s it’s worth.
SNC-Lavalin is a powerful, important, Quebec-based international giant. Trudeau is a Quebec MP, whose hope for winning the next election rests largely in Quebec. It should not be a surprise that Trudeau would be inclined to help the company, just as Rachael Notley is trying desperately to get pipelines built even though, in her heart of hearts, she probably hates the oil industry. SNC put the case to the Trudeau government that being found guilty of bribery would endanger “9,000 jobs” but further research shows that was probably bogus; even though the Canadian arm of SNC would be barred from government work, international SNC arms could apply. As well, SNC is so big, that losing some Canadian government business would hardly bring the company to its knees. SNC, I think, snookered the Prime Minister’s Office with the 9,000 jobs claim. And the threat to move the company out of Montreal has also been proven to be false. Trudeau and Butts should have known all of this, but they didn’t.
The PMO did apply pressure to JWR to take the Deferred Prosecution Agreement route. JWR, who has been described as being stubborn by some sources, said no. The PMO’s opinion was that no doesn’t mean no until the case actually goes to trial, so they pressed the matter. Did they do anything illegal? JWR herself said no, they did not. So that should put to rest the ridiculous request from some quarters that the RCMP should be called in.
As for the cabinet shuffle, which looked like a demotion for JWR because she wouldn’t do the PMO’s bidding, Butts presented a reasonable case that it was just a necessary shuffle. Sorry, don’t buy it. I think JWR was simply a pain in the ass, and Trudeau used the resignation of Scott Brison as an excuse to shuffle out a troublesome minister.
How will this end? I think, in typical Canadian fashion, it will peter out, particularly if the Liberals on the justice committee continue to deny any further testimony from JWR. Nobody will resign, despite the learned advice from the media experts. The RCMP will not be called in to investigate, since JWR herself said nothing illegal happened. The story will slowly fade away, but it will leave a scar on the Trudeau image that will never fade. Trudeau got into a very public spat with the one minister he could not afford to piss off – a woman, who is also aboriginal. Just like that, fairly or unfairly, his credentials as a feminist and a champion of reconciliation were severely, if not permanently, damaged. Losing a second female minister did even more damage. And this past weekend, a Liberal MP – also a female, also a ‘person of colour’ – told the Globe and Mail that Trudeau was furious at her when she told him she was not going to run again.
The media is piling on. They’ve finally got a chance to dent Trudeau’s progressive armour, and they’re going at it with a vengence. (Trudeau held a press conference on Thursday, and when he didn’t say sorry, there was much feigned outrage.) Trudeau will survive this debacle, in part because Canadians aren’t prepared to have Prime Minister Howdy Doody.
Elsewhere in the world of real corruption, lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort learned on Thursday that he will serve almost four years in prison – far short of what had been expected and recommended – for financial fraud convictions obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller. It seems everyone was expecting Manafort to go to jail for the rest of his life, but in a country where a Texas woman got FIVE YEARS for voting illegally one time, Manafort’s four years seems awfully soft. He’s facing more jail time for another charge, so he’ll be behind bars, no longer a threat to society, for a good long time. Unless, of course, a friend gives him a pardon. That friend is Donald Trump, who admires the fact that Manafort didn’t turn rat on him like Michael Cohen.
Luke Perry, 52, one-time teen heart-throb from the TV series Beverly Hills 90210, and later Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the new Neflix series Riverdale. Perry suffered a stroke and was taken off life support shortly after. My only knowledge of Perry (all of his shows were age inappropriate for me) was his guest appearance on The Simpsons, as Krusty the Klown’s half-brother … King Kong Bundy, 61, an absolutely colossal wrestler from the WWE … Ted Lindsay, 93, legendary NHLer who was known as “Terrible Ted”. Lindsay scored more than 800 points in his Hockey Hall of Fame career, and won the Stanley Cup four times. He helped to organize the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). In 2017, Lindsay was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history … Jan-Michael Vincent, 74, star of Airwolf and The Winds of War.