TWO countries. Two leaders. Two mysteries. It’s open season on political speculation in Canada and the United States as the prime minister and president engage in feats of avoidance that keep citizens in the dark on matters of importance.
But there is a huge difference. Let us not forget that the American story is one of international intrigue, whether one country interfered in the elections of another and whether their presidents were directly involved. Canada’s story is rather less dramatic. It is a question of whether pressure brought to bear on the attorney general was appropriate or not. One suspects that if John Le Carre were looking for a new book scenario, he would not pick Canada’s.
Trudeau has, however, gotten himself in so deep that it is hard to see a way out for him that doesn’t involve a permanent loss of credibility, if not the October election, should this matter drag on. Trump is in far deeper trouble that ironically has for now helped his political fortunes following a favourable summary of a report that may well say something much different.
Trudeau’s basic troubles do not involve his political enemies, though they are salivating at the prospect of more damage from within the Liberal fold. That’s apparently where a report emerged alleging that his office unduly pressured justice minister Judy Wilson-Raybould to go easy on a major company facing fraud and bribery charges.
When Wilson-Raybould balked at subsequent developments that ended in her resignation, a second set of rumours emerged, again apparently from Liberals, that the minister was not a team player.
Joined by colleague Jane Philpott in self-imposed exile from cabinet, Wilson-Raybould let it be known she had more to say beyond four hours of testimony at the Commons justice committee. Philpott too has hinted darkly at more to come.
On Friday, Wilson-Raybould released a tape recording she surreptitiously made of a conversation with former top bureaucrat Michael Wernick in an effort to bolster her claim of inappropriate pressure. The two are clearly at odds and nothing is resolved. Neither, however, does the tape reveal anything particularly new.
Wernick was pressing her, on behalf of an insistent prime minister, to “use every tool available” to her to keep SNC-Lavalin from legal jeopardy which could result in consequences as serious as the company moving with the potential loss of thousands of jobs. Wilson-Raybould has testified this was not illegal and on the tape she says it’s the perception of undue pressure that concerns her.
This long stalemate appeared to be working in Trudeau’s favour until a third leak this week that must also have emanated from high up in the Liberal fold alleged the dispute dates back to Wilson-Raybould’s annoyance at Trudeau’s refusal to agree to her suggestion for a new chief justice. She says this merits a formal investigation but the jury is still out on whether that will occur.
As much as Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have turned their guns on their own forces — while eschewing resignation as the honourable course of action — Trudeau has failed the test of leadership by consistently mouthing vague talking points in answer to legitimate questions seeking the facts of the matter.
It is hard to imagine anything that Wilson-Raybould or Philpott might say that could be worse for Trudeau than the lingering suspicion that he’s covering up something we can’t yet see — specifically, the reason that Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet shortly after saying she didn’t view the change in assignments as a demotion or punishment.
Trudeau has failed the important task of crisis management even as the two women who have fuelled the crisis continue to enjoy a benefit of the doubt that they may not deserve.
It is past time to get this thing behind us and if that means full disclosure and resulting embarrassment, so be it. The country deserves all of the answers from all of the players before Parliament’s summer break.
The political fate of the two women will be the subject of intense discussion when the anxious and angry Liberal caucus meets Wednesday, presumably with both of them present.
TRUMP, meanwhile, is enjoying a surge of relief following release of the Barr report on the Mueller report. U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s brief synopsis of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Trump collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice paints a rosy though incomplete and probably fictitious picture.
While there is apparently no solid proof from Mueller that the president and his underlings conspired with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favour, the weight of events and ensuing suspicion to the contrary remain overwhelming.
And contrary to Trump’s tweet, “No collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration. Keep America great” (surely his 2020 campaign slogan), Mueller wrote that while he couldn’t present enough evidence of presidential obstruction, he couldn’t clear him of it either. With that anvil dangling over D.C., Barr chose to parse Mueller’s two-year investigation detailed in nearly 400 pages into a few incomplete sentences taken out of context to put the best face on it.
Even as he claims victory with this false narrative, Trump has declared war on those in the political sphere and in the news media who have speculated on his antics and fate over these long two years. Once again he will energize the worst elements in his base to take out his frustration for him. Certain Democrats and reporters may soon need security details.
“Complete and total exoneration” for Trump? Not just yet. There are 18 active investigations still under way throughout the United States that are examining the president, his family and friends on a variety of legal fronts.
Back here in Canada, just two committees have examined the so-called SNC-Lavalin affair and, because they are dominated by Liberals — or maybe because there’s nothing more of substance to know — they have failed to find some smoking gun that makes proven liars of anyone.
Problem is, the issue has been so badly mismanaged that the public can’t help but think there is more to the story. Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott won’t say all of what really happened while the opposition parties twist themselves into knots of wretched excess in frustration. At least we’ve got most of the main players’ own words about what happened with respect to the matter of SNC-Lavalin whereas the Americans are asked to believe the select notes of a Trump loyalist.
(Originally published March 30, 2019)
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.