HOLD on a minute. The prime minister must resign, says Andrew Scheer. We need an RCMP investigation if not a full-blown public inquiry, added Jagmeet Singh. The Conservative and NDP leaders can smell blood in the SNC-Lavalin affair and naturally they are doing all that they can to hoist Justin Trudeau’s political body in a victory celebration next October. But is everything as it seems?
Certainly there was considerable pressure placed upon then attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould by the prime minister’s team to in turn pressure the director of public prosecutions to go easier on the big Quebec company than a criminal prosecution.
And yes, the Liberal government included the deferred prosecution option in the last budget at the company’s request so that it might try to prevail upon the prosecutor to consider using it.
Lost in the strident political squabble is the wisdom of such an approach and the necessity of seeking to use it in order to further a great many positives.
SNC-Lavalin is Canada’s biggest engineering and construction management company. It employs 9,000 people in quality jobs, mostly in Quebec. Without voter support in Quebec, a party can kiss governing goodbye. Scheer and Singh are well aware of this. But neither man was able to answer questions about what they would have done differently in this matter.
We know that both of them met with SNC-Lavalin officials, just as the Liberal brain trust did, as the company sought to limit its liability. A conviction will prevent it from bidding on federal contracts that are its domestic bread and butter, putting many of those 9,000 jobs in peril. Did Scheer and Singh refuse to entertain SNC-Lavalin’s entreaties to help press its case before the prosecutor? We don’t know and they aren’t saying.
Both are fond of claiming to be champions of the middle class, just like Trudeau. But 9,000 middle-class and better jobs are on the line here. Are they expendable in the interest of political bravado? What will they say if and when SNC-Lavalin is convicted and Quebecers ask them why they did nothing to help and everything to hurt the company in their eagerness to punish the Liberals?
Trudeau, his chief of staff, the clerk of the privy council and others in this circle did nothing illegal. They pressed the attorney general as hard as they could to see the case for allowing SNC-Lavalin to admit wrongdoing in a corruption case in Libya, change some senior personnel and pay a hefty fine. The alternative benefits no one.
SNC-Lavalin is no saint. They play hardball in a big dirty world of global competition. But they remain an important pillar in the Quebec and Canadian economies. Besides, they’re being treated differently than if they were in, say, the United States. There, reports Terence Corcoran in the Financial Post, prosecuting corporations is virtually non-existent.
The U.S. government has 130 active cases before it under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. All will be allowed to negotiate settlements, paying billions in fines, rather than face debilitating criminal prosecution. The idea being, why ruin the corporation and thousands of employees’ lives in order to levy a fine that will be paid as a cost of doing business. If those at the top who are responsible for criminal wrongdoing are prosecuted, isn’t that enough?
The SNC-Lavalin case is said to hang an anvil around Trudeau’s political neck. But his strident position that neither he nor his lieutenants did anything more than stick up for a good thing rings potentially true in this sordid affair. What if what Wilson-Raybould took as undue pressure was simply pressure enough to make the case as emphatically as possible? It may simply be a matter of perception. Again, nothing illegal happened.
Wilson-Raybould is being held up as some sort of saint, aided and abetted by Indigenous leaders who claim her treatment was unduly harsh and even racist. What? This is politics. It’s a rough and tumble game and everyone knows it. She comes across as a tough cookie but parts of her story don’t add up. Why, for instance, did she turn on her colleagues long after indicating her intention to remain loyal by staying in cabinet following her demotion. These second thoughts appear to come as genuine shock to Trudeau.
Nobody comes out of this smelling sweet. But we don’t yet have the whole truth and the consequences demanded by Scheer and others are a step too far until we do.
(Originally published March 1, 2019)