Politics Briefing: Wilson-Raybould’s resignation speaks for itself

Good morning,

On Monday, after days of questions about whether the Prime Minister’s Office had put pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was attorney-general to make sure a prosecution deal was cut with construction giant SNC-Lavalin and whether Ms. Wilson-Raybould was demoted in cabinet because of resisting the pressure (try saying all that in one breath), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it simply: “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.”

So on Tuesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned.

“Regardless of background, geography or political affiliation, we must stand together for the values that Canada is built on, and which are the foundation for our future,” she wrote in a resignation letter. (She did not exactly say why she was resigning, but she has hired a lawyer to work out what she can say.)

Mr. Trudeau said last night that he didn’t understand why she quit. “I, to be honest, don’t entirely understand why Jody Wilson-Raybould made the decision she did, because if anyone, particularly the attorney-general, felt that we were not doing our job responsibly and according to all the rules as a government, it was her responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me. She did not,” he told reporters.

The resignation is a blow to the Liberal government, not just to its ability to handle complex files (balancing the fact that SNC-Lavalin is an economic force in Canada that employs thousands of workers with the fact that it is under scrutiny in multiple fraud investigations) but also in losing a cabinet minister who was well-regarded by her colleagues and a star candidate for the Liberals in 2015. “You taught me so much – particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice,” Treasury Board President Jane Philpott tweeted about Ms. Wilson-Raybould.

The House of Commons justice committee will meet this afternoon to discuss whether they should look into the matter. “I agree that there needs to be clarity,” Liberal chair of the committee Anthony Housefather told The Canadian Press. “There is no question in my mind that we need to know the full story.”

The whole story was kicked off last week by the intrepid Globe and Mail team of Robert Fife, Steven Chase and Sean Fine. For more details, check out our timeline of events related to SNC-Lavalin over the last few years and our explainer on the issues at stake.

And here are columnists’ take on the whole affair:

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail): “The fact that [Ms. Wilson-Raybould] stood up to the Prime Minister’s advisers, and was punished for it, undermines Liberal claims that women are equal and respected within the government. The resignation of the first Indigenous person to serve as justice minister also tarnishes the government’s record on Indigenous issues.”

Robyn Urback (CBC): “The destructive power of the SNC-Lavalin scandal — of which we appear to still be in the early stages — lies in its sheer comprehensiveness. It is not simply an indictment of the Liberals’ professed commitment to transparency. Or of the illusion of a shift away from Harper-era ‘self-serving’ partisanship. Or of the Trudeau government’s prophetic waxing about the principles of feminism, goodness and positivity. It is, rather, all of those things: A bingo of betrayed commitments, wrapped in a package of a classic Liberal scandal.”

Barrie McKenna (The Globe and Mail): “SNC-Lavalin was already in a heap of trouble before the RCMP hit the company with fraud and corruption charges in 2015 over allegations it made illegal payments to win government work in Libya. A year earlier, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had quietly imposed a 10-year ban on companies convicted of a long list of white-collar crimes – anywhere in the world – from doing business with the federal government. For SNC-Lavalin – Canada’s largest engineering company – government work at home has long been a vital source of revenue, providing a solid base for its riskier overseas work. Any finding of criminal wrongdoing would put the company’s financial viability at risk. A decade-long ban could be a death sentence.”

Konrad Yakabuski (The Globe and Mail): “It would be wrong, however, to let the politics swirling around the SNC-Lavalin saga obscure the validity of the company’s case for a remediation agreement. Indeed, it is somewhat baffling that the director of public prosecutions chose to reject the company’s application for such a deal and opted to subject SNC-Lavalin to a potentially endless criminal proceeding that could sound its death knell.”

Lise Ravary (Montreal Gazette): “For a Québécois, the SNC-Lavalin-Trudeau-government debacle is especially painful to watch. I can’t help but wonder whether English Canada’s punditocracy would be as indignant if the prime minister’s office had seemingly been trying to save a Toronto- or Calgary-based multinational corporation instead of a Quebec one.”

Don Braid (Calgary Herald): “When the courts shut down the Trans Mountain pipeline last Aug. 30, the Liberals bravely took the ruling on the chin. They bowed deeply to the rule of law and began more consultations. And that was it. But when a giant Quebec company faces criminal prosecution on charges of corruption, the Liberals, including the PM himself, get on the phone.”

Paul Wells (Maclean’s): “[SNC-Lavalin’s political influence] is just the way the country works. It is the way the country has been working all along, while you thought the real game was the family benefits and the boil-water advisories and the rest of it. And, the rope-line consensus asks as it gets over the shock of last Thursday’s Globe story, do you really not want the country to work this way?”

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay in Ottawa. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


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