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It takes some skill to pull a draw out of a loss, especially a loss as big as this one.
There was no doubt that Trudeau’s former principal secretary went to the Justice Committee to try to turn this fiasco into a “he-said she-said” wash. The only question was how.
It was artful for sure. He needed to cast doubt on the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould, without appearing to attack her in any way. He came not as an adversary, but as a colleague, even did his best to disarm opposition members.
To Lisa Raitt, he twice pointed out to her that they had known each other a long time. To Murray Rankin, he congratulated him on his retirement and told him that he had been an admirer of his for a long time.
The Liberal members of the committee voted against asking Gerald Butts to testify under oath, voted against ordering the production of relevant texts and emails, and voted against inviting Jody Wilson-Raybould back to testify and respond to Butts’s testimony.
There were also some questions I had while listening to the testimony. While they might seem like minor details, the hope is that it will help to illuminate the style of misleading remarks that were woven into the fabric of his statement.
Former Chief Justice McLachlin is name-dropped
We heard from Jody Wilson-Raybould that part of the campaign to influence her was the offer to have an “eminent” expert on the subject. Today, Butts name dropped the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, telling the committee he told Wilson-Raybould that she should accept external advice from “someone like Beverley McLachlin”.
What the committee and the rest of Canada did not hear is the fact that our country already has a well-established and transparent avenue for parliament to seek external legal advice from the Supreme Court itself.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tenure saw Parliament send nine reference questions to the Supreme Court to get their opinion before making certain decisions. These included such things as whether his ideas for senate reform were constitutional, whether he could appoint Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court as a Quebec judge, and the scope of federal jurisdiction over securities regulations.
While we may now be questioning how much our current government actually knows about how our system works, we know they know what a reference question is. They themselves sent one to the Court just last year.
One thing is clear. If Jody Wilson-Raybould was indeed “nervous” about the decision that the PMO wanted her to take, which I do not believe to be the case, nothing would have convinced her like a Supreme Court of Canada reference. That would have been the “ultimate op ed”!
So why ask one former Supreme Court justice when you can ask nine current ones?
USMCA presented as evidence that ‘Quebec jobs aren’t everything’
Trying to make the point that jobs are a consideration but not a ‘be-all end-all’, Butts pointed to the USMCA, which he continued to refer to as NAFTA, the name of its predecessor agreement.
Quebec farmers were not happy with the USMCA’s agriculture concessions. The Conservatives had criticized that aspect of the agreement while PPC leader Maxime Bernier had said that the agricultural concessions did not go far enough.
What was not said is that the government would compensate those farmers for the new trade agreement. I am not saying that it was wrong to agree to compensate them, but it would have been a relevant fact to the implication that was being made.
Furthermore, another notable part of the USMCA was the concessions with respect to intellectual property which would raise pharmaceutical prices in Canada. The reason that is worth mentioning is because we are now learning that the Liberals’ attempt to distract Canadians from this scandal will shift its focus from climate change to pharmacare.
It is interesting that the government is trying to buy-out everyone who will be disadvantaged by the replacement of NAFTA with the USMCA. By the way, the expert panel exploring the government’s options to implement pharmacare is none other than former Ontario Premier Wynne’s health minister, Eric Hoskins.
So how many other times were relevant facts omitted from Butts’s claims, both express and implied?
Timing of JWR testimony used to accuse her of having ‘sour grapes’
A point that Butts made more than once went something like this.
“If something as wrong as what’s being alleged happened, why didn’t she tell the prime minister in writing?”
He claimed that the first time he learned about Wilson-Raybould’s suspicions of political interference was only after she was asked to move to another cabinet position.
In my opinion, Wilson-Raybould herself answered this question in her testimony, and was a little disappointed that nobody on the committee pointed it out.
She had every incentive to, as she said, “take the prime minister at his word”. Even after the shuffle, she said that she wanted to see it as an opportunity to do good and important work in veterans’ affairs.
If her opinion was that judicial independence was under threat, why would she respond to that by vacating her post by resigning? Would Trudeau and Butts have preferred if she gave up on ‘trying to stay the course’ on her decision and publicly resigned?
At least that would have given them a legitimate reason to replace her as attorney general, and all Canadians should be thankful that that did not happen.
So why did Butts misleadingly repeat an already answered question instead of actually refuting JWR’s answer to it?
Even more disingenuous was the fact that in response to a question from a Liberal member, Butts pointed out that Wilson-Raybould never expressed a lack of confidence in the prime minister, even at the point of the cabinet shuffle.
He seemingly expected us not to remember that Wilson-Raybould still carefully refuses to express non-confidence in the prime minister, which many believe is just to make it politically impractical for Trudeau to boot her from caucus.
Questions not answered
A number of questions were left unanswered by Gerald Butts, which is understandable since he cannot be aware of everything that occurred. They are still worth mentioning because these questions are those that should still be present in Canadians’ minds after the testimony.
Why, if true, did the Ministry of Finance contact the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General (“MoJAG”) on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution?
How, if true, would Bouchard and Marques know that an individual Crown attorney (who should have no political communications whatsoever) was in favour of a DPA for SNC-Lavalin?
Gerald Butts acknowledged that it would have clearly been improper for MoJAG to be told to reach out to the DPP, formally or informally, but does not believe that that occurred.
He also denied the quote attributed to him by Wilson-Raybould that he told her that there would be political interference in this case “one way or the other”.
He told the committee that the practice of soliciting favourable opinion articles was a common practice, comparing it to “asking your supporters to support you”.
He was asked why the Quebec premier seemed to think that the DPA for SNC-Lavalin was already a done deal, but he said that he had “no knowledge” of it.