On the eve of the 2019 federal election campaign, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that Justin Trudeau had violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act in the SNC-Lavalin affair. The Liberal Prime Minister and members of his staff, Mr. Dion said, had sought for several months to convince then Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reverse a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the file. SNC-Lavalin was then facing charges of fraud and corruption in connection with its activities in Libya under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
The CEO of the Montreal engineering firm met Mr. Trudeau in 2016 in the hope of avoiding a criminal trial that would cost the company dearly. The prime minister and his advisers subsequently tried to persuade Mr.me Wilson-Raybould to offer a repair agreement to SNC-Lavalin, which would then only have to pay a fine. She resisted these efforts until she was transferred to other ministerial functions in early 2019. A few weeks later, after the Globe and Mail had published a shocking statement on the course of events, Mr. Dion launched his investigation: his report fell in August 2019.
In the document, the commissioner determines that Mr. Trudeau’s team “improperly asked the Attorney General to take partisan political interests into account in this case.” His conclusions, which seemed extremely serious, did not prevent the re-election of Justin Trudeau just two months later. Of course, he lost his majority, but the SNC-Lavalin affair did not prove to be a determining factor.
Now, here is Mme Wilson-Raybould returns to haunt Mr. Trudeau on the eve of the September 20 federal election. In an excerpt from his new book published on Saturday by the Globe, she alleges that the Prime Minister wanted her to lie by publicly denying the pressure exerted. The former justice minister describes a meeting she had with Mr. Trudeau in a chic hotel in Vancouver, three days after the publication of the initial article of the Globe of February 7, 2019, where he offered her “his” version of events, suggesting that she had misinterpreted the actions of the members of his office.
“At that point, I knew he wanted me to lie – to attest that what had happened had not happened,” writes Mme Wilson-Raybould in his book, which appears Tuesday in English under the title “Indian” in the Cabinet : Speaking Truth to Power.
Mr. Trudeau immediately denied the latter accusation. “These allegations are false. It’s not something I did or would do, ”he said at the weekend. Mme Wilson-Raybould was quick to react to his comments. In an interview with journalist Robert Fife of the Globe, she replied, “I didn’t expect him to say anything else. Trudeau delivers the lines given to him. “
Six days before the poll, what effects will M’s revelations have?me Wilson-Raybould on the results of the vote this time around?
Because if Mr. Trudeau survived the report of the Ethics Commissioner in 2019, the portrait of the Prime Minister delivered by his former Minister of Justice risks doing him very badly. The man who is described there is poles apart from the image of the compassionate and feminist leader that the Prime Minister wants to project. Forget the sunny ways: Mme Wilson-Raybould portrays a vengeful Justin Trudeau, angry when he doesn’t get what he wants, who rarely speaks to his own ministers.
Staff in the prime minister’s office are said to exercise almost absolute control over members of the cabinet, interfering directly with their files. We would ask them to avoid leaving written traces about the most sensitive files. A government that had promised transparency would be rather concerned with protecting its secrets, even refusing to grant the RCMP access to certain documents.
Everyone knows that politics is an extreme sport. And that the public image of politicians does not always correspond to reality. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Trudeau’s tactics, Mr.me Wilson-Raybould presumably should have asked Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel to negotiate a remedies agreement with SNC-Lavalin. Two months after the 2019 elections, Mr.me Roussel moreover reached an agreement with the company – a quasi-agreement of reparation, in fact -, thus avoiding the holding of a trial which would have lasted for years.
However, by trying to influence a decision which was entirely within the remit of Mr.me Wilson-Raybould, the Prime Minister and his advisers have shown that, for them, the end justifies the means. The book of his former Minister of Justice has just reminded voters. Several of them may remember it in six days.
Konrad Yakabuski is also a columnist for Globe and Mail.