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Trudeau’s No Good, Very Bad Week

Gerald Butts was supposed to put the PM back together again. How did that go?

By David Beers 12 Mar 2019 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

Last Wednesday must now seem like an excruciating eon ago to Justin Trudeau and his team. When Gerald Butts gave his testimony to the justice committee, the prime minister and his office no doubt pinned great hopes on the moment.

They needed people to feel reassured, or at least more bored. “Nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government,” assured Butts in a normal and boring tone of voice.

He was Trudeau’s longtime friend, advisor and engineer of his rise to power, and he was not testifying under oath. Still, the gamble was that Canadians would give Butts’ account weight equal to the starkly different version by Jody Wilson-Raybould. Chalk the whole thing up, as Trudeau put it the next day, to “a difference of perspective.”

Then could begin the process of rebuilding Trudeau’s brand as the sunny, feminist, thoroughly modern man running an inclusive and transparent government worthy of re-election this fall.

So how has that worked out? Let’s review:

Wednesday, March 6: Canadian depresses New York Times readers.

The same day Butts testified, Alberta-based political journalist Jen Gerson published in the New York Times the equivalent of a family Christmas letter saying your cousin the valedictorian has been caught selling meth. Canada, she wrote “is prone to imagining itself more bound by a mythology of its own goodness than it actually is. But there’s a darker side to Canada’s smallness. Our tiny network of political, business and intellectual elite is insular and concentrated.

“The scandal now enveloping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a bilingual, feminist, pro-multicultural liberal who embodies much of what we like to celebrate in our national character — should put an end to this.”

Thursday, March 7: An ominous seeming tweet.

On March 7, Trudeau blamed an “erosion of trust” between Butts and Wilson-Raybould for the SNC-Lavalin eruption. Nothing he’d known about, but should have, he said, because he prides himself on making MPs and staff feel welcome to share their concerns. That’s when his former parliamentary secretary Celina Caesar-Chavannes tweeted:

Friday, March 8: Yep, that tweet sure was ominous.

People’s curiosity about what Caesar-Chavannes might be driving at soon was sated. She told the Globe and Mail that Trudeau had berated her in February for wanting to announce she would not run to retain her Whitby, Ontario, seat. She claimed Trudeau asked her to wait because she is Black, and Wilson-Raybould, who is Indigenous, was already making him look bad.

“He was yelling. He was yelling that I didn’t appreciate him, that he’d given me so much,” Caesar-Chavannes said.

No, countered a PMO spokesperson, the conversation was “frank,” but there was “absolutely no hostility.”

Friday, March 8: May I remind the jury.

On Friday, former Crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino issued a blistering call to remember what is really at stake in the SNC-Lavalin case.

“This case is the most serious and important prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.” It is, after all, about millions allegedly funnelled to the family of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, particularly his son Saadi.

“A Canadian company is charged with bribing a family infamous around the world for murder, torture, rape, abductions, and widespread human rights abuses, and doing it for its own profit. They didn't stop until the regime collapsed in 2011 and Swiss authorities came knocking...

“Yet repeatedly and overwhelmingly from the prime minister and his advisors, the hand-wringing has focused on Canadian jobs, without substantiation of what the real job losses might be,” wrote Garossino in the National Observer. “Not a whisper for the innocent civilians trampled under a dictator’s boot.”

Friday, March 8: Christy Clark (unfortunately) lends her expertise on ethics and parliamentary law.

Clark, who is employed doing something for a law firm but has nary a university degree, was chosen by CBC’s Power and Politics to provide insight. She did not dwell on who might have been trampled under a dictator’s boot. She did say why all the common law and constitutional protections ensuring the attorney general independence in prosecutions should have been moot for Wilson-Raybould. Trudeau was right to toss her:

Backlash ensued. Twitter erupted with a sense that others must be warned about Clark’s previous tenure as premier of B.C.

It was pointed out by journalist Bob Mackin that Clark chose as a top advisor Gwyn Morgan, no friend of Liberals but a big BC Liberal donor. At the time he also was chair of SNC-Lavalin, busy building projects for Gadhafi including a prison, as detailed in The Tyee. Expressing pride in saving the scandal-plagued company in 2013, he wrote: “Containing the damage from that fallout will make rebuilding the SNC-Lavalin brand a challenge — but far from an impossible one.”

The bad odour from Clark’s TV appearance clung not only to Trudeau but the CBC for presenting Clark with minimal context.

Saturday, March 9: Trudeau’s kitchen cabinet?

As opinion polls dropped for their leader and party, a couple of women Liberal MPs tweeted out their support. Unfortunately, their nearly identically worded praise prompted some to wonder if they’d been handed boilerplate language to fling into the maw of social media. One of the MPs, Anita Vandenbeld, who represents the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean, tweeted back that she was “offended” at the idea because “I wrote my tweet by myself in my kitchen.”

Sunday, March 10: The number at the heart of the scandal is a mirage.

Those 9,000 jobs Christy Clark said are the price of an attorney general’s independence?

On CTV’s Question Period, Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough was asked a question she must have known was coming. The previous Wednesday, Green leader Elizabeth May had grilled Gerald Butts on how the PMO could be so sure 9,000 jobs would evaporate if SNC-Lavalin, a company with billions in back orders, was to be convicted of corruption charges and deprived of federal contracts for a time. Butts could not cite a source for the 9,000 jobs number — and neither could Qualtrough five days later.

Monday, March 11: Is that our signature?

The international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has a working group on bribery and is watching the SNC scandal closely, it said in a statement issued Monday. Why is the OECD “concerned”? As the CBC explained:

“Canada is one of 44 nations that in 1999 signed the legally binding Anti-Bribery Convention, which established international standards to criminalize the bribery of foreign officials. The idea was that all signatories — including all 36 OECD nations as well as eight others, such as Russia and Brazil — would punish their own citizens and companies for trying to undermine governments elsewhere.”

By then CNN was explaining to the world “Why Trudeau’s ‘Lav-Scam’ Scandal Is Snowballing in Canada.”

After a week like that, Justin Trudeau and his team are going to need a bigger snow shovel.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics, Media

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