Re: Trudeau 'welcomes' ethics probe of alleged PMO interference in SNC-Lavalin case1 day ago
When Gerald Butts resigned as Justin Trudeau’s closest and most important adviser Monday, quitting the job that made him the most powerful man in Ottawa other than the prime minister, he offered an official (and somewhat lengthy) explanation.
“The Prime Minister of Canada’s Office is much larger and more important than any of its staff,” he said. It was “in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away.”
He noted he has been accused by “anonymous sources” of having put pressure on former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin’s efforts to escape prosecution on corruption charges. He categorically denied the allegations: “Any accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the attorney general is simply not true.”
Which raises the most intriguing aspect of Butts’s departure. He is, it has been widely reported, one of the prime minister’s closest friends. They’ve been pals since university days at McGill. A lot of people believe Trudeau would never have entered politics if not for Butts, and might not have succeeded in winning Canada’s highest office without his support and advice.
And yet he’s quitting, not over some egregiously misappropriate decision or action, but over something he, Trudeau and the Liberal party insist never happened. Butts not only dismissed the suggestion he acted inappropriately, but maintained the opposite.
“We honoured the unique role of the attorney general. At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians.” Not only that, but he thought his relationship with Wilson-Raybould was fine. “From my perspective, our relationship has always been defined by mutual respect, candour and an honest desire to work together.”
That echoes Trudeau’s own assessment of the situation, which he admitted had left him perplexed. He said he was “surprised and disappointed” by her resignation. In no way did he put pressure on her to act against her will. If she felt otherwise, she should have come to him with her complaint. “The government of Canada did its job and to the clear public standards expected of it,” Trudeau maintained. “If anyone felt differently, they had an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that.”
All of which raises a very curious question. If Butts did absolutely nothing wrong; if neither he, the prime minister nor anyone else acted improperly in any manner; if this whole thing is, in essence, a figment of the imagination of Jody Wilson-Raybould, why is Butts stepping down and leaving the prime minister flailing for a solution to the worst crisis he’s faced since becoming prime minister?
Wilson-Raybould, remember, hasn’t said a word about the expanding disaster. When demoted from one of cabinet’s top posts, she kept her mouth closed about the reason, though she was clearly unhappy. There was no indication she planned to quit the new, lesser post as veterans affairs minister until Trudeau more or less forced her hand, suggesting that her continued presence in cabinet indicated she was OK with the way things were working out.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie TelfordPhoto by: L
Given the absence of anything resembling a smoking gun, it would seem sensible, therefore, to wait and hear what she has to say before breaking up the partnership that largely put the Liberals in power. The question of why Butts isn’t doing that, and why Trudeau agreed with his decision, remains dangling over the whole odd affair even as Butts packs his bags.
It usually takes governments several mandates to stumble into the sort of trouble the Liberals are in. Usually it comes from age, exhaustion and the accumulation of political baggage. Jean Chretien won three majorities before the sponsorship scandal caught up to him, and he had retired before voters eventually removed his successor from office. Stephen Harper was prime minister for nine years before voters decided a change was in order. Trudeau has been in power for just three-quarters of a mandate, and the Lavalin controversy is just the latest in a string of serious missteps. A determined optimist might note that Lavalin has at least diverted attention from the furor over the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, but it’s difficult to see much comfort arising from that fact.
Meng continues to await a Canadian judge’s ruling on whether to extradite her to the U.S., a decision seemingly certain to spark a new eruption from either China or the U.S., the two forces between which Ottawa is being squeezed. That will be followed by a decision on whether to exclude Huawei from Canadian 5G networks, which, again, will upset either Washington or Beijing. Meanwhile, the independence of the director of public prosecutions has been raised in yet another case with potent political implications: Kathleen Roussel’s office issued a statement denying it was directed by the Privy Council Office in the prosecution of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, who asserts he was railroaded by allegations involving a $668 million naval supply ship, and is due in court in August, just as federal election campaigning picks up speed.
It’s a daunting tally of challenges the Liberals face as they gear up for the election that’s just eight months away. And Trudeau must now confront it without the man rightly or wrongly considered his Svengali. All over something the prime minister and his friend insist never happened.
Even for Canada, it’s a strange sort of scandal.