The consensus of the punditocracy seems to be that today’s resignation of Gerald Butts is another Liberal blunder in handling the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The thinking is that it will be seen as an admission of wrong-doing: the obvious question is why, if you did nothing wrong, if you have always shown the utmost respect for Jody Wilson-Raybould as you say, did you resign? Butts’s resignation will not put the controversy behind him; it will only lead to a feeding frenzy, adding to the questions surround this matter and keeping it in the limelight longer. So the consensus goes.
I dissent from this view. I think Butts’s resignation was a deft move, an attempt to take attention away from the issue that really has the potential to damage the Trudeau administration.
What the Liberals want to do is make this all about what transpired in the Fall of 2018 between Wilson-Raybould and various Liberal political actors – the PM, the PMO, the PCO, Cabinet, etc. – with respect to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
They want the debate to be about the distinction between “undue pressure” and “due diligence” in protecting Canadian interests.
They want the debate to be about why Wilson-Raybould didn’t resign in the Fall of 2018 if she felt that undue pressure was being applied against her.
While choosing that field of battle has its risks, it is the best terrain they have available to fight on.
At least Liberals can say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating: however queasy some people might be about political actors urging statute-barred economic considerations be brought to bear on a criminal prosecution, those pressures were rightly resisted in the end.
No harm, no foul.
Certainly, this line of defence will play well with the Liberal base, who will be inclined to accept it quickly and move on. One can well imagine some Liberals getting on their usual high-horse to claim the moral high ground,
After all, not one but two Quebec Premiers had already done so publicly, anyway.
Political opponents will rightly be unimpressed by this defence, but at least it muddies the waters and provides Liberals with simple talking points to repeat endlessly in response to every question.
Where the Liberals are much more vulnerable concerns how Prime Minister Trudeau behaved after the pressure was “successfully” resisted by Wilson-Raybould.
Trudeau, I’m sure, never told her in so many words that her job as Attorney-General depended on her instructing the Director of Public Prosecutions to negotiate a settlement.
He didn’t do anything that directly and transparently constitutes improper political interference into a criminal prosecution; he didn’t have to. He could achieve the same end in a secretive, round-about, sneaky way, months later.
The move that really deserves our closest scrutiny is what transpired in the January 2019 cabinet shuffle.
Sure, an Attorney-General serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.
Sure, there are always multiple factors to consider when a cabinet is shuffled.
Sure, it is impossible to divine the Prime Minister’s motives, and equally impossible to compel him to divulge them (truthfully).
But one can make reasonable inferences from behaviour and from commentary.
Most tellingly, in this regard, is a remark made by Wilson-Raybould’s replacement, the current Attorney-General, David Lametti, on a news program a couple days after the Globe & Mail story broke – i.e. too soon for the Liberals to have convened to get their talking points sorted out.
What Lametti revealed is that a settlement with SNC-Lavalin is still possible, still on the table, still in the cards. Bingo!
As soon as Wilson-Raybould was able to confirm Lametti’s statement, she tendered her resignation. That statement proves the Prime Minister a liar when he assured Wilson-Raybould in the Fall of 2018 that the decision on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin was “hers alone.”
In fact, we now know, it was only hers to make if she made the politically expedient decision; when she made the “wrong” decision, then it suddenly wasn’t hers alone to make – it suddenly became Lametti’s decision to make. Which is to say, ultimately, it was Trudeau’s decision to make all along.
Lametti’s unscripted statement, in all of the context, is tantamount to admitting that the purpose of the shuffle at the Attorney-General position was to facilitate political interference into a criminal matter.
Note that Lametti, who couldn’t get his mug in front of enough cameras in the days following the initial Globe & Mail report, suddenly disappeared after uttering this gaffe. (A political gaffe is defined as accidentally telling the truth.) Note that the Prime Minister has not contradicted Lametti in the eight days since the
Trudeau has not said that Lametti spoke out of turn; he has not reassured the public that the SNC-Lavalin decision is res judicata (already decided). In fairness, it must be noted that no reporter or politician has been astute enough to have asked him about this, either. Maybe tomorrow, somebody will.
We need a full airing of the machinations that transpired in the Fall of 2018 on the SNC-Lavalin
It’s not that the allegations of political interference in the Fall of 2018 are irrelevant; they are highly relevant.
Whether or not they, in themselves, constitute political interference in a criminal prosecution, they are crucial evidence for interpreting the shuffle of Wilson-Raybould out of the Attorney-General position in January 2019.
Butts, by resigning, is hoping that everyone gets so caught up in how he weighs in on the merits of his interventions on behalf of SNC-Lavalin that we lose sight of the