Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications to Stephen Harper, is a communications consultant based in London.
The Liberals have spoken.
In showing Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott the door weeks after they both expressed a lack of confidence in Justin Trudeau over his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Liberal caucus is finally hoping to put the worst of the scandal behind them before this year’s election campaign gets under way.
And while hardcore Liberal partisans will undoubtedly cheer the removal of the two former star cabinet ministers, another subset of Canadians – those who have yet to hear a convincing explanation from Mr. Trudeau over his dealings with Ms. Wilson-Raybould – will be left wondering if he isn’t simply trying to cover his tracks.
For a prime minister positioned as the leader that the West’s liberal world order needs, doesn’t it feel just a little bit Trump-like?
If you find that comparison a little tart, think again. Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal caucus have been channelling Donald Trump and the Republican Party, with Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott jointly playing the role of former FBI director James Comey, ejected from the President’s orbit for refusing to play ball on the Russia investigation.
Remember too that this is actually the second time Mr. Trudeau has removed Ms. Wilson-Raybould as an impediment. As the released recording of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s December call with Michael Wernick demonstrates, the former attorney-general knew full well the price of her continued refusal to offer a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) to SNC-Lavalin. “I think [Mr. Trudeau]'s going to find a way to get it done, one way or the other. He’s in that kind of mood,” Mr. Wernick warns. “I’m waiting for the ... other shoe to drop,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould says later, at the end of the call. Three weeks later, that sole landed, with Ms. Wilson-Raybould feeling that she was removed from Justice because of her unwillingness to budge on SNC-Lavalin.
All that was missing was a close-up of Mr. Trudeau at his desk screaming “you’re fired.”
In his response to the burgeoning scandal, the day The Globe and Mail broke the story, Mr. Trudeau dismissed it as “false” – effectively deploying Mr. Trump’s favourite dodge, “fake news.” When Ms. Wilson-Raybould later put a considerable trove of facts on the table at a parliamentary committee, Mr. Trudeau discounted them without offering up any of his own evidence. It was hardly the response of a party committed, at least in theory, to “evidence-based policy.”
Nor has the quality of the response improved over time. When asked about the Wernick tape, the Prime Minister’s Office was forced to state that the soon-to-be former Privy Council Clerk had never briefed them on the very call it had asked him to make, the one in which the attorney-general said that she had made up her mind on the DPA issue, felt this was “like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence” and made an explicit reference to Richard Nixon’s "Saturday Night Massacre.” Even a serial fabulist like Mr. Trump would struggle to come up with a more implausible line.
And yet, no matter how much the truth is stretched by Mr. Trudeau or his office, the Liberal backbench remains firmly in its leader’s pocket. It defies logic: a leader being pummelled by scandal, one that’s dragging his party down in the polls, is typically the one forced to answer tough questions from his troops. But in Mr. Trudeau’s case, the onus has been placed on the dissenters to explain why they’re being such bad sports, before they’re eventually booted for their sins.
That’s because nearly all of the Liberal MPs now in the House of Commons owe their political life to Mr. Trudeau. His name recognition and its importance to their re-election prospects is why the rank-and-file just want the issue to go away, even if that means another committee has to be shut down, or the people who feel they’ve done nothing but hold up a mirror to improper behaviour have to be kicked out. You don’t bring principles to a knife fight.
After all, would notorious hard man Stephen Harper have tolerated Ms. Wilson-Raybould or Ms. Philpott’s behaviour? Would Mr. Harper have permitted, say, Jason Kenney or Lisa Raitt to stay in caucus had they criticized his actions on Mike Duffy? I mean, didn’t he boot out Garth Turner for the comparatively minor sin of sharing caucus discussions on his blog?
Whatever his sins, Mr. Harper was never involved in something this serious. In his case, his government even passed the legislation that would, more than a decade later, be at the centre of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s belief that Mr. Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin suggestions verged into the territory of political interference.. And while each leader must figure out where to draw the line on discipline within their own administrations, the same holds true for his or her caucus. Going against the party line is one thing; a Prime Minister potentially challenging a fundamental principle of the law is another. The Liberals, dripping with Trumpy tribalism, appear to have made their choice.
The Liberals were the ones who ran on the proposition that “better is always possible.” Now it seems like they might not clear even the low bar set by the Republicans who have enabled the powerful miscreant south of the border.