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opinion

Sheila Copps is a party animal. In other words, when her party needs her she comes running. She’s a scrapper from the Jean Chrétien days, when she built a reputation for taking on people twice her size. Lately, she’s been running a relentless Twitter campaign against Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former minister of justice and attorney general, who, by her own account, was subjected to heavy political pressure last fall as she tried to do her job.

This kind of attack is a common practice in politics. You get someone who’s close to the fray, but not in the fray, to disseminate the party line. Here’s the party line: Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a liar who tried to sneak a ”homophonic” judge (Ms. Copps’s word in a tweet) on to the Supreme Court of Canada when no one else was looking. It’s been insinuated that she’s also a leaker who spilled the beans to the media on the judge affair to make herself look good. Anyone that disloyal, Ms. Copps argued in a Toronto Star op-ed, shouldn’t be in the party.

She finished with a musty old joke about the difference between a cactus and a caucus. “On a cactus,” the punchline goes, “the pricks are on the outside.”

Frankly, I thought that female politicians weren’t supposed to call each other pricks. It violates their unwritten oath to do politics differently. Yet, Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been subjected to a smear campaign to destroy her reputation. Her loyalty, her competence and her judgment have all been attacked. She’s been branded as a rigid, dogmatic loner. But this week, the critics were thoroughly undermined when Ms. Wilson-Raybould herself called for an investigation into the leak about the judge affair, which means it’s quite unlikely that she is responsible for it.

So who leaked? Although Mr. Trudeau denied the leak, a good guess is that it was someone close to the Prime Minister’s Office who wanted to pile more discredit on her. In the anti-Jody version of the story, Glenn Joyal, the candidate she wanted as Supreme Court chief justice, was transformed from a kind and decent man – which by all accounts he is – into a raging homophobe (not “homophone”) who was ready to trample the Charter of Rights and Freedoms whenever he got the chance. In this version of the story, Justin Trudeau had to rescue Canada by reining in his reckless minister of justice.

But stories put out to discredit Ms. Wilson-Raybould have a way of backfiring. This one is no different. Law societies are appalled at what happened to Mr. Joyal, who was dragged through the muck for someone else’s political advantage. As B.C. law associate professor Emma Cunliffe put it in The Globe and Mail, “The process only works if everybody has faith in [the system’s] integrity and its confidentiality.”

Canadians now have a stark choice about which politician they should believe: the smarmy Justin, with his repeated reassurance that there’s nothing to see here, or the earnest Jody, who’s so laden with probity and notes – and even tape recordings – that you wonder if she’s ever cracked a joke. It’s impossible to believe them both.

Liberals argue that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and her new best friend, Jane Philpott (who also resigned her cabinet post presumably because she saw or heard something she thought was very, very bad) are free to speak in the Commons any time they want. So why haven’t they? Because Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott claim they’ve been silenced by Mr. Trudeau’s refusal to extend the limited waivers he gave them.

It’s abundantly clear that Liberals who run the justice committee and the ethics committee don’t want to hear from them either. Ms. Wilson-Raybould thinks the Supreme Court leak should be investigated; Mr. Trudeau, so far, does not. He has professed supreme indifference toward getting to the bottom of it.

Oddly enough, Mr. Trudeau has also not displayed an urge to kick the troublemaking women out of caucus and around the block – even though there appears to be widespread suspicion within the party that they will be satisfied with nothing less than his head.

Mr. Trudeau and his gang are still betting that their safest way through this swamp is to say as little as possible and try to chip away at Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s reputation. This strategy fell apart as soon as Ms. Philpott, one of his ablest ministers, resigned. It was plausible that he had one rogue lone wolf in his cabinet. But it’s not plausible that he had two.

Wente: Islamophobia after New Zealand: Everyone wants to politicize it

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Wente: Justin Trudeau will weather this

So why hasn’t he gotten rid of them, as Ms. Copps believes he should?

Maybe he’s a coward. Maybe he’s afraid that if he cuts them loose, they’ll go public and bring him down with what they know. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder he wants to keep the “pricks” in the tent.

Meanwhile, the bleeding has turned into a hemorrhage, with serious consequences for the fall election. According to the latest Angus Reid poll, the Conservatives (at 37 per cent) now have a nine-point lead over the Liberals (who’ve been driven down to 28 per cent), without lifting a finger. This affair is not about SNC-Lavalin any more. It is now a straightforward referendum on Mr. Trudeau and his judgment, and he’s losing.

If only Gerald Butts were around. He’d know what to do.