Let’s reject Gerald Butts’s claim in his committee testimony that the Prime Minister’s Office did not pressure Jody Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin case. Let’s reject his view that her cabinet demotion had nothing to do with her unwillingness to co-operate on the file. Instead, let’s accept Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s version of events and conclude that she showed courage, not spite; that she stood for high principle, and performed a noble public service.
That would still leave one major question: Why is she staying in the Liberal caucus?
If she is as offended as she says she is by the treatment she received, why would she even want to remain? After taking a wrecking ball to the government, its leader and the Liberal brand during an election year, how can she feel she is welcome?
Putting the public interest ahead of the party interest is always right. What Ms. Wilson-Raybould did was ethically admirable. It was also politically reckless – needlessly so. Conservatives are trampolining in delight. Did she really want to help pave their way to power?
There are various ways, diplomatic and undiplomatic, to present dissenting views. She opted for a public prosecution of her government, for taking her opposition to the max, for going from team player to team slayer. In an appearance of nearly four hours before a parliamentary committee, she detailed private conversations, spoke of veiled threats and invoked Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.
She surely could have made her case in a less destructive, more collaborative, more restrained way. Why did she not lay out her concerns in a detailed memo to the Prime Minister and share with him the memorandum of law her deputy provided to her?
It could be that the scandal will soon disappear from the news, that the Liberals will recover and that Ms. Wilson-Raybould will rise in the party again. While there might be a trust issue going forward, observed Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia, “I think with time, any wounds will heal.”
The more likely possibility, however, is that the scandal will drag on – that what Ms. Wilson-Raybould did will cause the Liberals sustained grief, and possibly even cost them the fall election.
How is she to feel sitting as a Liberal member in such an environment, viewed as a hero by the parties across the aisle but as a saboteur within her own party? Will she be content? Will she not feel miserable being marginalized? Why stay?
At the moment, she has noted, she feels encouraged to remain because there has been a tremendous outpouring of support for what she has done. She has the support of media pundits, who are largely siding with her view and not that of Mr. Butts. She has support from opposition parties and from her Indigenous community.
But some Liberals, such as Sheila Copps, have come out against her. Ms. Copps said that if thousands of Indigenous jobs were at stake, her view on the SNC-Lavalin case would have been a lot different. For that, Ms. Copps was tarred as a racist.
Given the environment, Liberals can’t evict Ms. Wilson-Raybould. She would have to take the initiative herself to cross the floor to another party or sit as an independent. Pressure will grow for her to take that route.
Acts of disloyalty, which perpetrators do not view in such a light, are hardly new to the Liberal Party. They’ve usually been triggered by leadership lust. Paul Martin took on Jean Chrétien. Jean Chrétien took on John Turner. John Turner took on Pierre Trudeau, resigning from his government.
On the Conservative side, Lucien Bouchard bolted Brian Mulroney’s ranks to form the Bloc Québécois, almost deforming the country in the process. Dalton Camp rebelled against John Diefenbaker, as did several Tory cabinet ministers. Henry Herbert Stevens, trade minister to R.B. Bennett, quit that government to form the Reconstruction Party.
But on the matter of loyalty, a woman from the Indigenous community presents a new dynamic. How different is the loyalty concept to a community betrayed so often through the country’s history?
It’s been a community that has stood apart, has been made to feel apart and is apart. That Ms. Wilson-Raybould reacted the way she did should not have come as a surprise to Mr. Trudeau. Her people, with good reason, were never really part of the team. As the Prime Minister is ruefully finding out, they still aren’t.