Since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, a consistent pattern has emerged of a leader who is strangely detached from what goes on in his own government.
We saw this again on Tuesday when Mr. Trudeau said he was “surprised” by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation only hours after he declared that “her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.”
That latter statement appeared to be an attempt to suggest Ms. Wilson-Raybould was at peace with her boss’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file, even though her demotion in January and everything since indicated the contrary.
Anyone could read between the lines of the statement she issued on the day of her demotion to sense that her move from Justice to the less-pivotal Veterans Affairs portfolio was not voluntary and stemmed from a falling-out of some kind.
It was beyond the pale for Mr. Trudeau to say, as he did on Tuesday, that if Ms. Wilson-Raybould had been unhappy with his office’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file, she had a “responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me.”
As if. This is, after all, a Prime Minister who reportedly brushed off repeated requests from his own foreign affairs minister for a private meeting during the entire 14 months Stéphane Dion served in the job. And one who, when the two men did find themselves stuck on a plane together, balked at Mr. Dion’s attempt to engage him in a serious discussion on Canada’s policy toward Russia, according to a book on Canadian foreign policy by former Dion aide Jocelyn Coulon.
This is also a Prime Minister who, in 2017, told then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson that he viewed his role as “ceremonial” in testimony he provided during an investigation into his 2015 Christmas vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.
As Ms. Dawson wrote in her report, citing Mr. Trudeau’s testimony: “The meetings he attends as Prime Minister are not business meetings. Rather they are high-level meetings centred on relationship building and ensuring that all parties are moving forward together. Specific issues or details are worked out before, subsequently or independently of any meeting he attends.”
If Mr. Dion’s experience and Mr. Trudeau’s testimony to Ms. Dawson are indeed indicative of his management style, why would any minister think going to him would make a meaningful difference?
Only Ms. Wilson-Raybould can say whether she considered appealing directly to the Prime Minister or whether she was rebuffed in her attempts to do so. And for now, the former justice minister is staying mum while she seeks legal advice from a former Supreme Court judge on what she can and cannot say about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
All we now know, as The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday, is that Ms. Wilson-Raybould met with Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, at the Château Laurier hotel in December, and that SNC-Lavalin’s request to have criminal charges stayed in exchange for a so-called “remediation agreement” was discussed at that meeting.
Did Mr. Butts press Ms. Wilson-Raybould then to override the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, who had rejected SNC-Lavalin’s request in October?
This is just one of the questions that can only be answered through an official inquiry into allegations that members of the Prime Minister’s staff applied pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould. It’s possible she misconstrued entreaties from the Prime Minister’s Office as pressure to intervene in a criminal case, threatening the independence of Canada’s justice system, when they were merely an expression of the PMO’s views on the matter for her to consider.
The problem is that, with Mr. Trudeau’s apparent preference for delegating decision-making regarding the “details” of what goes on in his government, his ministers can only assume that Mr. Butts and a small clique in the PMO effectively run the show. And it’s hard to conclude otherwise. Barely a month after meeting with Mr. Butts, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was demoted – despite a strong record as justice minister.
It’s also hard not to conclude that ministers perceived by the PMO to be “difficult” are summarily disposed of. Mr. Dion and Ms. Wilson-Raybould were more interested in substance than selfies. They understood that if Canada truly wanted to make its mark on the world stage and take concrete steps toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, its government needs to express more than good intentions. That it needs someone at the top willing to fight for its principles, not just pay lip service to them.
We now know where that got them.