For weeks, as the SNC-Lavalin scandal consumed his government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted that Jody Wilson-Raybould would never have been shuffled out of the justice portfolio had Scott Brison not suddenly resigned as head of the Treasury Board in January.
It always seemed strange that Mr. Trudeau kept bringing up Mr. Brison’s name while he sought to dismiss allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office had put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to reverse a decision by Canada’s top prosecutor to take SNC-Lavalin to court.
After all, Mr. Brison had resigned under a cloud, one that involved very similar allegations of political interference in the judicial process. Even if Mr. Brison’s spiel about wanting to spend more time with his family was true, everyone in Ottawa knew that the Nova Scotia Liberal was at the centre of a brewing controversy.
Lawyers for Vice-Admiral Mark Norman had been seeking key government documents they believed would show the former second-in-command of the Canadian Forces had been the victim of a smear campaign by the Trudeau PMO. It was all but certain that Mr. Brison would be called to testify at the trial of Vice-Adm. Norman, who had been accused of leaking cabinet secrets around a $668-million sole-source contract to lease a supply ship.
The defence strategy was to focus on allegations that Mr. Brison lobbied cabinet on behalf of New Brunswick-based Irving Shipbuilding to nix the contract awarded under the Conservatives to Quebec’s Davie Shipyard. Vice-Adm. Norman’s chief lawyer, the formidable Marie Henein, made it clear she intended to get to the bottom of it all in order to clear her client’s name.
That must have been a frightening prospect for even Gerald Butts, who was Mr. Trudeau’s intrepid principal secretary before resigning in February. Ms. Henein had also been seeking correspondence between the office of the director of public prosecution (PPO) and the Privy Council Office, as part of a strategy to show that political influence had been brought to bear in charging Vice-Adm. Norman. It forced PPO director Kathleen Roussel to issue a rare public statement, insisting that prosecutors act “free from any partisan or political consideration.”
The move Wednesday by Ms. Roussel’s office to drop the charge against Vice-Adm. Norman should come as a relief for the Trudeau government. It no longer faces the prospect of a trial in which Mr. Brison, Mr. Butts and former Privy Council chief Michael Wernick might have been required to spill the beans about the inner workings of the Trudeau government – and potentially interfere with the election campaign. Ms. Henein would not have made them look good.
Still, in dropping the charge against Vice-Adm. Norman, Ms. Roussel’s office only adds to the intrigue surrounding the Norman affair. New evidence brought forward by Ms. Henein’s team persuaded prosecutors that there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction. But the Opposition Conservatives are not about to let that be the final word.
“I think there should not have been any charge in the first place,” Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said on Wednesday. “I think we need an inquiry to see if there was political influence to make someone the scapegoat for the leak.”
When Vice-Adm. Norman was suspended from his job in 2017, the Trudeau Liberals were still confident and arrogant enough about their electoral prospects that they didn’t seem much perturbed about the whiff of scandal surrounding the affair. Even before Vice-Adm. Norman was charged, Mr. Trudeau insisted the matter would “inevitably” end up before the courts. Many saw his comment as out of bounds, if not reckless.
But until the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke, Mr. Trudeau had been given a bye by most of the Canadian media. As long as the Prime Minister could credibly claim to be fighting the good fight in the name of equality and social justice, no one seemed to care much about complaints concerning his haughtiness and the PMO’s heavy-handedness.
Those days are over. If Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals are to merit re-election this fall, he must show that he has learned from his mistakes. The false modesty and figurehead behaviour need to be replaced by genuine humility and engagement in the decisions of his own government.
Mr. Trudeau needs to take responsibility for his government’s failures, instead of constantly seeking to pass the buck. Apologizing to Vice-Adm. Norman would be a good start.