Justin Trudeau and the Old Boys at SNC-Lavalin will never understand why so many people are so angry at them. They’ll never understand why those women over at the Justice Department fought them and defeated them.
But others do understand. They know what frustrated privilege looks like, what happens when powerful men don’t get their way.
“I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s my job," Mr. Trudeau repeated, defiantly, Thursday, after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found the Prime Minister had repeatedly violated the Conflict of Interest Act in trying to prevent the criminal prosecution of the engineering firm. “I disagree with the Ethics Commissioner’s conclusions," he declared, even though “I take full responsibility.”
Prime Minister: If you won’t apologize and you reject the report’s conclusions, you are taking no responsibility at all.
But this fits with Mr. Trudeau’s attitude and the attitude of those who surrounded him during this affair.
Consider: SNC-Lavalin had been pushing for a deferred prosecution agreement that would let it escape trial on corruption charges practically from the day the Liberals took office. It worked.
After then-chief executive officer Neil Bruce met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau at the Davos Economic Forum (of course), Mr. Morneau inserted a measure into the 2018 budget that would allow a company in SNC-Lavalin’s situation to secure a deferred prosecution agreement.
Mr. Morneau was shocked when Kathleen Roussel, Director of Public Prosecutions and the first woman to stand up against this Old Boys club, decided later that year that SNC-Lavalin did not qualify for a deferred prosecution agreement. Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau believed Jody Wilson-Raybould, as attorney-general, should intervene. Ms Wilson-Raybould, the second woman in the line of fire, backed Ms. Roussel.
The Old Boys fought back. Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who is legal counsel to SNC-Lavalin, offered an opinion that an intervention by the attorney-general would be legitimate. Another former Supreme Court justice, John Major, weighed in on a related matter.
Meanwhile, aides to Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau put pressure on Jessica Prince, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, to make her boss see the light. They failed.
Mr. Trudeau and Michael Wernick, then-clerk of the Privy Council, met in person with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, to no avail. But aides Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques kept pushing. So did Gerry Butts, Mr. Trudeau’s then-principal secretary, and, to a lesser extend, Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff.
Kevin Lynch, chairman of SNC-Lavalin and a former clerk of the Privy Council, and Robert Prichard, legal counsel for SNC-Lavalin and former president of at University of Toronto (among many other things), took the matter to Scott Brison, then-president of the Treasury Board. Mr. Brison was sympathetic, but he got nowhere with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, either.
SNC-Lavalin proposed that Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, mediate a settlement. But Ms. McLachlin had her own reservations and Ms. Wilson-Raybould saw no need to consult her. So that was that.
Put it all together. On one side, a coalition that included Mr. Trudeau, two cabinet ministers, the clerk of the Privy Council, political advisers and the leadership at SNC-Lavalin. Almost every one of them a man, steeped in the Ottawa establishment and used to being obeyed.
On the other side, a group of women, led by Ms. Wilson-Raybould, that included her chief of staff, the Director of Public Prosecutions and deputy minister Nathalie Drouin. They were joined by Jane Philpott, who ultimately resigned from cabinet in solidarity with her friend.
According to the report, Mr. Trudeau’s lawyer described the Prime Minister’s relationship with Ms. Wilson-Raybould as "challenging and tense.” He alleged friction between the minister and cabinet colleagues, and described her decision-making as “infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation.”
So which is it? Did a difficult and unqualified attorney-general resist the reasonable advice of the Prime Minister and his senior advisers, who were trying to save a valued company from an unnecessary prosecution that could put it out of business, costing thousands of jobs?
Or, did a domineering group of entitled men unsuccessfully try to bully Ms. Wilson-Raybould into interfering in a criminal prosecution, for which the Prime Minister should apologize?
We know what Mr. Trudeau thinks. What do you think?