Justin Trudeau used his power as Prime Minister “to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit" public prosecutors and his own attorney-general. And he did it over and over and over again, concludes Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion. In modern times, no prime minister has been found culpable for anything this grave while still in office.
It gets even worse. The Ethics Commissioner reached his decision despite the government’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry by declining to release witnesses from their vows to respect cabinet confidentiality. The commissioner even appealed to Mr. Trudeau in person to grant him access, to no avail.
“If our Office is to remain truly independent and fulfill its purpose, I must have unfettered access to all information that could be relevant to the exercise of my mandate,” Mr. Dion protested in his report.
But even with the evidence at hand, he was able to find that Mr. Trudeau violated Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act in three instances, by using the power of his office to seek to influence another person, then-attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, to benefit a third party, the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
The question now is whether and how much voters care.
Mr. Dion’s report is incredibly damning. It details the relentless lobbying by senior officials at SNC-Lavalin to secure a deferred prosecution agreement from the Director of Public Prosecutions, so as to avoid a trial on corruption.
We didn’t know before that Scott Brison, who was then Treasury Board president, also had his arm twisted. But whether it was was Mr. Brison, Finance Minister Bill Morneau or Mr. Trudeau himself, the company’s executives got a sympathetic hearing. Almost everyone in the government wanted to prevent a criminal trial, which could damage SNC and cost jobs.
And hurt the Liberals’ re-election chances. “The governing party also considered the partisan political consequences of not being able to secure a remediation agreement for the company,” Mr. Dion concluded. “Any partisan political interest that was put to Ms. Wilson‑Raybould … was improper.” As if that needed to be spelled out.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau were shocked when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided last September to proceed with a criminal trial. And they grew increasingly frustrated when Ms. Wilson-Raybould wouldn’t overrule that decision.
We also learned that, even as the Prime Minister’s men and women urged Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek the opinion of Beverley McLachlin, they were trying to persuade the former Supreme Court chief justice to step in as a mediator. It was a setup.
And we learned that Mr. Morneau, in his testimony, had a terrible time remembering what he said in meetings, or whether he read certain memos.
Mr. Trudeau remains defiant. While insisting that “I take responsibility" for the events described by Mr. Dion’s report, “I disagree with some of his conclusions,” he told reporters Wednesday. Nor would he apologize. “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs.” Call it non-responsibility responsibility.
This is the second time this Prime Minister has been censured for violating the Conflict of Interest Act. But the all-expenses-paid family vacations on the private island of the Aga Khan, which earned the censure of the previous commissioner, Mary Dawson, is picayune compared with this offence.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Mr. Trudeau crossed so many red lines that the RCMP should investigate. But it’s up to voters to decide whether and how much Mr. Trudeau should be punished.
This Liberal government has things to be proud of: investing heavily in infrastructure, taking meaningful action to fight climate change, negotiating important trade agreements. But it has also wracked up serial deficits, infuriated some provincial governments over the carbon tax and arguably mishandled relations with several countries, especially China.
And now the Ethics Commissioner has found that the Prime Minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to interfere in a criminal prosecution − a serious offence for which he won’t apologize.
How should that weigh in the balance? Voters, who are sovereign, will decide.