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politics briefing newsletter


First off, an apology: Due to some technical difficulties, we were not able to send out yesterday’s politics newsletter. However, today we bring you an exclusive and a multitude of stories ranging from the Alberta budget recap to new GDP numbers.

Now, Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife’s exclusive interview with Kathleen Roussel.

Her name should ring some bells for you. Ms. Roussel is the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and she ended up playing an important role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal of last year by refusing to give the company a deferred prosecution agreement. (If you need a recap of that story, see our explainer of the entire saga.)

For the first time, Ms. Roussel explains her reasons for rejecting SNC’s request for a DPA, also known as a remediation agreement. A DPA allows a company to avoid criminal prosecution by paying hefty fines and changing the way it does business. She says that the offences alleged against the company – including allegations the company paid $48-million to influence government contracts in Libya – were too serious for her to grant such an agreement.

"It was long in time – if you look at the hierarchy of the company, how high the scheme went in the hierarchy of the company. I think it is a pretty unprecedented offence in Canada and as a result of that, I didn’t feel it was in the public interest,” she said.

She also revealed to Robert Fife that she had no idea of the political pressure then-attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould felt as the Prime Minister’s Office was trying to persuade her to end the fraud and bribery case against SNC.

In the end, SNC-Lavalin decided to work out a court-approved plea deal with her office. A division of the company pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud over $5,000, received a three-year probation order and paid a $280-million penalty. In return, the Crown dropped corruption-related charges, which could have prevented SNC-Lavalin from bidding on federal contracts for a decade.

“The greater lesson is how valuable it is to have really independent institutions dealing with these files. I think our system really did work as it should and I think it is borne out by the ultimate results on the file,” Ms. Roussel said.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, usually written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


Talks continue today between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and senior government officials. Both sides declined to comment on the specifics that were discussed Thursday but the continuation of the meeting is seen as a sign of progress toward resolving an impasse that has caused protests and blockades across the country over the past three weeks.

A new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Yves Giroux, declared that the federal finances are sustainable over the long run. In fact, Mr. Giroux’s report said that the government could permanently increase spending or reduce taxes by about $41-billion and maintain its current debt-to-GDP ratio over the long term. That was the good news. Many provinces, on the other hand, are in a tougher spot.

On the topic of provinces and budgets, Alberta tabled its financial plan for the future yesterday. Jason Kenney’s UCP budget is banking on a significant recovery in the oil patch and is trimming the public service to save some costs in the meantime. The education and health-care sectors escaped huge cuts that were feared.

This morning, Statistics Canada released new economic numbers, that show the Canadian economy nearly ground to a halt in the final quarter of 2019. Real gross domestic product inched up by an annualized 0.3 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday, matching what the Bank of Canada and private-sector economists had expected. For the year, real GDP rose by 1.6 per cent, marking a slowdown from 2018’s 2-per-cent pace. These numbers come as the global economy continues to feel the effects of the spread of COVID-19.

Lynn Beyak is back in the news. The Ontario senator apologized earlier in the week for derogatory letters about Indigenous people she posted to her website. This, however, did not stop her Senate colleagues from voting to suspend her for a second time.

The federal government is under increasing pressure from various groups to help Canadians and permanent residents leave countries where they are trapped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The vice-president of the Iranian Canadian Congress urged the government to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran, saying the organization received more than 100 e-mails from Canadians in Iran, who have been unable to leave the country after most commercial flights were cancelled due to the outbreak. Meanwhile, a group of citizens and permanent residents trapped in China sent the Prime Minister’s Office a letter, urging him to send a third chartered flight to bring them home.

The stage has been set for the federal Conservative leadership race. The deadline to register to replace Andrew Scheer was Thursday midnight. Seven candidates – including ex-cabinet minister Peter MacKay and current MP Erin O’Toole – have been formally accepted into the race. Two other candidates have filed the necessary paperwork and are expected to be confirmed as well.

Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, has vehemently rejected allegations he tried to bribe a former rival in the area of bankruptcy turnarounds to stop making complaints about his former company, McKinsey and Co.

And for those keeping tabs on the Royals-Not-Royals, Harry and Meghan, news came out yesterday that the RCMP will end its security protection of the couple over the coming weeks.


Andrew Coyne on the Conservative leadership race: “So a race that was supposed to be an opportunity for renewal for a party that, despite its failure to break through in 2019, was well placed to defeat a weakened Liberal government in the next election, has instead dwindled to a contest between two serious candidates and a collection of rookies, oddballs and outsiders. The word “fiasco” comes to mind.

Mi’kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater on the Wet’suwet’en-CoastalGas Link conflict: “After the events of the past few weeks in Canada, one thing remains clear: Canada’s Indian policy hasn’t changed much since its inception. Indian policy has always had two objectives: to obtain Indian lands and resources and to reduce financial obligations to Indigenous peoples acquired through treaties or other means.

André Picard on the possibility of a COVID-19 pandemic: “In fact, preparing for a pandemic requires doing a whole bunch of little things well: stepping up testing, aggressive follow-up when cases are detected, equipping health workers with protective equipment and good communication with the public on how to protect themselves (mostly boring stuff such as washing their hands).”

Kelly Cryderman on the Alberta budget: “What might have been viewed as a reasonable forecast from the Alberta government just a few weeks ago now feels optimistic. Last year, China accounted for more than three-quarters of global oil demand growth. The International Energy Agency says the widespread shutdown of China’s economy means global oil demand is facing its first quarterly contraction in more than a decade.”

Gary Mason on the Alberta budget: “If nothing else, the budget tabled by the province’s United Conservative Party government on Thursday lays bare just how far the province has plunged since those heady days in the late 1970s and early 80s, when 30 per cent of the revenue generated by the oil and gas industry was deposited into the Heritage Fund.”

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