It’s not hard to see why most Liberal MPs felt Jody Wilson-Raybould should be booted out of the caucus. There’s no “I” in “team,” but in the Liberal team, there’s a capital “T” for Justin Trudeau.
There really wasn’t much more of an explanation than that from Mr. Trudeau, when you get right down to it, for why Ms. Wilson-Raybould and another former minister, Jane Philpott, were kicked out.
We’re better united than divided, he told his MPs. When Liberals are divided, it helps Conservatives, he said. MPs applauded.
So the two MPs who had criticized the government, who had found fault with Mr. Trudeau, had to go. Mr. Trudeau even harked back to bad, divisive times, when “the old Liberal Party” was racked by infighting, to tell his cautionary tale.
It was another attempt at a reboot for Mr. Trudeau: rip off the Band-Aid, boot out those who aren’t with us, and try to move on.
Most of his Liberal MPs were ready for it. They want to get past this. Politics is a bruising team sport. When someone fires at the team, you fire back. But later, when they look back at what happened to the second former minister who was kicked out, Ms. Philpott, they will realize this was mostly Mr. Trudeau’s misfire.
The only new transgression that Mr. Trudeau identified in his speech to his Liberal MPs on Tuesday was Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s. He criticized her for surreptitiously recording a Dec. 19 conversation with the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. Ms. Wilson-Raybould had defended the act as a unique effort to protect herself when she was under pressure, but a lot of Liberal MPs saw it as an ethical lapse, and many Canadians will judge it as iffy.
But hey – what about Ms. Philpott? She never recorded anyone. Her transgression was resigning in protest because she felt something untoward happened in the Prime Minister’s Office, and telling Maclean’s magazine last month that there was more to the story.
A fair number of those Liberal MPs suspected Ms. Wilson-Raybould was motivated by ambition, or anger or revenge. But none of them seriously thought that about Ms. Philpott. So, to be clear, her transgression was being a Liberal who thought ill of Mr. Trudeau’s Prime Minister’s Office.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould is the symbol of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Ms. Philpott is the symbol of how Mr. Trudeau took it and made it worse.
Put it another way: if Mr. Trudeau had done enough to bring Ms. Philpott onside – if he provided enough explanation of what happened, or if he had taken enough responsibility – that would have put the SNC-Lavalin affair in the past.
Ms. Philpott clearly wanted to be convinced, at least at the beginning. She accepted the post as his Treasury Board president in January, after she was told that Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s move in the same cabinet shuffle had nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin.
It’s worth pointing out here that Ms. Philpott had reason to have qualms when Mr. Trudeau flatly denied there had been any pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to halt the bribery prosecution of SNC-Lavalin in favour of a negotiated settlement. It is clear Ms. Wilson-Raybould had confided details to Ms. Philpott. And we now know, from that recorded conversation with Mr. Wernick, Ms. Wilson-Raybould had reason to believe she was under pressure.
Mr. Wernick, let’s recall, warned that the Prime Minister was in a mood to see a negotiated settlement for SNC-Lavalin one way or another. Ms. Wilson-Raybould rang alarms that she felt she was being subjected to political interference.
Many Liberal MPs argue that she didn’t face “undue” pressure, but a reasonable person – say Ms. Philpott – could disagree. Mr. Trudeau first said it didn’t happen. Afterward, Mr. Trudeau could never find any combination of misunderstanding/mistake/mea culpa to convince Ms. Philpott. In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. Philpott suggested Mr. Trudeau might have just apologized.
Now, Mr. Trudeau is moving onto unity. There will be closed ranks, not openness. It appears, at first blush, that Mr. Trudeau’s decision to expel the two MPs from the Liberal caucus probably broke the law, since the 2014 Reform Act required that such matters be put to a vote in the caucus. Details!
Mr. Trudeau then wrote off the weeks of troubles saying he was trying to do things differently. But cutting Ms. Philpott loose told us his new politics ends the same way as the old: rallying round the leader.