As The Stomach Churns

The Liberal response to the entire affair has been almost unfathomably bad, counterproductive at every turn ... and new stuff keeps coming out all the time.
The Liberal response to the entire affair has been almost unfathomably bad, counterproductive at every turn … and new stuff keeps coming out all the time.

When the Liberals brought down the federal budget earlier this week, I was genuinely curious as to whether it would allow the prime minister and his party to move past the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has now dogged them for … uhh, let me count … the last 42 days (as I write this). A budget is a big deal. This is an election year budget, too, so it was obviously going to be more, ahem, voter-friendly than most. There would be a lot to talk about … if Canadians were ready to move on.

I think a lot of us would like — I definitely would. Forty two days is a long time in any news cycle, and there are some other interesting stories out there to watch and talk about. But there’s two problems here, especially if you’re the prime minister: the Liberal response to the entire affair has been almost unfathomably bad, counterproductive at every turn … and new stuff keeps coming out all the time.

Let’s first tackle the latest ineffective Liberal actions, then we can move onto the exciting new stuff. Earlier in the week, the Liberal majority on the justice committee shut down their investigation into the entire matter, which means that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney-general and justice minister, will not be called back to testify again. The majority said they felt Canadians had heard enough (Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP and chair of the committee, has offered his thoughts on the matter in the National Post). Shutting down the committee’s work unavoidably raises the spectre of a coverup. Nor was the decision by the prime minister to appoint former Liberal MP, cabinet minister and deputy PM Anne McLellan as a special adviser particularly reassuring. It’s not just that McLellan’s mandate is forward looking, rather than investigative — she’s a quintessential partisan Liberal insider. She even had to back out of a fundraiser for the party she was committed to when she took the special adviser job.

None of this was exactly helpful to the Liberal cause. Both moves gave fresh ammunition to their critics, and continued the inexplicably ham-handed reaction that has characterized the Liberal response to this from the beginning. They’ve been their own worst enemy here from the outset — I genuinely believe they could have taken their lumps and moved on already if they’d been able to get their act together.

And that was before Jane Philpott began her strafing run.

On Thursday, Maclean’s magazine published a long interview with the recently resigned Liberal cabinet minister. It is a remarkably candid read. In it, Wells asks Philpott directly if everything that Canadians should know came out at the justice committee, and she tells him, “No. There’s much more to the story that should be told. … I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.” Wells also asks her if she has faith in the ethics commissioner investigation that Liberals have been so keen to point to as a sign of their commitment to transparency. “My sense is that (the ethics commissioner) will not have the appropriate tools to be able to get at all of this,” Philpott replies. “If nothing wrong took place, then why don’t we waive privilege on the whole issue and let those who have something to say on it speak their minds and share their stories?”

There’s a lot more in the interview. If you have even the slightest passing interest in the matter, you should read it. But if nothing else, what it does is essentially reset the clock on the entire affair at least several weeks. For the Liberals, this is deja vu all over again.

Once again, they are being attacked by a former cabinet minister, and a woman, to boot. Once again, Canadians are being told that there is information that they need to know, but it cannot be shared unless a waiver is granted. Once again, powerful Liberals are insisting that nothing inappropriate happened, while they also limit the ability of people who clearly feel otherwise to speak freely. Once again, there are whispers about Philpott’s “real” motivations — personal bitterness, leadership aspirations, and the like.

If it all feels very familiar, it’s because this is where we were, what, three weeks ago? Almost four weeks? It was Wilson-Raybould then, not Philpott, but the situation was eerily similar. If anything, it’s even worse for the Liberals now than it was then. Partially because current Liberal attempts to explain and evade now carry with it the weight of all that’s come so far, including four senior resignations and an observable hit in the polls. But Philpott, in speaking to Maclean’s, has directly put all her concerns onto the record. Wilson-Raybould, before her testimony late last month, had been much more circumspect. The story had been mostly advanced by anonymous leaks and no small amount of speculation. It wasn’t until Wilson-Raybould actually testified before the justice committee that Canadians really had a sense of her feelings on the matter (though it hadn’t been hard to make an educated guess before that, to be fair).

It’s different with Philpott. She’s waving a red flag here, on the record, in public, in the pages of Maclean’s, no less. Paul Wells is not known for being stupid or bad at interviews. She wasn’t expecting softballs — her choice to speak, and whom to speak to, is telling. The prime minister has told us that, gosh, this whole thing was just a miscommunication, and a learning experience for everyone. Philpott has her hand in the air and she’s waving frantically. Perhaps we should hear what she’d like to add to the discussion?

We’re 42 days into this, as I write. Does this feel like the final act to you?

See Also:

(1) MP all-nighter over Stink That Won’t Go Away

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