“I felt that there was evidence of an attempt to politically interfere with the justice system in its work on the criminal trial that has been described by some as the most important and serious prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.” — Jane Philpott, to Maclean’s magazine, March 21.
There is no need, at all, for Jesuitical soundings of the nature of parliamentary privilege and cabinet solidarity. No need either, at the moment, for protracted researches into whether and how the functions of attorney-general and justice minister should be separated. A crash scene is not the best place to discuss the history of the internal combustion engine.
The Liberals must surely understand where the standoff between Mr. Justin Trudeau, and ex-ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) and Jane Philpott has brought them. They are on the edge of a cliff, and after the detonations set off by Dr. Philpott in her plain-spoken, urgent, and unignorable interview with Maclean’s Paul Wells, they have little ground left to balance on. One more bomblet on the issue of SNC-Lavalin — it doesn’t have to be much — and the valley and all its sharp stones will rush up to meet them.
They own their precarious standing to many factors. The departure of the house Machiavelli, Gerry Butts, was or should have been, an earthquake. I say “should have been” only because despite the gravity implicit in the resignation of the prime minister’s confidante-in-chief, guide, friend and mentor, it triggered so very few aftershocks. His testimony didn’t diffuse the story; in many ways it gave it fresh drama and extended some people’s doubts and everyone’s curiosity about the prime minister’s actions and role in the affair. Mr. Trudeau lost his one best support system and yet gained no measurable relief from his going. As Flann O’Brien remarked when faced with equal puzzlements: “A real snorter.”
He was the most powerful political agent on Mr. Trudeau’s team. Then his departure was succeeded by the resignation of the most powerful civilian — the Clerk of the Privy Council. Other than these two, there is only one other person working with the Commons who is more consequential — and that is, of course, Prime Minister Trudeau himself.
Jody Wilson-Raybould on her own, unfolding her concerns over the rule of law and attempted interference with her sacrosanct role as attorney-general, was pure political TNT. However, whatever the blast-power of JWR’s removal from Justice, resignation and testimony, the subsequent twin departure of Dr. Philpott on the same issues, and her rain of fire on her own government in this week’s interview, has made a red-hot scandal incandescent.
All politics has a moral component, but it’s usually a mixed and murky field, pragmatism or party in strain against ethical codes or private conscience.
Dr. Philpott’s case is somewhat singular. Her leaving, by her account, springs from an experience where she views the moral concerns, the principles at stake, entirely overwhelming whatever partisan or pragmatic elements may also be at play. She speaks of conscience, principle, right action even at the expense of alienating friends and colleagues. She declares no ambition, insists on no ulterior motivations, contemptuously dismisses as an “insult” that she resigned because she was JWR’s “friend.”
Unless Dr. Philpott is a fully-bleached liar, a dark trickster of utterly malignant intent — projections that only partisanship which has leaped over into raw insanity would entertain — she has said things which simply cannot be passed by. She speaks of principles so fundamental, without which, and unless acknowledged, maintained, and placed higher than politics, the practice of politics will be lost, prey to cynicism and departure of public trust.
And has said so in plain, direct, free-of-all-spin-and-evasion language.
From her interview there are but two quotations (aside from the one standing as an epigraph to this piece) that need to be cited. They are: “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told” and “there’s been an attempt to shut down the story.”
In the light of those two statements and the public declaration from JWR that she too has more to say, and both women would like a venue in which to speak, we should look back on the partisan shutdown of the Liberal-managed Justice Committee as their most egregious, cynical error yet. The “we have heard enough” cry coming from the Liberals is spectacularly arrogant. If in equity “no man can be a judge in his own cause” how much more so in a political quarrel: is it for those under allegation to determine when they’ve heard enough? It’s a toss-up if this line is more stupid than offensive.
The Liberals are burning down their house with the evasions and high-handedness of their mismanagement of this crisis. Mr. Trudeau is week by week shedding one by one each of the shiny, progressive halos — supporter of women, Indigenous friend, open government, doing politics differently, shutting down the old boys’ club — he has polished so assiduously since entering federal politics.
For the party’s own sake it has to end. And, as usual, the simplest way to end it is the most direct. Recall the Justice Committee, call everyone who should be heard and issue full waivers to all. And that must include the man at the centre of all of this — the prime minister himself.
It is better and necessary to bring this matter to a close — for all parties and for the Canadian public.