There is no calm for the Liberals as the storm of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s upcoming appearance at the justice committee rumbles towards them.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons Monday he has waived solicitor-client privilege, freeing the former justice minister to talk about “relevant matters” as long as she does not touch on two court cases involving SNC Lavalin.Meanwhile, Wilson-Raybould said in a letter to the committee chair that she is willing to testify at the “first opportunity,” but wants to make sure there is clarity on possible constraints on what she can say — which suggests it may not be in the next couple of days.While we don’t know when Wilson-Raybould will appear at committee, we do know she wants 30 minutes for an opening statement. You don’t need half an hour to say that the whole SNC Lavalin saga, and recent allegations of political interference in the justice system, are just a big misunderstanding. On Monday afternoon the committee heard from a former Saskatchewan judge who has gone on record as saying the affair should be investigated by the RCMP. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has said a police investigation is necessary to restore public confidence in the administration of justice, calling the prospect of the attempted influence over a prosecution “not only immoral, (but) illegal.”Last week I suggested that Wilson-Raybould’s appearance at cabinet and Liberal caucus might auger a closing of ranks and an attempt by all sides to tamp down more controversy. After the clerk of the Privy Council’s unconventional committee appearance last week and Wilson-Raybould’s letter of intent, I’m less sure.The appearance at committee of Michael Wernick, Canada’s top bureaucrat, suggested he thinks there is nothing to see here — that Canadians should have faith in the system because laws are “demonstrably working” when it comes to prosecutorial independence, lobbying and government ethics. “The shields held,” he said last Thursday.As to his own conversation with Wilson-Raybould on December 19th last year, he made clear he believes it was neither immoral nor illegal. He said he told the then-attorney general her colleagues and the prime minister were “quite anxious” about the future of SNC and discussed whether a deferred prosecution agreement for the company was still an option. “I can tell you with complete assurance that my view of the conversation is that it was within the boundaries of what is lawful and appropriate,” he said. “I was informing the minister of context.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during question period in the House of Commons on Feb. 25, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
The adjudicator of whether Wernick, and perhaps even the prime minister himself, crossed any lines will be the ethics commissioner. If prosecutors agree with Turpel-Lafond, the affair may even end up before the courts and be settled by a judge.But what perplexes me is why Wernick, the prime minister, and senior advisers Gerald Butts and Katie Telford even discussed a remediation agreement for SNC after Wilson-Raybould made clear she was not disposed to negotiate one, when a perfectly sound plan B was already being worked on.As my colleague Gabriel Friedman revealed in the Post on Saturday, the department of Public Services and Procurement is finalizing changes to the Ineligibility and Suspension Policy under the Integrity regime. This word salad governs whether corporations convicted of crimes can bid on federal projects.SNC’s fear is that a conviction on corruption charges for bribing Libyan officials could lead to a 10-year ban on access to government infrastructure projects — the source of around 15 per cent of its $9 billion in revenue in 2017.
Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
But the changes being contemplated by the government could reduce the ineligibility period from the automatically mandated 10 years to a debarment at the government’s discretion.This policy change has been in the works for years — the public was invited to comment back in fall 2017 and the government says the update is being “studied and finalized.” A statement in the revised policy consultation said it is expected to take effect in “early 2019.”One lawyer Friedman quoted said the debarment could conceivably be reduced to six months, a year or even no ineligibility at all. The proposed changes would widen the scope of offences that could lead to debarment, including human trafficking and environmental violations. The idea is that a one-size-fits-all punishment must be made more flexible if the range of offences is broadened.SNC chief executive Neil Bruce has said the failure to secure a DPA would likely lead to three to four more years of court battles because the company considers itself not guilty.But unless I’m missing something, a DPA would require an admission of culpability.Under the new integrity regime, the company would also have to admit to wrongdoing before throwing itself on the mercy of the Registrar of Ineligibility and Suspension at Public Services. But, in that event, the company could claim mitigating circumstances, because the executives who perpetrated the alleged corruption have left and steps have been taken to ensure there is no repeat of the errant conduct.So if the government already had an alternative to a deferred prosecution agreement that is expected to become policy in the next month or so, why did the prime minister and his most senior advisors risk flirting with immorality, if not illegality?As Conservative leader Andrew Scheer asked Monday, if the decision to grant or refuse a deferred prosecution agreement was Wilson-Raybould’s alone — as the prime minister maintains — why did he apply “relentless pressure” to get her to change her mind?The only answer that makes any sense is: because he could.• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: IvisonJ