Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was so much worse than the opposition could have hoped, or the government might have feared. Justin Trudeau has been hoist by his own petard, and it may cost him his job.Trudeau appointed as justice minister someone who said she is a “truth-teller,” an Indigenous person who said she has witnessed the consequences of the rule of law not being respected.He appointed her and then he tried to make her complicit in running roughshod over that law.If she is to be believed — and her testimony was convincing enough that it is likely she had public opinion in her pocket very early on — when she refused to play along he applied, in her words, “inappropriate political pressure.” When she still failed to bend to his will, he removed her from her position as justice minister.If he thought she would respond to the “veiled threats” levelled against her, he clearly misread this woman.If you were watching Wilson-Raybould’s appearance Wednesday afternoon, that cracking sound you heard was Liberal Party unity breaking up. The former attorney general remains a member of the Liberal caucus, and a candidate at the next election. But it is a malignant fidelity. Her testimony has done more harm to her party’s chances of re-election than anything achieved by a hapless opposition. It seems hard to see how she can continue to sit as a Liberal member, far less run again. Her supporters in caucus believe she’s been made to wear a crown of thorns for speaking truth to power; her critics think, Judas-like, she’s betrayed her prime minister by publicly criticizing his conduct on the SNC-Lavalin affair, perhaps going so far as to leak the story to the Globe and Mail.The consequence of her testimony is that the Liberal brand has been tarnished and Justin Trudeau’s credibility sullied. Trudeau was elected on a promise to do politics differently, but Wilson-Raybould revealed a leader guilty of the same hypocrisy as many of his predecessors — a prime minister who discounted the law in favour of expediency.With opposition MPs to her left, Liberals to the right, Wilson-Raybould sat on her own Wednesday, clearly in a tenacious mood.She said that for four months, the prime minister, people in his office, members of the Privy Council Office and staff in the office of finance minister Bill Morneau conducted a “consistent and sustained” effort to intervene politically to secure a deferred prosecution agreement for Montreal-based engineering giant SNC Lavalin.Kathleen Roussel, the director of public prosecutions, notified Wilson-Raybould as attorney general on September 4 that she was not going to negotiate a DPA with SNC. The then-attorney general started her own study and quickly reached the conclusion that she would support Roussel’s decision.
Jody Wilson Raybould gives her opening statement before the justice committee meeting in Ottawa, Feb. 27, 2019.
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
But in the subsequent days, her staff was approached by senior officials in Morneau’s office and in the PMO, urging a re-think on the basis that SNC might move its head office from Montreal in the middle of the Quebec provincial election.Wilson-Raybould said it was legitimate to have a discussion about potential job losses but she formed the view as attorney general that she had to leave aside political considerations and that it would be inappropriate for her to intervene in Roussel’s decision.On September 17 she met with Trudeau to discuss another matter but he immediately raised the SNC case and asked if she could “help out and find a solution.”She said she explained the law to him, that she had done her own due diligence and that she was not going to intervene.That recollection does not correspond with Trudeau’s version of events, given his frequent protestations that his attorney general had not raised concerns with him about the handling of the case.Despite communicating the apolitical nature of the attorney general’s role, Wilson-Raybould said Trudeau continued to press her, saying jobs could be lost in Montreal. “I am an MP in Quebec, the member for Papineau,” she quoted him as saying.“I was quite taken aback. I asked: ‘Are you politically interfering in my role? I would strongly advise against it.’ He said: ‘No, no, no. I just want to find a solution,’” Wilson-Raybould testified.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during question period in the House of Commons, Feb. 27, 2019
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
If she is to be believed — and it has to be noted she made for an extremely credible witness — even the dimmest of dunces would have been able to conclude this was a woman who was resolute and unyielding once her mind was made up.Yet the efforts to persuade her to deviate from her chosen course continued.“There was a barrage of people hounding me and my staff,” she said.There were efforts to convince her to reach out “informally” to Roussel and to seek an external legal opinion on whether a DPA should be negotiated.She quoted Mathieu Bouchard, a senior adviser in PMO, as saying: “We can have the best policy in the world, but we need to get re-elected.”After a meeting with Bouchard and another PMO adviser, Elder Marques, on November 22, she said she again made it clear that a DPA was not going to happen. “I said no, my mind was made up. This was enough.”On December 18, her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, met with Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and his now former principal secretary, Gerald Butts.Wilson-Raybould recounted a text exchange between herself and Prince after the meeting.The chief of staff said the PMO was still pushing for a solution that involved external counsel offering an opinion on whether the attorney general could review Roussel’s decision.It seems hard to see how she can continue to sit as a Liberal member, far less run again
Prince said that would constitute interference, and quoted Butts as saying that “there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.” Butts resigned last week and categorically denies that he or anyone else in his office pressured Wilson-Raybould. He is unlikely to be the last departure from the prime minister’s inner circle.Yet, if not pressure, it seems clear arms were being twisted.Prince quoted Telford as saying: “If Jody is nervous, we can line up some people to write op-eds saying what she is doing is proper.”The final exchange was the call with Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council, that was the focus of much of his testimony last week.Wilson-Raybould said she was determined to end all interference but Wernick said Trudeau remained “quite determined.” Her recollection was of a blunt conversation in which Wernick said: “I think (Trudeau’s) going to find a way to get it done one way or another. He’s in that kind of mood.”She said the clerk warned her about the potential for a “collision” with the prime minister. But she said she stood by the constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence and told him they were “treading on dangerous ground.”And so it has proven.In his testimony, Wernick said that in his view his conversation with Wilson-Raybould was within the boundaries of what was lawful and appropriate — he was merely informing the minister of context.But if the former justice minister’s testimony is to be believed, the sustained nature of the campaign to make her change her mind — with the hint that there would be consequences if she didn’t — may have crossed the line from information to interference.An independent arbiter — be it the ethics commissioner, or even a judge — needs to make that deliberation.But voters will reach their own conclusions long before any judicial proceedings take place. The verdict is likely to be harsh.• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: IvisonJ