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On SNC-Lavalin, ’every one of us owns a piece of the truth’

Letters to the editor, March 8, 2019: Readers weigh in on the SNC-Lavalin scandal consuming Ottawa, and they disagree completely about who’s right and who’s wrong
Prime Minister Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday March 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Maclean’s writers have reported and analyzed the SNC-Lavalin affair from dozens of vantage points, digging into each of the major players’ public statements and private interactions, studying lobbying records and deferred prosecution laws, and forecasting what happens next—and what Canada still needs to learn about the scandal that’s taken over Ottawa. Our readers haven’t been shy in weighing in. Here’s a selection of letters sent our way.

Almost a month into the scandal, Ottawa bureau chief John Geddes traced Jody Wilson-Raybuld’s transition from a core member of Justin Trudeau’s team to a thorn in his side.

It is interesting that the apparent primary objective of the politicians in the SNC-Lavalin affair was to save jobs in Quebec, internationally and across Canada. And such a paltry number of jobs at that. That the “rule of law” should be compromised for this purpose is beyond belief. Since 2015, tens of thousands of jobs in Alberta connected with the oil industry were lost. We continue to struggle in the West because of lack of national and international markets for our oil. Quebec politicians were key in stopping the Energy East Pipeline, and British Columbia in stopping the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Albertans continue to be held hostage without a market for their oil while this political/judicial travesty takes place in Ottawa because of a Quebec company manoeuvring to escape accountability for their corrupt international practices. It is interesting that Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman from the West, should be so principled and hold such thoughtful integrity while being subjected to the barrage of “lobbying” by her political counterparts who should clearly understand the judicial autonomy of the Attorney General of Canada. It appears that there may actually be a clash between the obviously differing cultures between the East and the West.
—Luella Wojcik, High River, Alta.

There are thousands of jobs at stake in Quebec. I would hope there would be serious discussions by our government, lots of them. I would hope Wilson-Raybould would feel pressure. I would suspect all MPs and cabinet ministers feel pressure when jobs are at stake. I’m sure they felt pressure when they decided to bail out GM years ago for billions of dollars. I’m sure they feel pressure to deal with the woes of the oil industry out West. I would hope that each and every one of the politicians in Ottawa would take the jobs of everyday Canadians very seriously and would feel “consistent and sustained” pressure to keep them. So Wilson-Raybould and others feel bad that she was “demoted” because of her convictions. People in Canada lose their jobs all the time for their convictions, some in the military lose life and limb for theirs. Last time I checked, no criminal charges had been laid against any member of the Liberal caucus and Wilson-Raybould was still an MP, and she still had her great salary and great benefits. For this Canadian, this is a non-story. Let’s all move on from the political posturing and get back to worrying about the things that really matter, like how to deal with the craziness south of the border as the U.S. continues to use us as a pawn in its fight with China. Can we also resume the fight to get some oil pipelines built? Can we figure out how to have free trade among the provinces? Can we figure out some plan to help the environment? Just because Wilson-Raybould is claiming the high road, that doesn’t mean she is on it. There is always more than one side to a story.
—John Tovey, Maple, Ont. 

Senior writer Paul Wells wrote this month’s cover story, a deep dive into the inner workings of Trudeau’s prime minister’s office—and the difference between the “sunny ways” promised by Trudeau and what Canada really got: business as usual.

This is an important issue, but it is not the end of parliamentary government in Canada, as you seem to imply. This is an example of a prime minister and his officials making an exceptional effort to come to a mutually acceptable compromise to deal with a difficult disagreement. It seems to me that the law, in this case, is defective. It did not and does not seem to be serving anyone well. Everyone apparently, including Ms. Wilson-Raybould, has bent over backwards to try to make something work within the legal framework that has been established. Would anyone seriously support ending the employment of a large number of workers to support a legal procedure. It seems to me that the procedure has to be changed. As I understand it, senior executives have been charged and prosecuted for corruption. Why destroy a world-class corporation when the guilty individuals are being found out and are paying the price?
—Bill Martin, Gimli, Man.

Wilson-Raybould, agreeing with Trudeau, publicly commented about the Colten Boushie verdict. She did not think it was “inappropriate” for her to comment about the trial. She did not apply her high standards to keep the legal system free from political influence (or even the perception of such), which she is being praised for now. The Conservatives criticized the “principled” Wilson-Raybould then! Many of the people blaming Trudeau now previously had criticized him for not ignoring the courts/law and building pipelines anyway. It is obvious that “rule of law” is not as absolute and objective as hypocritical and politically motivated people are making it to be. This issue has been blown out of proportion for political gains. Free media is not the same as objective and accountable media.
—Ayan Ray, Toronto

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified at a parliamentary committee on Feb. 27. We published her extended opening statement, which outlined allegations of sustained pressure she faced after deciding not to overrule the decision of Canada’s director of public prosecutions not to offer SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.

I was absolutely transfixed by the Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. What a woman of integrity and courage! The moment her decision not to overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision re SNC-Lavalin was made public, it made all of the attempts to pressure her into changing her mind really attempts to politically interfere in the judicial process of a case currently before the courts. They might as well have told her to call a judge. She didn’t resign; she held her ground to make sure the law was respected. I worked for Joan Smith, solicitor general for Ontario in the David Peterson government, and Joan used to tell us that if ministers resign just because they don’t agree with a policy, they lose the chance to have any influence on the final outcome. I thought of that as I watched the testimony. It’s not a sign of integrity to cut and run when a principle you believe in is under attack. You show integrity by staying and fighting the good fight in the face of strong opposition, and that’s what Jody Wilson-Raybould did and continues to do. That the PMO was tired of talking about legalities says so much about them, and none of it good. The fact that the PM ultimately fired her as attorney general and minister of justice proves positively that they were pressuring her, tacitly threatening her. She was right to feel that a Saturday Night Massacre was the inevitable denouement. It disappoints me that several women ministers have said they’ve never been subjected to this kind of pressure, but they’re being watched by the PMO and expected to toe the line.  Ultimately, they must know that if Quebec’s sacred cows are threatened in their areas of responsibilities, they too will feel the pressure from the MP for Papineau and his lackeys to do what’s politically expedient, not what’s right.
—Doreen O’Brien, London, Ont.

Maclean’s contributor Andrew MacDougall, a former Stephen Harper communications director, has written regularly on the SNC-Lavalin affair. He wrote about how the SNC scandal revealed a Trudeau his critics always warned about.

I am of the Nisga’a Nation; we are on the Nass River of British Columbia. This is in response to a very good Andrew MacDougall article at macleans.ca, “Justin Trudeau, my how you’ve changed.” It mentions “the usually docile media,” and I kept that in mind as I was reading. I have to say, “docile” might not be the word to use. I don’t like that Jody Wilson-Raybould is characterized in this article as the grenade launcher when clearly she is the one who successfully jumped on the grenade and ensured that Canada (rather, the government of Canada) still has some integrity when it comes to the rule of law. I don’t like that after mentioning JWR in the article, the writer presents everyone as “bleeding,” as that can draw a negative effect because I believe that humans by nature don’t like bleeding or causes of bleeding. While I appreciate the perspective of the piece, Justin Trudeau, JWR and everyone else in the Canadian government are only reacting to an external source (Deferred Prosecution Agreements aside for the moment). I find it interesting that SNC-Lavalin is seemingly in a holding pattern, waiting for the go ahead to bid on yet another government contract. While I appreciate that media isn’t their usual docile self, I find it important that further harm isn’t done to First Nations relations here in Canada with articles that make Natives sound like bloodthirsty people. We need to see more examples like JWR, people who want to stand up for this country with integrity and respect for a government that never wanted the same for First Nations.
—George Nelson, Jr., Nisga’a Nation

Associate editor Shannon Proudfoot wrote about the extraordinary circumstances in which two women—Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott—quit cabinet, stood up to the typical Ottawa power structures, and drove the news agenda.

Jody versus the “old boys’ club”—I am sorry, but I beg to differ. As one of the constituents who elected her, I’ve noticed that she has fit very nicely into that club. When hundreds of us sent emails to Jody Wilson-Raybould asking her to stand up to her leader and oppose the expansion of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline and tanker traffic into Burrard Inlet, her silence on the issue was deafening. Contrast this response to that of Liberal MP Terry Beech, who told the Prime Minister that he would be opposing the pipeline because that was what his constituents wanted to do. Now, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s membership in this elite group has shifted and she’s understandably not happy about it. But I can’t help but wonder what the constituents of Quebec’s Liberal ridings are feeling about the SNC-Lavalin affair. I expect that given our current zeitgeist, my view will anger many people. However, it’s good to remember that every one of us owns a piece of the truth.
—Kathryn Clark, Vancouver

Only hours after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony at the House of Commons justice committee, Opposition leader Andrew Scheer called for the PM’s resignation—and hasn’t let up in the days since.

Since I have been a somewhat outspoken advocate of the Liberal Party while studying at the University of Alberta, and in some things I’ve written, a lot of people have been asking me about the SNC-Lavalin case (probably in hopes I will switch party allegiance). The allegations are legitimate and certainly warrant gathering more evidence, possibly in the form of a criminal investigation. If it is proven that Trudeau acted illegally, then I agree he should resign. But Scheer confidently announcing that he should resign with only a tiny bit of evidence is conjecture and is part of the unfortunate tribalist stupidity that too many Canadians take part in. What we should remember is that our allegiance as Canadians should never be to, or against, a certain person or a certain party. It should be to the values and ideals that make Canada a better place to live for all people. These include things like human rights, a strong economy, a democracy of, by and for the people, well-researched policy development, and honesty and accountability from our leaders. The exact nature by which to arrive at those ideals can be contentious, and that’s why we have political parties and politicians that represent opposing perspectives. What I’ve seen from the Liberals’ ideas and policies is a solid commitment to, and achievement of, many of those ideals, from a perspective that I believe is well-researched and well-implemented. If the evidence ends up supporting that Trudeau and certain members of the Liberal Party engaged in unethical or even illegal activity, that will be a major dent (possibly irreparable) to those people, and possibly the entire party, in the upcoming election. But that is separate from the policies they have implemented, which we should assess on their own merit. Just because Trudeau may have lied about SNC-Lavalin does not mean that the Canada Child Benefit has not helped low-income families, or the carbon tax has not reduced pollution, for example.
—David Metcalfe, Edmonton