Gerald Butts: Will throwing himself under the bus help or hurt Trudeau?

Politics Insider for February 19: Trudeau advisor Gerald Butts resigns in bid to save his boss, what Butts leaves behind, and the convoy has arrived
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves his office with his principal secretary Gerald Butts to attend an emergency cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Butts has resigned amid allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office interfered to prevent criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s recent comments on Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin were an attempt to insulate himself against the unfolding scandal — at one press conference last week Trudeau repeatedly presented himself as outside of any political-pressure loop (“[she had] an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that” … “her responsibility [was] to let me know” … “she said nothing of that to me”  … “should be coming to me” etc. etc. etc.) — Gerald Butts‘s self-throw under the bus on Monday seems intended to cement the wall around Trudeau. It is not at all certain to work.

Butts, who served as principal secretary since Trudeau won in 2015, denied he or anyone in the PMO pressured then-attorney general Wilson-Raybould to go easy on SNC-Lavalin in a criminal investigation, but resigned nevertheless. (Canadian Press)

From Butts’s letter:

Any accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the Attorney general is simply not true. Canadians are rightly proud of their public institutions. They should be, because they work. But the fact is that this accusation exists. It cannot and should not take one moment away from the vital work the Prime Minister and his office is doing for all Canadians. My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away. (Maclean’s)

Butts’s letter suggests more revelations are to come, and that whatever conversations Wilson-Raybould and he had about SNC-Lavalin, they’ll be hard to explain, writes Stephen Maher:

In his resignation letter, Butts wrote that “I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in [Trudeau’s] office pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould. We honoured the unique role of the Attorney General.”

It seems likely that Wilson-Raybould will eventually give a different version of her conversation with Butts. We don’t know when that will happen, what she will say or how voters, ethics commissioners or other lawful authorities will weigh the different stories, but the implications could hardly be more serious, since political actors are not supposed to interfere in prosecutions, no matter how many lobbyists a company hires, or how many engineers it employs in, ahem, vote-rich Quebec. (Maclean’s)

Having cut off his right hand, Trudeau will now have to find out if he can get by without Butts, writes Paul Wells:

This Thursday we’ll be eight months from a federal election. Gerry Butts hasn’t been far from Justin Trudeau’s side at any time since Trudeau entered public life. The first time I ever heard Butts’ name, it was from a mutual acquaintance who assumed Butts had written Justin Trudeau’s famous speech for Pierre Trudeau’s funeral 18 years ago. He did or he didn’t, but what matters is that they were inseparable even then.

I first took the notion of a Trudeau candidacy for the Liberal leadership seriously when, at a conference in 2012, I heard Butts taking it seriously. Trudeau could probably work without Butts. But even Liberals who have been hoping for such an outcome, over the last year, have assumed Trudeau doesn’t think he can work without Butts. And now he has to find out. In a crisis, in an election year. The timing isn’t great. (Maclean’s)

At any number of turns in this saga, the Trudeau PMO could have made clear and direct statements that would have killed the SNC-Lavalin story dead. Instead, all Trudeau and the PMO have offered up is sloppy misdirection and anonymous hit jobs. And that, writes Andrew MacDougall, is a pretty good indicator that the allegations of political pressure were true: “How can I make that claim? How about we put ourselves in the Trudeau PMO’s shoes to review all the ways the office has been giving credence to the SNC-Lavalin story. Hint: it’s not what they say, it’s what they’re not saying.” (Maclean’s)

The NDP plan to table a motion today calling on the government to launch a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair, while Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer argues the Senate should open its own investigation. (CTV, Globe and Mail)

Credibility gap: That Trudeau isn’t winning anyone over to his side with the changing narratives was confirmed in a poll last week by Public Square Research. Of the 43 per cent surveyed who are following the SNC-Lavalin saga, nearly three-quarters say Wilson-Raybould has the most credibility. Only 27 per cent said that of Trudeau. (Maclean’s)

Maybe Trudeau could clear all this up if he’d only say exactly what went down between him and Wilson-Raybould. Ah, but to do so would break “cabinet confidentiality” Trudeau said last week. However Yan Campagnolo, a University of Ottawa law professor and expert on cabinet secrecy, notes, cabinet confidentiality in no way restricts Trudeau from revealing details around Wilson-Raybould’s exit: “There’s no limit on the discretion of a government to disclose its own cabinet confidences. A government can always agree to lift the veil of secrecy,” he says. “The Prime Minister is basically deciding what to reveal and what not to reveal, as is his prerogative. As the master of the cabinet, the Prime Minister would have discretion to say more if he were so inclined.” (Maclean’s)

Were it not for the SNC-Wilson-Raybould saga, a lot more attention would probably be going to the pro-pipeline convoy of hundreds of vehicles about to descend on Parliament Hill today. A counter protest is also planned by an Indigenous group. (CBC News)

In case you missed it Friday, Allen Abel parsed Donald Trump, builder of great walls and greater delusions, as the president desperately tried to justify building his “emergency” wall along the border with Mexico:

The good news from Trump’s perspective was that his declaration could accrue as much as US$8 billion for the building and barbed-wiring of a fence designed to repel repugnant (i.e., brown-skinned) desperados and their dying infant children from the Pacific strand to the Texas tidewater by re-routing monies already budgeted for drug interdiction and military construction projects elsewhere on this tired, warming globe.

The bad news for Trump was that, when the wall is completed, the Democratic Party still will be on his side of it.

What does Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. make of the emergency wall, not to mention the steel tariffs, the tenuous state of the CUSMA deal and how Canada was caught up in the Meng Wanzhou case? Tonight David MacNaughton sits down with Paul Wells for the latest Maclean’s Live event. Tune in to at 7 p.m. ET or watch it on Facebook or Twitter.

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