The Trudeau inner circle's counter-offensive against former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is reminiscent of what's happened to many truth tellers over the years.
When people engaged in questionable conduct don't like the message, they tend to target the messenger.
As a result, Wilson-Raybould was disparaged in the media by anonymous sources, who said she was "difficult to get along with".
She was described as someone "who others felt they had trouble trusting".
One "insider" claimed to Global News that she's "always sort of been in it for herself".
Like whistle-blowers before her, Wilson-Raybould was also demoted, even though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tried to deny this.
In addition, she appears to have been isolated. That's a reasonable conclusion based on her being forced to wait two hours before being allowed to speak to the Liberal cabinet.
Political reporters in the Ottawa press gallery aren't using the term whistle-blower to describe Wilson-Raybould.
But that could change next week if she provides dramatic testimony to the Commons justice committee about pressure she faced from the prime minister's staff and the all-powerful clerk of the privy council concerning a prosecution against SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould refused to succumb to the Montreal-based corporation's extensive lobbying efforts to have bribery charges dropped. She declined to override the director of public prosecution's decision to reject a remediation agreement with the company.
After subsequently losing her job as justice minister, Wilson-Raybould wrote a lengthy public statement.
"It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence," she declared, causing many to wonder at the time what triggered this remark.
SFU prof's book explains whistle-blowing
The prime minister has tried to get in front of the story by sending out his heaviest hitters.
This came after he repeatedly failed to get Wilson-Raybould out of the news cycle.
Clerk of the privy council Michael Wernick—Trudeau's own deputy minister—offered some theatrical testimony this week before the justice committee, insisting there was no "inappropriate" pressure on her.
And Trudeau's long-time friend and principal secretary, Gerald Butts, announced his resignation in a public letter that insisted he did not pressure Wilson-Raybould regarding the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Butts did not qualify this with the word "inappropriate", unlike Wernick.
For those interested in the whistle-blowing process, I highly recommend a chapter in SFU Beedie School of Business professor Mark Wexler's book, Confronting Moral Worlds: Understanding Business Ethics.
I recently pulled it off my bookshelf and re-read chapter 7—"The Blowing of Whistles, Tilting of Windmills, and Rocking of Boats"— after watching Wernick speak to the justice committee.
Wexler wrote that there are four key issues in a whistle-blowing event:
* an individual or group that's part of an organization—or was recently involved in it—interprets an event or events by some of its members as "a form of non-trivial wrongdoing";
* the whistle-blower doesn't have the authority to rectify this;
* the whistle-blower tries to get this wrongdoing on the public record;
* this information "has the potential to rock the status quo, but the determination of whether the wrongdoing is actual and necessitates sanctions is not made easily until the process has ended".
One of the biggest challenges facing a whistle-blower is deciding whether or not to "pull the trigger".
But that's not the only hard choice. Should it be done in a group or as an individual?
Should this whistle-blowing be done anonymously or in a fully public and transparent way?
Should it be done internally or externally?
Should it be done through formal means or through informal documentation?
Should the whistle-blower identify wrongdoers individually and spell out what he or she thinks should be the appropriate consequences?
Here's what can follow:
* Those who are being criticized make the whistle-blower the issue.
* The whistle-blower can be isolated.
* The whistle-blower's support base can be destabilized.
* The whistle-blower's job can be eliminated.
* The whistle-blower can be prosecuted.
* Experts can be brought in to counter the whistle-blower's statements.
Wexler also emphasized the important role played by members of the organization and society at large.
"Like bystanders to an event, these individuals may take up the moral account of the whistle-blower, turn on him or her, or remain largely indifferent," he wrote. "When bystanders remain indifferent, the whistle-blowing incident usually has a short life in the public's attention.
"When bystanders rise in moral indignation, there is a good chance that the whistle-blowing process will generate an in-depth look at the organization and its activities," Wexler continued. "When bystanders pronounce the whistle-blower as a weirdo, nonconformist, idealist, or attention-seeker, the most probable outcome for the whistle-blower is corporate and social retaliation."
To date, members of the Liberal caucus have not publicly expressed any dissenting views over the handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.
They've appeared to be indifferent bystanders. One of the very few who's offered encouragement to Wilson-Raybould over social media has been Treasury Board president Jane Philpott.
Opposition MPs, on the other hand, have risen up in moral indignation.
Another bystander is the ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, who was appointed by the Liberal government in 2017 to replace Mary Dawson.
Wernick pointed out in his testimony that Wilson-Raybould never picked up the phone and called the ethics commissioner about the SNC-Lavalin situation.
What the clerk of the privy council didn't mention is that Dion came under scathing criticism in 2014 from the auditor general when he was the public sector integrity commissioner of Canada.
That's the office that's supposed to offer protection to whistle-blowers in the public service. According to the auditor general, Dion's office revealed the identity of a whistle-blower to an alleged wrongdoer.
Trudeau's cabinet choices
When Justin Trudeau became prime minister, he did something truly remarkable: he appointed rookie MPs to many senior positions.
People who had never been elected to a city council or a provincial legislature became ministers overseeing finance, environment and climate change, health, defence, and Canadian heritage.
Those who had served as mayors or provincial or federal cabinet ministers—such as Anthony Housefather, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Hedy Fry, Joyce Murray, and Wayne Easter—didn't get the call. A former Liberal House leader, David McGuinty, was also left on the backbenches.
Trudeau named 18 first-term MPs to cabinet—presumably concluding that all were worthier or more beholden to him than those with elected experience.
Two of the veterans who made it into the first cabinet, Stéphane Dion and John McCallum, were shuffled out fairly early in Trudeau's first term. Another veteran, Scott Brison, isn't seeking reelection.
One of the few long-time Liberal warhorses in cabinet is the party's deputy leader, Ralph Goodale, who was a mentor to Trudeau when he became leader.
Another veteran in cabinet is his childhood friend and former babysitter, Dominic Leblanc, and a third is Montreal MP Marc Garneau.
Wilson-Raybould was also a rookie and she became justice minister. But she had far more elected experience than the other newcomers because she'd spent years involved in Indigenous politics, rising to become regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Perhaps as a result of this experience, she was less willing to kowtow to the prime minister's office as other first-term MPs in cabinet, leading to her demotion.
Indigenous legal rights and climate change
When Wilson-Raybould testifies before the justice committee next week, Canadians could learn a great deal more about the inner workings of this Liberal government under Justin Trudeau.
It would be interesting to know, for instance, if she thinks the prime minister deliberately appointed inexperienced cabinet ministers.
Was this one way to ensure that people like Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick could centralize power in the prime minister's office?
If so, what would be the motivation?
People on the left side of the spectrum have long argued that Trudeau has been toying with Canadians on two key issues: Indigenous rights and climate change.
Team Trudeau's political messaging, on the other hand, has been that the election of a Liberal government put an end to the dastardly Conservative government under Stephen Harper.
According to this Liberal story line, Harper didn't respect collective Indigenous legal rights and stalled in addressing climate change.
However, Kahnawake Mohawk intellectual Russ Diabo and SFU professor emeritus Donald Gutstein have pointed out that there's not a huge difference in the handling of these two files between Trudeau and Harper.
The same point has been made by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Both prime ministers supported the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. Both endorsed a National Energy Board process that was found to be legally offside by the Federal Court of Appeal. Trudeau supports the Site C dam over the objections of Treaty 8 First Nations and backs the LNG Canada project, notwithstanding his government's professed support for the Paris Agreement on climate change.
One might ask what binds Harper and Trudeau together. Here's one connection: they've both relied heavily on Wernick, who was the deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs in the last Conservative government.
Yesterday, CBC journalist Jorge Barrera wrote a fascinating article about how Wilson-Raybould battled other ministers, including Carolyn Bennett, over the implementation of an Indigenous rights framework.
Wernick was overseeing this issue for Trudeau, just as he oversaw Indigenous relations as a deputy minister in Harper's government. Wernick lavished praise on Bennett during his testimony before the justice committee.
Last summer, Diabo told the Georgia Straight that he believes Wernick and Trudeau are eager to impose municipal-style self-government on First Nations. This is something the federal Liberals have never admitted.
Diabo also claimed that the real objective is to ultimately extinguish Indigenous people's collective legal rights over the land and have First Nations property converted to fee-simple status.
This would delight the corporate sector, which has frequently encountered legal obstacles in gaining access to resources on unceded land.
Meanwhile, Gutstein made a case in his recent book, The Big Stall, that Trudeau's inner circle has been planning for many years to advance the interests of Big Oil.
According to Gutstein, this is being done by promoting a carbon tax to ward off more effective measures to reduce the production and use of fossil fuels. The carbon tax is linked to more pipeline capacity and a likely expansion in production of Alberta oil. Trudeau won't separate these two issues.
Key players in this strategy have been Butts, business lobbyist and former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, and current cabinet minister and former business lobbyist Jim Carr, according to Gutstein's book.
Wilson-Raybould was situated inside Trudeau's inner circle, so she's in a position to confirm or deny the claims of Gutstein, Diabo, and Phillip. She can, in effect, blow the whistle not only on the SNC-Lavalin case, but also on the prime minister's agenda regarding Indigenous legal rights and climate change.
That's one of several reasons why her upcoming testimony has the potential to create monumental political problems for Justin Trudeau.
In this, the majority of Liberal MPs on the justice committee will play a crucial role.
Will they be willing to give Wilson-Raybould enough time to delve into details like this? Or will they continue to come across as indifferent bystanders in the whistle-blowing process by curtailing the former justice minister's latitude to speak about matters other than SNC-Lavalin?
The outcome could determine the political future of Trudeau.
But there's also a great deal at stake for Liberal MPs on the committee, particularly if they're perceived to be participating in a cover-up orchestrated by the prime minister's office.More