Justin Trudeau's sunny ways on SNC-Lavalin are eroding trust in the Liberal brand

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      Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally issued a detailed statement and answered questions about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

      Here's the Cole's Notes version:

      * The former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, told Trudeau that her decision not to override the position of the director of public prosecutions was final.

      * He admitted that he told Wilson-Raybould that he was the MP for Papineau at a September 17 meeting. He saw nothing wrong with this.

      * He insisted that he told Wilson-Raybould the decision regarding a deferred prosecution was hers alone.

      * Trudeau does not intend to expel Wilson-Raybould and another former cabinet minister, Jane Philpott, from caucus.

      * It's unclear whether the new justice minister, Montreal-area MP David Lametti, will override the decision of the director of public prosecutions and order a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

      As Maclean's columnist Paul Wells has pointed out, Trudeau's Open and Accountable Government ethics handbook includes this sentence: "The Attorney General and the DPP are bound by the constitutional principle that the prosecutorial function be exercised independently of partisan concerns."

      Yet the prime minister had no concerns about several of his staff members repeatedly approaching Wilson-Raybould and her chief of staff to push for an independent legal opinion regarding SNC-Lavalin even though she had said her decision was final.

      "Each of these interactions was a conversation among colleagues about how to tackle a challenging issue," Trudeau said.

      He also claimed that he and his staff believed that Wilson-Raybould was "open to considering other aspects".

      According to Wilson-Raybould, her deputy minister said that she heard from the clerk of the Privy Council that the SNC-Lavalin affair would be brought to Lametti's attention by the prime minister.

      Watch Justin Trudeau's statement in Ottawa this morning.

      The smile remains, despite SNC-Lavalin

      Trudeau has an odd personality quirk. He sometimes flashes a very momentary smile—it's almost unnoticeable unless someone looks for it—when he's talking about extremely serious issues. 

      This was on display again today as he was delivering his statement regarding the SNC-Lavalin affair.

      I spotted it just before he insisted that "real leadership", i.e. his, is about "listening, learning, and compassion".

      He claimed that his style was "about fostering an environment where ministers, caucus and staff feel comfortable coming to me". He added that he expects them to do so.

      "In Ms. Wilson-Raybould's case, she did not come to me. And I wish she had."


      Even though she told Trudeau that her decision was final, he still dispatched waves of staff to press for a re-evaluation.

      But then he more than implied that she was somehow responsible for this mess because she didn't come to him. Incredible.

      I saw that momentary smile cross Trudeau's face again when he talked wistfully about his father Pierre and their shared reverence for the justice portfolio.

      Naturally, Trudeau mentioned that his father was minister of justice before becoming prime minister.

      Then he discussed his father's values, as reflected in his call for a "just society" and his creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      Trudeau claimed for these reasons, the justice file has always been of particular interest to him.

      There was no mention, of course, of his father's shortcomings when it came to justice issues.

      Trudeau didn't raise a controversial Pierre Trudeau government white paper in 1969 calling for the assimilation of Indigenous peoples. Nor did he discuss his father's invocation of the heavy-handed War Measures Act to deal with two kidnappings and a political murder in Quebec.

      Nor did Trudeau admit his own colossal stupidity in trying to meddle in a criminal prosecution. 

      He and his staff blithely accepted SNC-Lavalin's claims that 9,000 Canadian jobs were at risk if the company was convicted. This was so even though it would still be permitted to bid on provincial projects, such as the Pattullo Bridge replacement in Metro Vancouver.

      More importantly, it's hard to imagine any of Trudeau's predecessors as Liberal leader would be so politically incompetent as to interfere in a criminal matter before the courts.

      It's inconceivable that Bob Rae would have been so foolish, or Michael Ignatieff or Stéphane Dion. It would have been political suicide for Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, John Turner, or, dare I say, Pierre Trudeau to do this.

      But Justin Trudeau didn't see this as a problem, even shoving a passage in an omnibus bill to make it possible. He glibly offered his justifications today without showing any real remorse or guilt.

      It was cunning of him to suggest he's a compassionate leader and by implying his former attorney general could have come to him if she had a problem.

      Not only had Wilson-Raybould told him her decision was final, she also told the finance minister to stop hassling her. And she said that she expressed this sentiment to Gerry Butts, the former principal secretary to Trudeau. 

      Butts's defence was that she didn't put it in writing. That was almost as laughable as the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, saying he wasn't wearing a wire when he talked to Wilson-Raybould.

      It was also cunning of Trudeau to claim that he has a special reverence for justice and the charter of rights. This is especially so given his government's lamentable record on many legal files, including medically assisted dying and mandatory minimum sentences, which arguably have shown contempt for the charter.

      In addition, Trudeau seems to demonstrate a kind of superficial emotional responsiveness to the controversy that threatens to end his prime ministership.

      And there's more than a trace of grandiosity in his claims that he's a more loving, compassionate, and open-minded leader than others.

      A recent article by Wells called Trudeau an "imposter". It's a devastating political label.

      Justin Trudeau still hasn't lifted cabinet confidential requirements on Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak about what happened after she was appointed as the minister of veterans affairs.

      It's all about trust

      When the SNC-Lavalin controversy was first reported on February 7 in the Globe and Mail, the issue was really about SNC-Lavalin and the independence of the office of the attorney general.

      A month later, the story has morphed into whether Trudeau can be trusted.

      In that regard, his jolly demeanour is likely not helping him because it's so dissonant with the gravity of the issue.

      Trudeau's happy-go-lucky disposition was on display on the night he celebrated with supporters as he responded to the Philpott resignation.

      The momentary smiles when discussing serious issues can be interpreted as an unnatural lack of distress. It's conceivable that Trudeau knows he's fooling us and is living up to the annihilating Wells' moniker that he's an imposter.

      Judging by recent political polls, one point is indisputable: his sunny ways are wearing thin in the fourth year of his mandate.

      The way things are going, the Liberals can count themselves lucky if they manage to scrape together enough seats in the next election to form a minority government.

      That alone should give members of the cabinet reason to wonder if it's wise to continue investing so much trust in their leader.


      Wilson-Raybould's father, Bill Wilson, posted a message on Facebook accusing Trudeau of lying in his press briefing today.

      Below, you can hear more of Bill Wilson's opinions in an APTN video.

      Video: Watch APTN's coverage of the unfolding SNC-Lavalin scandal and Jodie Wilson-Raybould's exit from the federal cabinet.