As if the SNC-Lavalin conflagration wasn’t already hot enough, today the OECD Working Group on Bribery sounded new alarm bells.
In its news release, it declared that is “concerned by recent allegations of interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin that are subject to proceedings in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The Canadian engineering and construction group is the subject of an ongoing prosecution into allegations of the bribery of Libyan officials to obtain a Can$ 58-million contract to restore a water pipeline.
“As a Party to the Anti-Bribery Convention, Canada is fully committed to complying with the Convention, which requires prosecutorial independence in foreign bribery cases pursuant to Article 5. In addition, political factors such as a country’s national economic interest and the identity of the alleged perpetrators must not influence foreign bribery investigations and prosecutions.” [Emphasis added.]
Noting the ongoing reviews into the scandal by the ethics commissioner and justice committee, the anti-bribery oversight body went on to say that it is “encouraged by these processes, and notes that the Canadian authorities stress that they are transparent and independent".
“The Working Group recognises Canada’s willingness to keep it fully informed of developments in the proceedings, including at its next meeting in June 2019.” [Emphasis added.]
With those words from the OECD, Justin Trudeau’s House fire just became a five-alarm blaze.
This obliges all members of the Commons justice committee to stand up and do their job in fulfilling that responsibility, to save Canada harm from any perceptions of a cover-up aimed at frustrating the truth on what really happened in this fiasco.
On Wednesday (March 13), an emergency meeting of the committee will be held at the request of the opposition parties. That, despite the Liberal members’ earlier attempt to delay the committee’s next in-camera meeting until budget day, and despite voting to refuse the opposition’s attempts to invite former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould back to share her whole truth and to request other key figures in the scandal to testify.
Whatever prior partisan motives or direction may have influenced their individual roles in this “opus of opacity”, the six Liberal members and their alternates who comprise the majority on that committee must now stand up and be counted.
It is high time they put their country before their party, their solemn duty as parliamentarians before their personal political interests, and their unique responsibility for unearthing the truth on LavScam before their career concerns in Trudeau’s government.
The fear of retribution for going “off-side” should be no match for the overriding interest of doing what it is so clearly called for in the public interest.
And remember, it only takes one Liberal to give the opposition’s four members an equal voice among the 10 votes on the committee to achieve what all Canadians want and expect. Usually that one vote would be sufficient to count for the majority, given that the Liberal chair only need vote to break a tie.
Will even one of those six Liberal members show that moral certitude and find the guts and good sense to mirror the leadership already shown by Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott?
Indeed, if it wasn’t clear enough before, the OECD’s distress signal should oblige all members of the Liberal caucus to demand that the parliamentary committee responsible for getting to the bottom of this scandal fully do its job.
And further, that their leader—the one whose conduct is most in question—stop trying to undermine that imperative by continuing to fetter what JWB can and cannot talk about; or by effectively trying to muzzle or protect those who should also be called to testify, whatever they might reveal about his leadership in the controversy.
MPs must look in the mirror
Let me step back a minute and reflect on the duty of all elected representative to always put the public interest ahead of partisan interest, especially on a matter so gravely important as this. For what is at stake, no less, is the rule of law and its core tenet of prosecutorial independence.
In my past roles, I worked with hundreds of politicians, including in providing so-called “media training” to new candidates. Much of which, I’ll admit, was aimed at “assisting” them in mastering the dark art of staying within my parties’ message boxes.
In meeting a new candidate, I would often ask a question that I came to observe was typically the hardest one for many of those new recruits to answer.
That being, “Why are you running for office?”
Fact is, many of the people who run for elected office initially decide to do so primarily because they were encouraged to do so. Because someone—usually the party leader and his/her strategists and advisers—asked them to run, assuring them that they would make “great candidates”.
By which the latter really meant those candidates stood a good chance of winning their seat/riding for that party, in the political game of numbers that often has little to do with the object of the parties’ pursuit of power, let alone what any particular candidate hopes to achieve.
The Liberals on the justice committee must now revisit that question that each of them has probably answered in rote on many occasions.
They must take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves who it is they hope to see looking back at them, as opposed to the person they have presented themselves as being, in trying to be good Liberal foot soldiers.
Who is it really they hope to behold behind those uncertain eyes?
Is it a person who is foreign to all that they believe they hold dear and would like to believe defines them as a person worthy of public trust? Or a person of conviction, courage, and resolve, who is worthy of their own self-assurances and of the example they set for others?
In the end, we are who our actions prove us to be, defined by the truths we recognize about ourselves in that eternal war of conscience. Politics only amplifies the stakes, insofar as it is all about how elected representatives conduct themselves on behalf of the people who afforded them that solemn privilege.
Why did those Liberals really run for office? What will their individual legacy be? What example will they set through their individually decisive roles on this committee in siding with truth and justice in the face of its opposite?
What principles really guide their behaviour and will forever define them in the eyes of their children, family, friends, and future generations?
Or do they not matter, when push comes to shove and when conflicts of self-interest lead them to convince themselves that “party loyalty”, “party discipline”, and “party team-playing” should take pre-eminence over the niggling imperatives that they all know in their hearts are morally paramount?
Deep down, they and all MPs know, that serving as a member of Parliament is not just a privilege that is in part bestowed by their leader in advancing the greater good of their “team” in a Machiavellian game of justifying desired ends through any politically “necessary” means.
In public office, the means are often indistinguishable from the ends, which in this case, put all committee members in double jeopardy if they choose to do wrong over right.
They know that whatever their initial reasons were for running for office—balancing budgets, fostering social justice, achieving some specific goal close to their heart—justice demands they do right by refusing to submit to the defensive knee-jerk partisan urge to do further wrong.
That is the lesson so forcefully and eloquently imparted by their incredibly selfless and courageous colleagues, JWB and Philpott.
With the OECD’s missive today, those Liberal committee members—and all members of the Liberal caucus and cabinet—must finally admit to themselves that blinking back in wonderment at the tortured soul they see staring back at them in the mirror is a fool’s reflex response.
The urge to perpetuate the problems they supposedly seek to reveal is a base urge that they must each must see, and accept that they alone hold the power to control and overcome by honouring the public trust they were sworn to uphold.
Turning away and biting their lips won’t help them resolve their moral dilemma, which holds only one recourse as its self-evidently appropriate response.
Their nation—Canada—now stands behind them, scrutinizing their every move.
It waits with growing frustration for them to do the right thing that everyone but them saw long ago is required under the circumstances.
The voters, too, will judge them soon enough in how they respond to the clarion call for transparency, truth, and hard, unwavering, apolitical action aimed at public accountability on the LavScam debacle.
I would suggest that it is also in their own partisan interest to emphatically act as the opposition has repeatedly implored, to properly investigate and expose the whole truth of what transpired in the SNC-Lavalin fiasco.
The public will hold those Liberals personally accountable for their actions in either trying to deny that whole truth from surfacing, or in helping to author its ineluctable airing.
The prime minister’s self-interest and his government’s immediate political fortunes should have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Because each member on that committee already knows what is ethically commanded, whatever their individual political motives may be in either advancing or denying JWR’s historic attempt to speak to truth to power.
Wilson-Raybould has to be allowed to respond
On Wednesday, all members of that “justice” committee must resolve to let the chips fall where they may in holding themselves accountable for acting to make their august body worthy of its name and mandate.
They must invite JWR back to the committee, as the PM’s deputy and top bureaucrat was allowed to do, to respond to Michael Wernick’s and Gerald Butts’s testimony. To let JWR answer those key players’ “version” of the facts and events that implied she had been untruthful in her initial testimony or had simply remembered things differently.
JWR must be allowed to answer their accounts, which further implied she was simply a bitter Indigenous woman scorned. And worse, that she was somehow negligent because she failed to put her concerns and her misremembered “version” of the truth in writing to the prime minister.
She must be allowed to speak directly to the many other pertinent facts before and after he fired her from her job as Canada’s highest guardian of justice and the rule of law, after his senior advisers were dispatched to inappropriately pressure her with veiled threats, as she previously relayed.
Wilson-Raybould and each of the 11 individuals whom she has identified are central to this drama should all be asked to testify, under oath and at penalty of perjury for lying, as the opposition has unsuccessfully advocated, time and time again.
Canada’s reputation and good standing as one of the 44 parties that are signatories to the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention demands no less.
And the first person who should be making that point, apart from the prime minister himself, is Canada’s current justice minister and attorney general, David Lametti. He must stand up and insist upon the committee doing what he, too, well knows is required to prevent any hint of an ongoing cover-up.
Enough of the partisan games, already.
All Liberals must ask themselves what is really important and resolve to advance what they all know is dictated by their conscience in the name of justice.
Anything less is abomination of justice and an unforgivable abdication of responsibility that will only serve to send the opposite message from the one each and every Liberal MP surely hoped to convey in their respective decisions to run for public office.More