Martyn Brown: Want to foil the PM’s LavScam cover-up plan? Boycott the budget

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      Once again, Jody Wilson-Raybould has challenged all legislators—and, indeed, all Canadians—to stand up in defending the rule of law and its tenet of prosecutorial independence from those in her own governing party who have tried to subvert that constitutional imperative.

      In a thank-you letter to her constituents, she writes this:

      “Recent events have been a wake-up call for many across the country. These matters are still unfolding, and further clarity and information is needed. As in other places around the globe, our democratic institutions and norms—including the rule of law and prosecutorial independence—are under pressure. Collectively, and as individuals, we are challenged to respond.

      “Unsurprisingly, some responses to this challenge—including from some politicians and commentators—suggest this is simply the way things are, and the way they will always be.

      “This old, cynical view is wrong. We need never resign ourselves to the excuse that ‘this is just the way things are done.’ Our country is one built on a belief that we can, and must, continually do better. We will never be perfect, but we must always be striving to strengthen the foundations of diversity, inclusion, equality, and justice. When we are not doing that, we have truly lost our way.”

      Right on, Puglaas.

      The question now is, how should the opposition MPs respond to the prime minister’s appalling attempts to try to cover up his actions in the SNC-Lavalin scandal—a scandal that he hopes to begin to bury by refocusing public attention on the budget?

      How should they respond to his ongoing efforts to muzzle JWR and to prevent her and the others she has identified as key actors in this drama from sharing their whole truth before the Commons justice committee?

      How should they respond to the unconscionable actions of the Liberal members who sit on that committee—led by lifelong Liberal political hack MP Francis Drouin, who moved the motion last Wednesday that shut down the justice committee’s emergency debate after only 25 minutes?

      How should they respond to that cynical effort to likely stick a knife in the LavScam inquiry in its in-camera meeting on budget day, gambling that many in the media have already accepted that outcome as a foregone conclusion and that the public is ready to “move on”?

      “'Cover-up!': Opposition erupts as Liberals shut down emergency meeting on SNC-Lavalin affair”, the ensuing headlines screamed.

      Yet since that happened, the story has, indeed, died down. You can bet that the Liberal political brain trust that was responsible for the scandal in the first place are now high-fiving each other, convinced that their strategy of distraction and denial will succeed.

      And the sad truth is, it probably will, unless the opposition MPs collectively grow a pair and resolve to fight back with all their might.

      So, what now? The ball is in the opposition’s collective court.

      They can choose to either huff and puff with little serious fanfare or they can act with common conviction to take up JWR’s challenge to not blithely accept that “this is just the way things are done.”

      Let me take another stab at an idea I floated in my last column on this subject.

      The opposition members should never sell themselves short. In our system of parliamentary democracy, they can do much to ensure the media spotlight remains where it belongs, squarely on the one who authored this sorry assault on justice: Canada’s prime minister.

      Imagine if, when finance minister Bill Morneau rose to deliver his budget speech, all of the opposition party MPs also stood up—and turned their back on him in protest.

      Imagine if JWR and Jane Philpott also joined in that public expression of resistance, reminiscent of Elijah Harper’s infamous response in resisting the Meech Lake Accord, when he held his eagle feather in the Manitoba legislature and said "No".

      That one “heritage minute” arguably also changed the course of Canadian history.

      A similar peaceful and poignant act of democratic objection next Tuesday would be quite a statement in direct response to Trudeau’s efforts to turn his back on JWR, to turn his back on the scandal he created, and to turn his back on Canadians’ strong demand to get to the bottom of it.

      Imagine if all of those MPs then marched in unison out of the House, in the midst of Morneau’s bait-and-switch performance, and held a joint leaders’ news conference outside on Parliament Hill?

      Imagine if some of those present in the Commons gallery also got up and left, in solidarity of all opposition parties’ effort to hold the government duly accountable?

      Better yet, imagine if the “usual suspects” attending the budget lockup further chose to preface their budget comments with an appeal to “free Puglaas”, as it were? To ensure that budget day is itself a milestone in advancing Trudeau’s judgement day.

      Highly unlikely, you say? No doubt. The opposition parties rarely see fit to work together on almost any issue when they might think they can score more political points for themselves by flying solo.

      But such a response is absolutely warranted under the circumstances, I believe. It would be far more newsworthy than the usual daily theatre of question period. Moreover, given the opposition’s cooperation on the justice committee so far on this issue, such a joint action would be in keeping with their common effort to work together to hold the government’s feet to the fire.

      Lest we forget, this entire controversy actually started with last year’s budget. It was then that the new legislative “tool” allowing for deferred prosecution agreements under the Criminal Code was slipped into the finance minister’s massive omnibus budget bill—in violation of Trudeau’s election promise to stop that practice.

      Remember, that abuse of power was also aimed at avoiding proper public scrutiny. That change that Trudeau hoped to bury in his last budget to help benefit his party’s political donors and SNC-Lavalin’s shareholders, employees, and pensioners was never brought to the justice committee for prior inspection and debate.

      Boycott the budget, I say, if we’re really serious about stopping Trudeau’s LavScam cover-up from succeeding as planned.

      Make a real democratic statement to all Canadians and to all the world that we are intent on honouring Canada’s OECD anti-bribery commitments by ensuring that the truth on what really happened in the SNC-Lavalin scandal is outed.

      The world is watching.

      Will our MPs adopt the all-too-polite Canadian response of passively accommodating the prime minister’s cover-up strategy?

      Or will they, instead, use their strength of numbers and their unique power as Canada’s elected representatives to send this desperately needed unmistakable message: not a looney without an honest airing of the truth?

      You want to really help foil the PM’s LavScam cover-up plan? Tell your MP to #BoycottTheBudget.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at