Rivers: More on SNC Lavalin - 'And that will be the last word on that.'

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 1st, 2019



wernick umm

Former Clerk of the Privy Council – Michael Wernick chose to resign.

Former Justice Minister and Attorney General (AG) Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) has given us her last word on the SNC matter. Along with a final memo, she has forwarded a secretly recorded telephone conversation with the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, whom she accuses of pressuring her.

In addition, she offered relevant emails and text messages for the Justice Committee, regardless that they had already concluded their deliberations on this matter. The text message, from her former chief of staff notes that former PM Brian Mulroney had once strong armed his then AG, Kim Campbell, to intervene in a legal case.

Rather than just complain about ‘being pressured’ Campbell did intervene, then went on to become PM herself. That choice might have been instructive for JWR had she been considering running for the PM’s job, as some have suggested. Except that Trudeau had never directed her to intervene.

JWR looking right

Jodi Wilson Raybould – consistent and persistent – is there an end game?

Experts will debate the ethics of the former AG secretly recording a conversation with her client (link is below). But the good news, at least for Mr. Wernick, is that there was not even a veiled threat in that conversation. There was an exchange of views and JWR can be heard warning Wernick, but neither party even raised their voices and they both concluded amicably.

One wonders why JWR returned the call in the first place, given that she had been anticipating what Wernick wanted to say. And why did she talk for 17 minutes rather than just hang up at the very mention of SNC? There was nothing he could have said that was going to change her mind.

There has been speculation about whether the AG herself had been the source of the leak to original Globe and Mail article on this issue. JWR has now clarified that it wasn’t her. So who did leak the story? And was it the same person who then followed up, just this past week, with the story about the PM and his AG wrangling over the choice of chief justice for the Supreme Court.

JWR Trudeau

There was so much hope and promise.

Now that JWR has indicated there is nothing more to say, one wonders what else Jane Philpott has to add. It was only a few days ago that she explained to Maclean’s Magazine that “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told”. And so the question is why she isn’t telling it. Constitutional experts and even the PM have said that she could do so under parliamentary privilege.

When the Globe released this story the PM and his staff seemed to be dumb-struck, caught off guard. It was as if the paper had not bothered to contact them to authenticate the facts in its rush to release a juicy story. And if the goal was to stir the pot, the article certainly did that.

On the up side, Canadians are now thoroughly versed in the Shawcross principle, and have a healthy appreciation of Quebec based icon SNC Lavalin and its corrupt past.

Wernick snirh 1

The expression says sit all.

But this exercise has not been consequence-free. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, one Liberal MP has left the caucus, The PM has lost his principal secretary and Clerk of the Privy Council (essentially his deputy minister). The Liberal’s popularity has plummeted and attention to other matters, like the budget, have taken a backseat.

Internationally, Canada’s reputation has been tarnished, with the OECD even issuing a statement of concern. And two very significant ongoing court cases, Mark Norman and Huawei, may have been made more complicated over what is essentially a tempest in a tea pot.

Even the opposition parties have suffered. Andrew Scheer has performed poorly, foolishly demanding the PM’s resignation and brashly inviting the RCMP to investigate. His child-like antics in the House of Commons should have made responsible Tories wish they’d elected the more competent Lisa Raitt as their leader.

Of course the indigenous community has lost a champion or two at the Cabinet table. And if that sets back reconciliation, then we all have lost. JWR or Philpott are unlikely to be able to represent their preferred Liberal party in the upcoming election, – bitterness on all sides will remain.

SNC might get their DPA (deferred prosecution agreement) anyway, or the charges might just get thrown out by a judge, as has happened before with SNC. Judges dislike cases like this one which has taken so long for the public prosecutor and RCMP to get their act together.

And in any case, the decision to grant a DPA can be made any time before a final verdict is declared. So we might see a DPA offered by the next Liberal or Conservative government, or even the one after that.


The Gadafi yacht – Reported to have cost $160 million – paid for by SNC Lavalin

The crimes being prosecuted go back almost two decades. The charges are four years old and the likely court proceedings could easily take another four years. This is the first such case being prosecuted in Canada’s history, but that hardly excuses the delays. And SNC was not the only company paying bribes to the Gaddafi clan, so should we expect more?

The USA is primarily responsible for the OECD focusing on international corruption, in part to ensure that US companies get a competitive chance at international projects. And US companies have not been slouches when it comes to bribery. So the US has led, and even the UK, France and Australia are way ahead of Canada in setting tough compliance regimes against domestic companies bribing to get foreign business.

But all of these countries rely on a DPA instrument to punish almost 80% of their corporate bribery perpetrators. In fact an estimated 96% of US prosecutions end up there. The reality is that SNC Lavalin would have a better fighting chance of being appropriately punished for its past misbehaviour were it located in the USA. And given the mess we’re in now that may very well be where it ends up. And that will be the last word on that.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.


Background links:

Kim Campbell Pressured –    JWR Voice Recording –    About Recording

No Heroes –     Why Not DPA –    Philpott’s More to the Story

Speaking Out –     Trudeau Never Briefed –    Shawcross

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16 comments to Rivers: More on SNC Lavalin – ‘And that will be the last word on that.’

  • Fraser: aka D.Duck

    Turns out if you have morals, strength of character and integrity you should NOT become a politician as you will NOT succeed in the swamp.

  • Susan L.

    Canada seems to have a history of destroying our own large corporations and the good jobs that go with them. I’m thinking of the Avro Aero and now SNC-Lavalin.

    If many people had their way, we’d also destroy the CBC and Bombardier too.

    The methods and circumstances are all very different but, in the end, the result is the same.

    Oh, Canada.

    • Phillip Wooster

      Susan, your comments “forgot” to mention the jobs and investment lost in Alberta since Trudeau came to power–probably just an oversight????

    • Peter

      Susan, the jobs argument has been deconstructed weeks ago: Canadians will be hired by other companies to build the hospitals, bridges, etc; SNC-Lavalin is required to keep their head office in Montreal; SNC-Lavalin will continue to run the infrastructure they’ve developed under long-term agreements; Trudeau, Butts, etc never produced any evidence that 9,000 jobs will be lost.

      This is about protecting Liberal jobs in Quebec. The collateral damage is the Liberal Party has destroyed their brand of an inclusive big tent; constitutional principles of judicial independence are violated; there are different laws for the connected and powerful versus the rest of us; the executive branch wields too much power over the legislative branch undermining democratic principles.

    • Susan L.

      Good point about the jobs in Alberta. Big news in our newspapers all across Canada. The jobs in Alberta, are very important to a lot of Canadians. They are mostly foreign Corporations that are investing in Alberta so, the foreign profits and corporate tax money leaves Canada. The profits are huge but they’re not Canadian profits and they’re not Canadian companies. I believe we also subsidize the oil companies to the tune of about $3 Billion a year.

      Another foreign corporation Canadians really care about is the American auto companies. We will give them billions of tax dollars to keep those jobs in Canada. That was also big news in our newspapers, with a lot of Canadians wanting our governments to step in and give them almost anything they asked for. A lot of our tax dollars have ended up subsidizing those American Corporations too.

      Weren’t we going to offer all kinds of subsidies to Amazon, another foreign corporation?

      Re jobs in Quebec. To a lot of Canadians, jobs in Quebec aren’t important and some people would like to see Quebec lose jobs. That’s why I mentioned Bombardier.

      Foreign jobs do matter but overall, we don’t care where the huge profits end up or what these jobs will cost us in subsidies and tax breaks, we are mostly concerned about the jobs.

      The methods and circumstances are all very different but, in the end, the result is the same. We will easily destroy our own corporations while at the same time we will give huge tax breaks to foreign corporations.

      • Phillip Wooster

        Susan L-iberal: Foreign investment–that big bogeyman! Have you any idea where Canada would be today without foreign investment? Of course, paying taxpayer dollars to corrupt companies like SNC and poorly run ones like Bombardier is a recipe for success? I hate to disillusion you but even the vaunted economic growth & job creation touted by your Liberal buddies has more to do with the huge economic growth in the USA than it does with anything that the Liberals pass off as economic policy!

  • Peter

    Kicking out Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is about settling scores.

    Philpott was kicked out because she publicly stated that she does not trust Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. JWR refused to countenance political interference that required violating constitutional principles of judicial independence. As she told Wernick, she was trying to protect the Prime Minister from crossing established and very serious ethical lines. Sadly, he refused to listen to her counsel – and we’re now in this mess.

    The PM’s standing is diminished, coming off as a grubby politician from Papineau who many Canadians believe is concealing the truth. Wernick worried about Trudeau and JWR colliding because “he is in that kind of mood”. The PM IS moody and a bully; he gets what he wants by setting his caucus loyalists on two principled women. His feminist brand took a major hit.

    Sadly, our MP came off as the dutiful foot soldier, repeating the PMO’s orchestrated spin (click to watch Power and Politics Interview). She talks about ethics yet was silent on the PMO’s political interference in a criminal corruption case, their smearing of Chief Justice Joyal & their slagging two former cabinet colleagues.

    I’m disappointed she refused to acknowledge the pressure ordinary cabinet ministers face on ordinary files cannot possibly compare with the PMO putting pressure on the AG in a criminal corruption trial.

    The heady optimism and expectation we felt in 2015 is gone. The Prime Minister is dividing the country because he refuses to apologize. Gone are the soaring aspirations, replaced with the self-interested politics of shoring up Quebec votes by protecting a checkered company accused of bribing very nasty Libyans .

    I admit, I feel despair. Canada is a great country, with significant challenges. Yet, I don’t see anyone with the vision, grace and integrity, with the ability to rally the people in common cause and lead our country forward.

    I hope tomorrow I’ll feel differently.

  • Mike

    Thanks Pepper. I think we all appreciate the freedom of the press and respect it. From my perspective, pieces like Ray is producing are not news stories but opinion pieces which include information and a perspective, Ray’s, which I usually disagree with but that is fine. The point is we have the discussion / debate.

    If we could really see inside the whole SNC debacle, I believe we would find that politicians were just being politicians…but when holding public office, there is a fiduciary duty that is required and expected. It seems JT was never properly educated on what this means. Unfortunately the Clerk of the Privy council who is supposed to be non-partisan, was not, otherwise he would have been telling Trudeau exactly what JWR said to him.

    Failures in lots of places with this government. We still have tariffs on steel and aluminum, new NAFTA is not ratified (although we only gave in to the US demands on this and got nothing in return), Trans Mountain cost us $1billion to much to buy and who knows what ridiculous amount to build the twin line given government incompetence.

    Can wait for the change. Andrew Sheer needs to step up and be a leader otherwise we’ll end up keeping these folks and that will lead to a crisis for Canada.

  • Don Fletcher

    Please tell me, Ray, that your writing of yet another totally-biased article on the SNC Lavalin file is an April Fool’s Day joke.

    Ask yourself honestly whether you believe now with confidence that Justin Trudeau could effectively and responsibly lead Canada out of a real national crisis. The “erosion … of trust” that he speaks of is more aptly applied to how the majority of Canadians now question his competence, motivation and integrity.

    Rather than challenging Jody Wilson-Rabould and Jane Philpott’s motivations and tenure, more Liberals should be demanding that their “leader” step down. Hopefully, the electorate this fall will be more principled and discerning!

  • Joe Gaetan

    There comes a time when supporters of a given party have to say “No”, I do not support what you are about to do. So I fully agree, that Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould have demonstrated that principles do matter and that laws are there to be adhered to. I admire them for taking a stand, and we still do not know the whole story, mostly because of partisan tactics.
    Had the Justice Committee allowed JWR the opportunity to provide additional evidence as they did for Butts and Wernick, it would not have been necessary for JWR to provide the latest evidence to the committee, which they chose to release to the press.
    Having read the transcript, it is my impression JWR was in fact being subjected to a veiled threat. I do not agree with Rays impression that “the good news, at least for Mr. Wernick, is that there was not even a veiled threat in that conversation”.
    No veiled threat? A veiled threat is a comment expressed in a disguised form rather than directly and openly. Telling JWR that this was “not a bluff”, that he (Prime Minister Trudeau) is in “that kinda mood” that he was “very firm” and that he is in a “very firm mood” sure looks like pressure. Below are excerpts from the transcript that will allow readers to form their own opinions on what transpired and who was taking the high road.

    C: So it seems to be real and not a bluff.…. So, he is in that kinda mood and I wanted you to be aware of that..
    JWR : ok

    C: Ok but I think that is where people are talking past each other….it is not interference – the statute specifically has these other provisions in it that allow you to ask questions of the OPP and that is provided for and that is not interference …

    JWR : But I would have to issue a Directive, I would have to Gazette this…

    C: Ok I understand that – but I mean I think his view is that his is not asking you to do anything inappropriate or interfere. He is asking you to use all the tools that you lawfully have at your disposal…um.

    JWR: I know I have a tool under the prosecution Act that I can use. I do not believe it is appropriate to use tool in this case.

    C: ok alright … that is clear – um – well he is in a very firm mood about this so um….
    JWR: Does he understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean – this is not about saving jobs – this is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions – this is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.

    C: Well I don’t think he sees it as that…

    JWR: No one is explaining that to him Michael. Like this is…

    C: Ok but you are not just the Attorney General, you are the Minister of Justice in a cabinet and … context in which you exercise your roles and responsibilities…l think the way he sees it and the advice he is getting is that you still have things you can do that are not interference and are still very much lawful…

    JWR: It is not that they are not lawful. ..the perception and what will happen is that it will be deemed political interference from day one when people were talking about why we are entering into a DPA or putting in a DPA regime in place … Everybody knows that it was because of SNC whether that is true or not that is what people will think.

    C: Alright…um…well I am going to have to report back before he leaves…he is in a pretty firm frame of mind about this so…l am a bit worried…

    JWR: Bit worried about what?

    C: Well…it is not a good idea for the Prime Minister and his Attorney General to be at loggerheads.

    JWR: Well I feel that I am giving him my best advice and if he does not accept that advice then it is his prerogative to do what he wants… But I am trying to protect the Prime Minister from political interference or perceived political interference or otherwise.

  • Thanks for your clarification Pepper. I think it is helpful that the Burlington Gazette’s readership be informed that Mr. Rivers opinion is not necessarily supported by your publication.

    It is essential that we respect free speech and other people’s opinions. I do think that, based on his obvious Liberal bias, Mr. River’s truly believes what he writes as opposed to attempting to be controversial in order to stir up reader reaction. The problem is that, when someone consistently goes what can arguably be seen as ‘too far’, people can get to the point that they just cannot be bothered to listen. And the by-product of this could be that people get turned off by not only the message, but by the messenger as well.

    That said, your forum, as well as others, provides us with the opportunity to hear Mr. River’s opinion and those of other people who may have different viewpoints. This process enables us to be more informed and to develop our OWN opinions. I don’t agree with Mr. Rivers. But I do want the choice to hear him if I choose to. What worries me is that our government, in an effort to protect us from so called ‘fake news’, starts to control what we can and cannot hear. Even more so if I can ONLY hear Mr. Rivers.

  • Gary

    This was a refreshing intervention by the publisher.

    A huge attempt by Trudeau fans to paint JWR and Philpott as bad actors and generally bad people has been in play. It matters not that either of them may not be eligible for sainthood, although, personally, I applaud their integrity in this matter.

    What the central issue is and remains whether JWR was extensively lobbied to drop the criminal case against SNC-Lavalin in favour of a DPA. The material filed with the Justice Committee makes it quite clear this is what was happening, despite JWR’s clear warning to them that the lobbyists were overstepping.

    The second more damaging aspect of this affair (for the coming election) is the ham-handed way in which the Liberals, led by Trudeau, tried to message their way out of the accusations once the story broke, shifting accounts as the public winds began blowing against them. And, when that didn’t work, they just shut down further enquiry, digging themselves deeper into the untrustworthy grave. Despite Mr. Scheer’s admittedly lacklustre performance, current polls predict a minority Conservative government for Canada. It will be interesting to see if those polls hold to election day.

    One thing did get cleared up by the materials filed by JWR. She was ready to take on the Veteran’s Affairs portfolio until Trudeau opened his mouth and declared that proved there was no problem with his government. She was not going to be his fig leaf.

    One recalls that Trudeau got the reluctant Donald Trump to attend a G-7 conference and sign on to a joint communique and then hours later blew the whole thing by saying “Canada was not going to pushed around”, infuriating Trump. His latest faux pas is mocking native protestors at a rally, showing anything but the sunny ways we were treated to early in his term. The Liberals might want to muzzle him as much as possible during the forthcoming election campaign. It seems like Andrew Scheer has some real competition in the “shoe in the mouth” department.

    Finally, hats off to the Globe and Mail for doing what newspapers are supposed to do, holding the government to account.

  • Phillip Wooster

    A number of points to clarify, Ray. First, there is NO equivalency between Mulroney asking Kim Campbell and the current SNC Lavalin fiasco.Mulroney asked Campbell to intervene in the Milgaard case–a man who had been shown to be innocent but who was still being held in custody–there was no interference with the rule of law for political purposes.

    And of course, you didn’t emphasize the Liberal strategy to smear JWR. You state that JWR did not leak the original story to the G&M (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), she certainly didn’t leak the story about the appointment to the Supreme Court, and of course, Liberal commentators having been making much ado over the “illegality” (it isn’t) of the telephone call with Wernick. On the latter point, however inappropriate the recording might have been (and JWR herself admitted this), it is understandable given the poisoned atmosphere within the PMO’s office. In addition to which, it was known that Ministers regularly make notes on such calls.

    The Mark Norman case is a tempest in a teapot? No–it actually involves the same problem as the SNC Lavalin case. SNC brought pressure to bear within the PMO’s office as did Irving Shipyards. The major problem for your Liberal buddies, Ray, is that the Norman case is before the courts and the Trudeau mob won’t be able to cover it up.

    Open and transparent government as promised, Ray???? Ways indeed!

  • Pepper

    Publisher’s engage people well versed in a subject area, make them columnists and live with whatever they choose to write. It is rare for a publisher to pull a column; my practice is to talk to columnists before the start writing to get a sense as to where they are going to go.
    For the past month Ray Rivers has been close to fixated on the SNC Lavalin story – he is still arguing that it isn’t a scandal – his readers have been whacking away at him on the angle.

    I don’t think we have seen the end of this story. The questions in my mind are: Will the Prime Minister ask them to leave the Liberal caucus – many Members of the House of Commons seem to be looking forward to their leaving – soon.

    Will the run as Liberal candidates in their riding? Or will they run as Independent Liberals – and will hen win?

    And if they do run as Independent Liberals and win what message does that send the Primer Minister?

    And finally – what is their end game.

    Some have suggested that JWR would like to be Prime Minister – can’t happen – in order to serve as prime Minister you have to be bilingual. There is no rule on that matter – it has just become the custom.

    Do Raybould and Philpot yearn for the days when there was so much promise coming from the mouth of the Prime Minister and they want to serve in a government that delivers on its promises and believe that they can create the conditions that produce a government that is open, honest all the time, every time.

    These two women have taught us that principles matter and that laws are there to be adhered to.

    Come October we will know if I have asked the right questions and if these two women are going to be part of the answers.