For as long as I have been associated with the news business, and that takes in 65 years, I have never been able to understand why some people never seem to learn that their explanations or attempts at covering up always end up being worse than the activity that is being questioned.
It has occurred again over the past couple of weeks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the case of SNC-Lavalin, which is facing criminal charges over allegations of bribery and fraud in Libya which allegedly took place between 2001 and 2011.
Federal prosecutors are routing the charges through the criminal court system while Trudeau wants another route taken, a remediation agreement which would see the company pay a stiff penalty but avoid a criminal conviction.
When Jody Wilson-Raybould, justice minister and attorney general, wouldn’t go along with this, he demoted her to minister of veteran affairs, a portfolio from which she resigned within days.
None of this need have happened.
The affair started back in September with Wilson-Raybould feeling pressured to overturn the decision by the director of prosecutions to take the case to court.
But it didn’t surface in the public domain until a story appeared in The Globe and Mail in February.
Then the proverbial fan was overwhelmed with what was hitting it.
The government was in total denial that any of its members did anything wrong.
Legally speaking, it may be right. After all, I don’t think there is any hard evidence beyond Wilson-Raybould’s claim that the government was interfering with the justice system
But the optics are not good.
Sitting outside and reading the news stories, I got the impression that the prime minister was really screwing up in attempting to deny anyone put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to overrule her prosecutors, considering officials were talking to her on and off for five months.
He would have been wise to have admitted outright that the government wanted to have to case go another route and that officials had discussed the matter with the justice minister.
He could deny any pressure was put on her, which would then leave them in a she said, he said, situation.
Even if most Canadians believed Wilson-Raybould over the prime minister, which I believe would probably be the case considering how solid she sounded when she got to give her side of the story, he would have at least joined her on the high ground.
I don’t think that can be said for him as things stand now.
He made an attempt at contrition, but it fell short, the blame going everywhere except where it should, with him.
I think of the whole thing this way.
When the story broke, the prime minister did admit that the government was concerned about the jobs that could be lost in Quebec if SNC-Lavalin was prosecuted and convicted, resulting in a ban on getting any federal contracts for 10 years.
A lot of Canadians would understand this, believing working to save jobs was something any government would do.
But then he demoted Wison-Raybould.
That put a whole new light on things.
Now we are seeing an autocrat in action rather than the head of a democratic government.
The government may not believe it put pressure on Wilson-Raybould, although that is something the rest of us will find hard to believe.
After all, she had made up her mind on this way back in September of last year but government officials kept discussing the matter with her one way or the other right up until the time of The Globe and Mail story.
All they wanted, they said, was for her to get an outside opinion.
“When you boil it all down, all we ever asked the attorney general to consider was a second opinion,” Gerald Butts, who recently resigned as principal secretary to the prime minister, told the House of Commons justice committee.
“When 9,000 people’s jobs are at stake, it is a policy problem of the highest order. It was our obligation to exhaustively consider options the law allows.”
This is fine but only up to a point. You don’t attempt to circumvent our system of justice, which could be inferred from the actions of the government.
And when it comes to the 9,000 jobs and the claim that SNC-Lavalin would move from Quebec, it seems to me that that is simply fear-mongering.
Canada’s failure to reach a negotiated settlement with SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. over past corruption charges has probably cost the company more than $5 billion (US$3.7 billion) in lost revenue and continues to damage its reputation internationally, Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce told Bloomberg News.
But Bruce also insisted the company is committed to remaining headquartered in Montreal.
“We absolutely want to be based here in Quebec, here in Canada,” he said..
As much as I can understand our government wanting to save jobs, I must go along with those who say SNC-Lavalin should have its case proceed through the justice system.
To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of it.
It would simply say that large firms with thousands of employees would be considered to be above the law. In other words, money talks and lets them walk.
What does this say to the person who ends up serving jail time for what could be considered a minor crime in comparison?
I think our prime minister and his government crossed the line here.
However, I doubt it will cost the Liberals the election, although the actions or antics of those involved may tick off enough people that they ends up with a minority.
I would hope the prime minister and his minions would learn from what has transpired here but they have given no evidence yet that that is the case.