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Nobody could read Dion’s report and feel inspired that Trudeau is that leader
OTTAWA , Ont. - Justin Trudeau has created an illusion of himself as a leader more noble and principled than the facts warrant.
Yet, it can still be a shock when it’s revealed he’s as calculating as the most cynical of his predecessors, greeting each new situation with the internal question: “What can this do for me?”
The mask slipped Wednesday, with the release of a report by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion that found him in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act for the second time — just two years after he had his knuckles wrapped for taking a Christmas vacation on an island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan.
Much of the narrative is known but the written testimony submitted by the prime minister last month is new and it will make uncomfortable reading for Liberals, revealing as it does the disconnect between the toothy feminist, preaching positive politics, and the egotist, happy to lay down his friends for his political life.
In mid-July, after Dion had presented Trudeau with the evidence he had gathered in the SNC Lavalin investigation, the prime minister’s counsel made a written submission, that tried (and failed) to sway the ethics commissioner from finding him guilty of trying to further the interests of the Montreal-based engineering giant.
It was an ugly, mean piece of work that not only sought to portray former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould as over-wrought, irrational and incompetent, it also attempted to exonerate Trudeau from any inappropriate behaviour by his staff.
The submission said Wilson-Raybould’s anger at being moved from her position as minister of justice and attorney general to become minister of veterans affairs in January’s shuffle left her angry and coloured her perception of events. His counsel submitted that at no time did she express her opinion that Trudeau’s conduct, or that of his staff, was improper (even though she did repeatedly make that claim to a number of senior advisers and to Finance Minister Bill Morneau).
Not only was she too emotional, Trudeau’s counsel said, she failed in her duty to acquaint herself with all the relevant facts. Rather than make a meaningful decision on SNC’s request to be offered a remediation agreement, she deferred to the director of public prosecutions. Trudeau’s counsel pointed out that Wilson-Raybould’s own deputy minister had expressed concerns that more time and reflection were needed to weigh the impact on SNC workers and pensioners. In summary, the submission said Wilson-Raybould’s decision-making was inadequate and infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation.
While Trudeau did nothing wrong, his counsel claimed, if anyone acted improperly, it could not be laid at the prime minister’s door.
Trudeau could not be held “vicariously liable” for the actions of his staff, counsel claimed, because liability under the act is personal.
The case for the defence wrapped up by submitting that Trudeau did not act to advance partisan or private considerations, his only concern being for the public interest.
For months, the government was panicked by the thought of the political and economic implications of a criminal prosecution of SNC, despite the fact no study or analysis of the economic impact was carried out.
Dion resisted the urge to nominate Trudeau for a meritorious service medal and instead found him guilty of contravening section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits public officer holders from furthering the interests of people or organizations. In this case, he said Trudeau attempted to use his influence to arrive at a decision that would have furthered the interests of SNC, which was charged in 2015 with bribery and fraud in Libya. In 2016, SNC’s new chief executive began lobbying Ottawa to strike a remediation deal that would avoid a criminal trial. The government introduced the legal framework for such a deal in its 2018 budget but Wilson-Raybould said she was concerned the process was rushed and made the decision not speak publicly or before parliamentary committees about the new regime.
In his written submission to Dion, Trudeau said his relationship with Wilson-Raybould was challenging and tense, citing examples of her refusing to share information with cabinet colleagues.
But Dion said that Wilson-Raybould’s decision-making capacity, her relationship with her cabinet colleagues and her demotion were all immaterial to the case before him.
The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, had decided in September 2018 that a remediation deal was not appropriate in SNC’s case.
The attorney general has the power to overrule the DPP but that power has never been used federally and Wilson-Raybould opted to back Roussel.
Dion deemed the decision to be an exercise in prosecutorial discretion and said it was not for him or Trudeau to judge whether or not the attorney general had sufficiently considered the public interest. “I find all these tactics troubling,” he said of the repeated attempts to persuade Wilson-Raybould to re-examine the idea of seeking outside advice on the SNC case.
“The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions, as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”
On the concept of “vicarious liability,” he said no one could have influenced the attorney general by virtue of their own position — they were “under the direction and authority of the prime minister.”
Trudeau’s interpretation of Wilson-Raybould’s decision was that she was taking an overly rigid perspective on prosecutorial independence — typical of the kind of woolly analysis of an arts graduate.
But Dion said there were good grounds in law for not granting SNC a remediation deal, principally that the company was charged with offences under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, which specifically directs prosecutors to ignore the national economic interest under the Criminal Code.
Thus, Wilson-Raybould was resistant to all pressure that cited the economic fallout from a prosecution that could see SNC barred from competing for public contracts for up to 10 years.
Dion also made clear that Trudeau and his staff were as motivated by political concerns as they were by the potential job losses. The prime minister talked about the delicate intersection of policy and politics, while reminding Wilson-Raybould that he is an MP for a Montreal riding. Senior staff told the attorney general’s chief of staff “we can have the best policy in the world but we need to get re-elected.”
Dion pointed to the Shawcross doctrine, the principle that protects prosecutorial independence, as a line that should not be crossed.
Trudeau argued he didn’t contravene it, saying he did not direct Wilson-Raybould, he only sought explanations for her decision-making and an assurance that she’d considered every option.
Dion disagreed, saying the repeated interventions by the prime minister, his senior staff and public officials led him to conclude that “these actions were tantamount to political direction.”
Trudeau came to power promising to restore trust in government and democracy. Anyone who suggested that the business of reaching for power would sully those lofty ideals was labelled a cynic. But few people have behaved more cynically in the past four years than this repeat offender prime minister.
In two months, Canadians will be asked to vote for someone they feel they can trust to run the country. Nobody could read Dion’s report and feel inspired that Trudeau is that leader.
It is a gift for the Liberals that this damning report landed when most voters are squeezing out the last drops from summer and not paying any attention to politics.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019