04.03.2019 10:16 AM

If you do nothing else today, read this Andrew Coyne column in the Post

It is exceptional.  And every word is true.

“Ultimately the choice that is before you,” Jody Wilson-Raybould pleaded with her caucus colleagues, in a letter written hours before they were to pass sentence on her, “is about what kind of party you want to be a part of, what values it will uphold, the vision that animates it, and indeed the type of people it will attract and make it up.”

But they made that choice long ago. They knew what kind of party they wanted to be a part of from the moment they accepted their nominations; indeed, were they not the type of person that party attracts they would not have been recruited for it. It is the kind of party, and person, that unquestioningly puts loyalty to party before principle — and mercilessly punishes those who do not.

So on the question of whether to expel the former minister of justice and attorney general — along with the former Treasury Board president, Jane Philpott — for the crime of denouncing the attempt, by the prime minister and senior government officials, to interfere with a criminal prosecution, there could have been little doubt how they would vote.

Whether they chose to shoot the messengers so spontaneously, over Justin Trudeau’s objections, as some reports have claimed — they were “determined to take the matter into their own hands,” according to a Canadian Press story, as if MPs were so eager to prove their obedience to the leader as to be willing to defy him — or whether they did so under orders doesn’t much matter. The rotting of the soul is the same either way.

We can now see, if it were not already apparent, the moral compass by which the prime minister and his caucus steer. The scandal in the SNC-Lavalin affair is, by this reckoning, not the months-long campaign to subvert the independence of the attorney general and, through her, to force the independent director of public prosecutions to drop charges of fraud and corruption against a long-time Liberal party contributor, but the opposition to it.

Traditional political theory teaches that the executive branch of government is responsible to the legislative. It is now clearer than ever that the reverse more nearly applies: members of the Liberal caucus plainly see it as their role, not to hold the government to account, but rather their fellow MPs — on behalf of the government. When wrongdoing by those high in government is alleged by a pair of whistleblowers, their first thought is to root out the whistleblowers.

Even when presented with incontrovertible evidence, in the form of an audio recording, that the clerk of the privy council, Michael Wernick, threatened the former attorney general with dismissal if she did not bend to the PM’s will, and that she repeatedly and explicitly protested against this “political interference” — on both points contrary to his testimony before a parliamentary committee — the prime minister and his camp followers profess themselves outraged, not at what the tape reveals, but that it exists.

No such outrage attended the release of a near-verbatim transcript of a later conversation between the former attorney general and the prime minister, based on notes taken by a person who was not even (so far as she was aware) privy to the call: the prime minister’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts. Why is a surreptitiously obtained transcript (which confirms, not confounds, her testimony) acceptable, while a surreptitiously obtained tape is not? The objection would appear to be that the latter is more accurate.

So the charge is a pretext. What has agitated Liberal MPs is not the former attorney general’s recording of a conversation she correctly anticipated would be improper and could have guessed would be denied, or her failure to alert the prime minister at whose behest it had taken place (and who could not fail to have been informed of its contents), but rather that she has contradicted and embarrassed the leader.

Or rather no: I suspect what truly outrages them is the sight of a person of conscience, unwilling to sacrifice her principles so readily on the altar of partisanship. For those who can still remember what that was like, it must be deeply shaming. For the rest, there is only one principle — blind loyalty to the leader — in which cause they are prepared to sacrifice any number of colleagues.

We should understand, not only how noxious this is, but how unusual. Only in Canada can you be kicked out of the party for disobeying the leader — because only in Canada has the party been so wholly subsumed by the leader, to the point that it exists more or less as an extension of his persona. The prime minister of Great Britain has suffered multiple coup attempts, without any such purges. Because in Britain it is understood that the leader serves the party, rather than the other way around.

Yet it is exactly that sort of leader-dominated, centralized politics that created this mess. Only a leader who was effectively accountable to no one could have so lost sight of the relevant ethical boundaries as to attempt to shut down a prosecution — for any reason, let alone the nakedly partisan purposes alleged. Only a leader surrounded by sycophants could have imagined that the past seven weeks of denial, deflection and smears could succeed in rescuing his reputation.

Or perhaps that is not the point. It is often said that the coverup is worse than the crime. Worse than a coverup, however, is the kind of open attempt to confuse the issue we have been witnessing. Since his initial, lawyerly non-denial, the prime minister has not much bothered to pretend he did not do what he is accused of — he merely insists there was nothing wrong with it. The object: to corrupt, not just the administration of justice, but our collective sense of right and wrong.

Still, it’s hard to see what is accomplished by this latest bout of thuggery — not only expelling Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, but revoking their nominations. It seems to be motivated by little more than sheer delight in retribution: vindictiveness for vindictiveness’s sake. And yet they are not one whit diminished by it; only the prime minister is.

17 Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Sadly it is our very (supposedly ‘democratic ‘) system of government based on power centred at the top that inherently breeds the corruption we repeatedly witness. The system itself is broken! The entire system of governance needs to be re-thought. We need a totally transparent non-hierarchical system where every individual takes personal responsibility and the outcomes meet the highest and best good of all.

  2. Lorne says:

    Very well written.

    When I see Wayne Easter practically spitting he is so upset. He doesn’t care about the meat of the issue, just the recording. He doesn’t see that Butts, et al, have somehow possession of verbatim scripts of conversations.

    It leaves me with only one thought, that they must be removed from power.

  3. Ron Benn says:

    Ms. Wilson-Reybould and Dr. Philpott had to be removed from the Liberal caucus. They had demonstrated, through their actions, that their standards were too high. If they weren’t, then every time a member of the Liberal caucus walked into a caucus meeting, they would be reminded of how low their own standards are. That could “trigger” questions about their self-esteem, and that could lead to allegations of bullying … and bullies are not acceptable in the Liberal caucus.

  4. A. Gerard Butts says:

    Does the law matter in this country? Are we on a slippery slope to a dictatorship? Are the RCMP looking into the matter and will they aggressively investigate and lay charges if warranted. It seems pretty straight forward to this voter that certain of the Liberals sound a little like me when I’m lying. For gods sake someone with the authority get get off your royal butt and do something. Our Nation is falling apart.

  5. Mark says:

    So looking forward to the election campaign, JT’s inevitable speech with a tear in his eye and that infuriating cadence, how sometimes things get messy, good people get hurt, and though we regret it, we always had to keep in mind the best interests of the country. Which is to say, only us Liberals and me in particular, can prevent the return of the evil Harper-ites, who would do so much worse than we ever did. You have to excuse our actions because they were done only to keep something even worse from happening. Canada cannot stand for the Conservatives holding complete control… blah blah blah blah.

    Changing the rules of the game to discourage the rabid partisanship and prevent any of these clowns from having complete control is the only way these situations will be avoided. Oh right, that electoral reform thing that was jettisoned the moment they realized they could keep complete control…

  6. Medric Cousineau says:

    Deadnuts centered it.

    And does anyone know for sure if JWR is aware that Butts listened in on a conversation between her and the PM? Methinks not which leaves the bleating sheep of the Liberal Caucus with a huge dilemna.

    Wait for #krackengate to blow wide open.

  7. Sheela Szymkowiak says:

    I wonder if the Liberal PM was a Justine and not a Justin if this whole SNC-Lavalin debacle (left over with multiple flaws, nasty secret deals etc from the former PMO of the horrific Harper years of power) would have been handled very differently. Yes, I am referring to the Canadian political ‘Old Boys Club’ of mean spirited, insular & misogynistic attitudes which are still entrenched in our Houses of Parliament and Senate chamber. Even our so called ‘feminist’ PM Trudeau is still very much part of the OB Club even though he proclaims to be extremely progressive when it comes to moving towards an equal or 50/50 split in male and female cabinet members. Clearly we can see from the undisclosed taping incident that the women in this cabinet can make bad decisions just as well as their male counterparts. But I question if these had been two males, acting as outspoken ‘rebels’, whether they would have been treated like evil pariahs of the Liberal party and ousted. The picture in my head, regarding two male Liberal members in the dog house, is one of being chewed out for 20 minutes in the PMO where they would swear never to do anything like that ever again – cross their precious hearts! I can even hear the clinking of the ice in those whiskey glasses and the hearty slaps on the backs!

  8. Steve T says:

    As Coyne points out, this dictatorship-masking-as-democracy is unique to Canada. Yet it is not unique to the current administration.

    Unlike the U.S. or the UK, most of our elected MPs (and provincial MLAs) might as well be trained monkeys. They always vote the party line. They always speak the party talking points in the media. JWR and JP are notable in part because they are so different than every other MP, from every party.

    As much as there is a lot to critique about the U.S. system, at least Senators and members of Congress can openly debate the policies of the President, without getting kicked out of the party. That is healthy democracy. Not the cult of personality that has embodied all Canadian administrations for decades.

    • The Doctor says:

      This also demonstrates what I and a lot of others find so disgusting about the party system: the fact that it leads to this “party over country” mentality (but of course party partisans don’t see this). Note all the times these douchebags mentioned “the team” yesterday, like being a “team player” is the most important thing in the world.

      I note that that was also the mantra of the Nixon White House. ’nuff said.

  9. Brendan says:

    There is likely no precedence for this, but might Andrew Scheer be willing to entertain the notion of offering both JWR and JP some temporary accommodation on his front bench for say 10 days or so? Given what has transpired, could there conceivably be a more intriguing possibility than watching these two competent, confident and capable communicators being provided with the opportunity to pose some poignant and topical questions directly across the floor to Mr. Trudeau during Question Period!?!

    • Vancouverois says:

      I think that would taint them both in the eyes of the electorate – it would lend strength to the absurd notion that they were secret Conservative agents all along. (Insane, I know; but there’s no shortage of Trudeau cultists who are pushing it.)

      If all three opposition parties agreed to let them have time, maybe it would be different.

      Question Period is a circus anyway, though. I’m not sure it’s worth pursuing there. Better to keep the issue alive in the media.

  10. It took a while but here goes: the problem with Coyne, Kinsella, yours truly and countless others is that we look at this from a rule of law perspective and whether illegal or improper conduct has been committed.

    But that’s not now, nor has it ever been the name of this game. To wit: that meeting of the Ontario caucus tells you all you need to know about caucus and their glorified perspective. They bombarded JP with you are going to make me lose my job! But that was nothing but self-serving code. This is what ALL OF THEM IN CAUCUS think who voted to oust JWR and JP: nothing, positively nothing, is more important to me on God’s green earth than to maintain pension access. I don’t give a shit about the job. Not really. All I live for is my entitled access to a golden parachute. That is now and will always remain my only consideration. I don’t care if the devil himself was leader — just don’t monkey with my sense of entitlement and my well-deserved pension! Nothing but nothing comes between me and my cash.

    That’s their mentality. And nothing else. Pure, naked self-interest, greed and self-centered pre-occupation.

  11. John McGivern says:

    Jane and Jody, thank you for your donation…. I think if we weren’t all reeling from the SNC thing we would be completely disgusted by watching JT totally humiliate this woman protestor in Toronto as she is being ejected from that fundraiser. I have NEVER seen a politician do something so scummy to someone like that. It was totally disgraceful and playing that clip over and over again I think would totally bury this government in the next election SNC or no SNC.

    http://thanksforyourdonation.ca

  12. Max says:

    “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Dante

  13. Dawn Mills says:

    Somewhere in Caracas, Nicolas Maduro must be having a chuckle at Trudeau’s expense. He’d show him how to control the Party!
    Nice hair, though.

  14. Christian says:

    Solid and well written. As good an argument as there is for an end to political parties in the parliamentary system as there is (either by getting rid of the FPTP electoral system or just outright banning parties). I wouldn’t, however, be holding the current UK parliament as an paragon of democracy tho. May has lost how many ‘meaningful votes’ now? Endured how many ministerial resignations? In earlier times an honourable government would have resigned. Yet there she is. I guess there is no honour anywhere anymore (also on that note shouldn’t the Queen be summoning the PM and requesting her resignation at this point?). Parliament can’t even force her out on a non-confidence vote because the self-serving extreme portions of the Tory party want to keep her there to endure more Brexit punishment. Governance everywhere is a complete shambles. Reduced to ruin by self-serving, sniveling non-entities and clapping seals. New Zealand may be the only exception.

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