Your morning #LavScam: the New York Times calls it “a spreading mess” and “a major blow”

I’ll be on CTV Your Morning today around 7, after Trudeau speaks this morning, and also doing the radio tying over on the mighty Newstalk 1010.

This is the sort of thing I’ll be talking about: it didn’t go well, yesterday.  At all.

  • Editorial board of the New York Times: “OH, TRUDEAU. CHARM WILL NOT EXTRICATE CANADA’S JUSTIN TRUDEAU FROM A SPREADING POLITICAL MESS.  ONLY HONEST ANSWERS WILL….With seven months to go before Canada’s next national election, the prime minister is embroiled in a political scandal that his charm cannot wipe away. Two members of his cabinet, both prominent women, have resigned, as has his closest adviser, and unless he can convince the public — and do so soon — that he really did nothing wrong in trying to head off the criminal prosecution of a big Montreal-based company, the damage will only get more serious….in Canada, the tangled SNC-Lavalin affair is unavoidably measured against the expectations Mr. Trudeau raised and the standards he set. For him to be accused by two prominent women from his team of violating the high ethical bar he himself set is a major blow.”
  • Andrew Coyne, National Post: “Butts offered little that contradicted what she had earlier told the committee — that she was pressured to overrule the decision of the director of public prosecutions to proceed with charges of fraud and corruption against SNC-Lavalin, rather than to offer it the remediation agreement it had sought…It was Wilson-Raybould’s decision to make, as long as she decided it their way.”
  • John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail: “The testimony of the former principal secretary to Justin Trudeau left so many questions unanswered that the committee will need to examine other witnesses – perhaps including the Prime Minister – ensuring front-page headlines for weeks to come. But what matters politically is that we have passed a tipping point. Mr. Butts’s testimony was just another episode in a political melodrama that will run till election day in October. It has become for the Liberals what the Senate expenses scandal was for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.”
  • Konrad Yakabuski, Globe:  “Mr. Butts presented himself as only a tangential actor in the whole SNC-Lavalin saga. That is hard to believe, given the pivotal role he played in every major decision taken by this government until his Feb. 18 resignation. It is even harder to believe that his staff in the PMO were not acting on his explicit direction in making pleas to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, even invoking, according to her testimony, the electoral consequences in Quebec of failing to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal to avoid prosecution on fraud and corruption charges involving its Libyan operations. Mr. Butts more than once described protecting the 9,000 Canadian jobs at SNC-Lavalin as “a public-policy problem of the highest order.” Yet, we are supposed to believe that the Prime Minister’s top adviser, one with his hands in every other file, barely played a role in this one?”
  • John Ibbitson, Globe: “Ms. Wilson-Raybould has a right to respond to contradictions between her version of events and Mr. Butts’s – especially concerning the cabinet shuffle that removed her as attorney-general. Most important, Mr. Trudeau has never offered direct answers to direct questions on what he said to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, or what directions he gave his senior staff regarding the prosecution. He needs to provide those answers…But there are no good options for the Liberals. Either the justice committee will continue to hear evidence from witnesses in the coming weeks, further fuelling this five-alarm controversy, or the Liberal majority on the committee will prevent further testimony, which would be the contemporary equivalent of the St. Laurent government imposing closure during the Trans Canada Pipeline debate in 1956. That cost the Liberals the next election.”
  • Toronto Star editorial board:  “Trudeau should own his role in SNC-Lavalin mess…the testimony by Butts and the return appearance by the Clerk of the Privy Council, the pugnacious Michael Wernick, begs a host of questions…the Prime Minister should not simply exhale and go back to fronting jobs-and-climate rallies. His cabinet and caucus may be gathering around, but he and his government have taken a real hit in the country. He should step up and tell his own story. There were clearly missteps along the way, in particular the loss of Wilson-Raybould, who played a key role in the government for a host of reasons both substantive and symbolic. She signalled her misgivings over how the SNC-Lavalin issue was being handled to numerous people in government…Trudeau and the PMO should have been more attuned to what she was saying, not just fault her for what she didn’t. And they certainly should have known better than to try and make her serve as Indigenous services minister, an impossible position for someone with her background. Much was mishandled here and the government has been badly wounded. The prime minister should own up to his role in this fiasco.”
  • Terry Glavin, National Post: “The bigshots in Trudeau’s inner circle do not hold the foundational democratic principle of the rule of law to be especially sacrosanct after all. With all the cabinet resignations and committee-hearing drama, and the public astonishment with the creepiness of the whole thing, 73 per cent of Liberal voters, even, say the RCMP should be brought in to sort things out…Liberal party rhetoric is increasingly and predictably taking on exactly the tenor and tone you’d expect of a personality cult. This is why it’s been so exceedingly difficult to make sense of whether there’s any merit in Team Trudeau’s sketchy and inarticulate answers to the more important questions at hand. Was the persistent hounding of Wilson-Raybould really within the bounds of collegial cabinet issue-probing?”
  • John Ivison, National Post: “One senior MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the overriding mood is of disappointment in the prime minister’s leadership. “The caucus is united in a desire to get re-elected. It is not necessarily united in a desire to be elected behind him,” they said…More importantly for the Liberals, Trudeau needs to demonstrate to his caucus and the country that he can handle a crisis he has helped to agitate. The recurring complaint in caucus is that Trudeau doesn’t ask MPs what they think, beyond the “cool crowd” of personal friends in cabinet or the “Praetorian guard” in the PMO…We are at a defining moment in Canadian politics and, even if he survives, nothing will be the same again for Trudeau. The spell has been broken and the idea that he could be a one-term wonder is no longer implausible. “The disappointment is palpable,” said one Liberal MP. “This is a crisis and he’s been found wanting.”
  • Brian Lilley, Sun: “If Gerry Butts went to the House of Commons justice committee hoping to help his best friend and former boss, he failed…he essentially used the same excuse that Trudeau had used to explain away groping allegations that plagued him last summer. Why wouldn’t these frat boys return to the same excuse? It worked last time! The testimony from Butts was in many ways a repeat over and over again of Liberal talking points on why there was no inappropriate pressure on the attorney general.”
  • Neil Macdonald, CBC:  “Trudeau’s verbal porridge and serene smile have carried him along. Until now. He either doesn’t think the public deserves a straight answer, or just isn’t capable of delivering one…With his government sinking into a self-inflicted crisis, it’s beginning to appear that Justin Trudeau simply doesn’t have the intellectual acuity to cope. Look at his response to the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould last week. She had just finished delivering a measured, unambiguous indictment, accusing him and his staff of attempting to pervert justice for political gain. He could have answered his former justice minister fact for fact. Instead, Trudeau appeared a few hours later in Montreal, two rows of nervously smiling party volunteers arranged behind him, a newly elected MP standing haplessly to the side. His statements were as stilted and contrived as the optics. And so on. Not a spontaneous syllable, not a second of candour or actual reflection. Certainly no substantive reply to Wilson-Raybould’s remarkably serious accusations. Trudeau could have talked about the difficulty of having one member of cabinet coexisting as both a political minister and attorney general, a problem Wilson-Raybould herself addressed, but no. He could have given his own version of discussions with her. But no. This is a man who either doesn’t think the public deserves a straight answer, or just isn’t capable of delivering one.”

#LavScam: my morning in tweets

I was on the mighty Newstalk 1010 all morning. Just finished. My quick take, in 240 characters or less:


#LavScam guess who

Riddle time. Guess who?

**

Ego story.

It’s the final days of the 2011 Ontario general election campaign. It’s been a tough, grinding race.

At the Ontario Liberal Party central campaign headquarters on St. Mary’s Street, off Yonge, the mood is uncertain. We don’t know if we are going to win or lose. It’s been that kind of campaign.

Some of our MPPs and Ministers are resigned to defeat. One Minister told me he was running again because, “if we’re going to go down, I want to go down with my friends. I owe them that.”

He – him – lopes into the campaign headquarters. We talk. I tell him I’m writing a column for the Sun about the amazing people I have been privileged to serve with – in 2003, 2007 and now 2011. People like Don Guy, Laura Miller, Chris Morley. My friends.

He looks concerned. “Don’t put my name in that column, Warren!” he says. “I can’t be in there!”

I don’t argue. He’s working for an association now. He has to be careful, I assume. I don’t put his name in the column.

Election night: we’re all in Ottawa in a suite at the Chateau Laurier. The McGuintys are all there, too, and we all watch the result come in. A majority or a minority?

We win – a minority. Miss the majority by a single seat.

He’s there. He asks Lisa how many TV hits I’m doing. She tells him. He smiles. “I’m doing more,” he says.

I’m puzzled. He’s doing media? He said he didn’t want to be named, didn’t he?

When my column comes out about how we won, and who was on the central OLP campaign, his name isn’t in it. He gets in touch.

“Why didn’t you include my name?” he says.

**

Ambition story.

A report shows up in the media. It quotes Justin Trudeau saying that he’s all about policy and ideas and stuff like that. But Jean Chretien, Trudeau sniffs, was only preoccupied “with winning.”

That’s what it says. Seriously.

We, the ones who are loyal to one of the greatest Prime Ministers in Canadian history – one of the winningest, too – are livid. We are pissed off.

Chretien has been nothing but supportive – at fundraisers, at rallies, at whatever they ask for. Why would Trudeau say such a thing?

I get him touch with him, because he’s one of Trudeau’s top guys, now. He’s left the environmental association and is working for Trudeau.

“What the Hell?” I say, and use his name. “Why would Trudeau say that?”

He says he doesn’t know. He says he didn’t know Trudeau was going to say that.

“Bullshit,” I say. “Everyone knows Trudeau doesn’t say anything unless you approve it first. Do you really want us to respond to what he said?”

“No,” he says. Pause. “Just have Chretien call me. I’ll talk to him.”

“What?” I say again, louder, and say his name. “He’s a Prime Minister, for Chrissakes! He doesn’t speak to staff about shit like this! He speaks to Trudeau!”

Later on, after they won, I hear that Trudeau doesn’t ever meet with his own MPs and cabinet ministers.

He has this guy, his university pal, talk to them instead.

**

It’s years ago. It’s at the start.

I meet Justin Trudeau at this guy’s birthday dinner. It’s in a private room at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Trudeau arrives late, trailing apologies and charisma.

Between courses, I watch them together. They’re close, that much is obvious. They laugh at each other’s jokes, they smile. It’s a nice night.

Much afterwards, I try and picture how they met. How did they – the millionaire’s son, the one used to jets and celebrities, connect with the kid from lesser circumstances, from far-away Nova Scotia – meet? How did that happen?

I picture him sliding into a chair in a classroom at McGill, and seeing that famous mop of dark hair, the impressive jawline. I picture him saying to himself: “I’m going to meet Justin Trudeau.”

And he did. And they did. And they made a bit of history together.

And now it’s all going to Hell in a handbasket, because those two guys – who never lacked for ambition – seriously, seriously underestimated the wrong women.

Because, eventually, too much ego and ambition will trip you up in Ottawa. Always.

**

No riddle.

You know his name.


The #LavScam Twitterverse is not going well for Team Telford Op-ed™ today

…and this is just the past 12 hours, folks.



Your March 5 #LavScam roundup

Above: a Trudeau supporter physically attacks a protestor at Justin Trudeau’s rally in Toronto last night. Where – I’m not making this up! – they played Michael Jackson songs – on the same night ‘Leaving Neverland’ was airing.

And the great reviews keep rolling in!

  • Globe Ipsos poll: “Most Canadians side with Wilson-Raybould, believe Trudeau has lost moral authority to govern: Ipsos poll…A majority of Canadians are keeping tabs on the SNC-Lavalin affair and that doesn’t bode well for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to a new Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News. If an election were held tomorrow, Trudeau would receive only 31 per cent of the decided popular vote — down three points from a couple of weeks ago — while Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer would receive 40 per cent, according to the poll of 1,000 Canadians carried out between March 1 and March 4….“This is the first time we’ve actually seen the Conservative Party resuscitated and looking like they could potentially form the government,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. “The Liberals, on the other hand, have been dropping precipitously over the space of the last few weeks. The question is have they hit bottom yet?”
    • Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star: “Justin Trudeau has no political playbook to counter this rare implosion…Philpott has exited Trudeau’s cabinet in the same way that Jody Wilson-Raybould bolted: explosively, unexpectedly and clearly in full recognition of the massive damage it would cause to the boss, the government and the chances of the Liberals being re-elected this fall. Together, they are a double-barrelled shot to the heart of all that was supposed to be the shiny new brand of the Trudeau government: one far more friendly to women, Indigenous people and rookie politicians such as Philpott and Wilson-Raybould.”
  • Chantal Hebert, Star: “Justin Trudeau was damaged goods before Treasury Board President Jane Philpott followed her friend and former colleague Jody Wilson-Raybould out of his cabinet. It is far from certain that he can recover from this latest blow to his moral authority and repair his reputation as a competent prime minister in time for the election. [Losing Philpott may be] politically fatal. It certainly screams ineptitude at crisis management on the part of a prime minister. With Philpott’s resignation — offered in support of Wilson-Raybould — the SNC-Lavalin affair enters a new lethal phase for the prime minister. Until further notice, all bets are off as to its outcome.”
  • Star editorial board:  “So far the prime minister has failed to present a robust counter-narrative to the damning story about political interference in judicial matters told by his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould…It’s plain that Trudeau’s commitment to a gender-balanced cabinet and to making progress on Indigenous affairs had significance that eluded him at the time. He ended up with ministers at the cabinet table who took his rhetoric about change seriously and weren’t prepared to compromise their principles just to get along. There is abundant irony in how Trudeau’s professed principles have come back to bite him in unexpected ways.”
  • Campbell Clark, Globe and Mail:  “Losing one cabinet minister who resigns on principle can be considered a misfortune. Losing two smacks of crisis. If any other cabinet minister had quit Justin Trudeau’s cabinet after Jody Wilson-Raybould’s stand in the SNC-Lavalin affair, it would have been bad. When it is Jane Philpott, a paragon of principle who is no pie-eyed dreamer, it is Mr. Trudeau’s government falling apart from the inside.”
  • John Ibbitson, Globe:  “This is a civil war, one Mr. Trudeau may not survive. Just to start, what kind of government shuffles its cabinet three times in two months? There are those who say the SNC-Lavalin scandal is a tempest in a teacup – or a nothingburger, to update the cliché. No it’s not. Granted, most people don’t follow the day-to-day jousts of the blood sport known as politics. But this is a political crisis like no other, because of the characters involved…We are witnessing a personal vote of non-confidence in the Prime Minister by some of his most senior cabinet ministers, based on his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, but also over disillusion with Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.”
  • Lori Turnbull, Globe: “Ms. Philpott’s resignation from cabinet is nothing short of catastrophic for the government…One effect of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony is that there’s now a clear line in the sand and the beginnings of a civil war in the Liberal fold. The grey area in which MPs could plead to be both loyal to the Prime Minister and sympathetic to Jody Wilson-Raybould is quickly disappearing. They have to choose a side. Ms. Philpott has made hers clear. If others follow her lead, the Prime Minister’s confidence problem worsens.”
  • Matt Gurney, National Post: “It’s not just the women quitting in disgust that’s going to cause Prime Minister Justin Trudeau so much trouble. That’s bad enough, to be sure. But it’s what they’re saying as they head out the door that’ll do the real damage…Philpott’s been watching and learning. She’s seen what happened to Wilson-Raybould. She did this anyway, and at a time and place of her choosing, even after the Liberals tried to hurt Wilson-Raybould’s reputation with whispers, whispers that got so bad Trudeau felt compelled to apologize for what his own colleagues were saying. Philpott knew that might be coming, so she made her case clear as day — and it’s devastating for Trudeau.  Like I said, Liberals — have fun spinning this one.”
  • Kelly McParland, Post: “Justin Trudeau wanted strong women. He sure got ’em.  That they’ve found him wanting and are willing to say so is proof of his success. It clearly never occurred to him they might take their job seriously enough to question his own performance…It turns out women really aren’t just like men, and aren’t necessarily afraid to stand by their beliefs. Philpott’s public declaration that she no longer has confidence in the prime minister — specifically his handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy — is as damaging an assertion as can be made by a senior government minister against her leader. As she points out in her resignation letter, “the constitutional convention of Cabinet solidarity means, among other things, that ministers are expected to defend all Cabinet decisions. A minister must always be prepared to defend other ministers publicly, and must speak in support of the government and its policies.” Given the convention “and the current circumstances, “ she writes “it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister.”
  • Brian Lilley, Toronto Sun:  “For a government that has branded itself as feminist, as gender balanced, as supportive of women, the loss of yet another powerful woman around the cabinet table is beyond bad news.  On the SNC-Lavalin file, the Trudeau Liberals have shown that they don’t know what “no” actually means and now the women in the party are fighting back.  Losing Philpott is no small matter for Justin Trudeau.”
  • Robyn Urback, CBC News:  “If Jane Philpott doesn’t have confidence in Justin Trudeau, why should anyone else?…A million more Freeland-type ovations can’t undo what Philpott did in a few hundred words: she told the doe-eyed #TeamTrudeau hangers-on that their faith in this government is misplaced. And she said she would not be able to fulfil her duties as a minister if it meant publicly defending the government. That’s a devastating message from her especially; Philpott is capable, venerable and widely respected both in and out of Liberal circles. She can’t be written off as a cabinet minister disgruntled about a demotion or an opposition leader out for blood. Philpott is a Liberal — a widely admired one — and she doesn’t have faith in the prime minister. And if she doesn’t, as someone privy to the conversations around the cabinet table about this whole affair, why should anyone else?”
  • Paul Wells, Maclean’s:  “With Jane Philpott’s resignation from the cabinet, Justin Trudeau’s government is now in a crisis that ranks with the coalition challenge to Stephen Harper in 2008 and Jean Chrétien’s dismissal of Paul Martin in 2002. That probably understates matters, actually: Those two previous shocks were about ambition; they engaged matters of principle almost by accident. This one is a direct challenge to a government by two (and counting?) ministers with no perceptible ambitions beyond their former posts—though buckle up, because they’ll both be accused of scheming—on the gravest grounds of ethics….Every cabinet minister, and every Liberal member of Parliament, has a decision to make right now. Today. We are about to find out who is serious, and who merely plays serious on Instagram…A country gets into trouble when it turns every question into an electoral question. The party stripe of the government is not the only interesting question. Here’s another: is the government we have, the Prime Minister we have, so deep in moral denial that they can never find their way back?”