Kelly McParland: Trudeau suddenly discovers the value of secrets

I haven’t spoken personally to any anonymous, off-the-record, can’t-speak-for-attribution officials from deep inside the Liberal party, who want to clear up this misunderstanding about the pressure that definitely wasn’t put on Jody Wilson-Raybould before she declined to do something the Prime Minister (her boss) clearly wanted her to do, resulting in her demotion from a A-list cabinet post to a B-list job dealing with cranky veterans, and eventually to her resignation.

I’m not enough inside the Ottawa bubble for such private, confidential, whisper-over-the-phone stuff. I’m just going on what I’ve read, heard and observed, and boy does it smell. You don’t have to be an Ottawa insider to notice that. In fact it might be a definite advantage to dwell outside the favoured circle of official Ottawa to get the full impact of the high, fine stink of a government scrambling desperately to save itself from dropping one gigantic monster of a turd smack onto its right to be trusted.

There is, first and foremost, the spectacle of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — he of the new way of government, the champion of openness and honesty, the man whose administration would default to transparency in all but the most sensitive matters — dodging and weaving, parsing and prevaricating as he pretends to offer explanations while hiding behind carefully-scripted and rigidly repeated statements that fail to shed light on the simplest questions being asked about his actions.

Bill Clinton at his Lewinsky-driven worst would have to admire the notion that the prime minister can’t possibly tell us the full, real story because, gosh, he’s prevented from doing so by lawyer-client privilege, not to mention cabinet confidentiality. Who would have thought, when Trudeau was gallivanting around the country three years ago, pledging there’d be no secrets in a Trudeau government, that he’d be tripped up by the discovery that cabinet discussions are all totally hush-hush and can’t be shared with mere voters because, golly, how could they have a frank and open exchange of views if all those elected poobahs thought their words might be shared with the riff-raff? Surely someone should have warned him that, much as he’d love to play straight with Canadians, he’s just not allowed to?

In this case, of course, the lawyer and client aren’t a mafia hood and his greasy mouthpiece trying to avoid jail time for organized crimes, but the top elected leader in the country and one of his (formerly) most important ministers, claiming they can’t share their actions on public business with the public, for fear they might get in trouble with the law. Um, yeah, OK, but tell me this: suppose Trudeau or Wilson-Raybould were to throw caution to the wind and tell us the truth. Just who, precisely, would come after them for breaking their lawyerly-cliently privilege? The Justice Minister? She WAS the justice minister. Some deputy? A law prof at Ottawa U? Now that would be a story: prime minister indicted for telling the truth.

Pity the Liberals weren’t familiar with all this super-secrecy stuff when they were raking over the Harper Tories for declining to share details of the Duffy affair and various other transgressions. Of course, apprised of this cabinet confidentiality, lawyer-client privilege stuff, they’d have backed off entirely, apologized profusely, and taken the government at its word. Just like they want us all to do now.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. Adrian Wyld/CP / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Apart from Trudeau looking more ridiculous than at any time outside his Indian costume drama, there is the deeply disturbing treatment of Wilson-Raybould, a woman of obvious talents whose elevation to one of the country’s most senior cabinet posts was widely, and appropriately, heralded as a historic move. A strong, capable woman, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, former crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Wilson-Raybould stood as apparent evidence that the prime minister was sincere in his professed determination to champion both the advancement of women and reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians. Instead, now that she’s somehow made life difficult for Trudeau and his inner circle, she’s dumped from her job, demoted to a lesser post, and we’re treated to anonymous whispers from inside the Liberal high command that she’s stubborn and difficult and hard to get along with. No wonder she quit; she could hardly have avoided it and retained any self respect.

Is there a woman out there who didn’t detect the message being sent? Jean Chrétien could be stubborn and ornery, and it didn’t much hurt his march up the ladder. Paul Martin went to war with his own leader in his determination to get ahead. Michael Wilson could be difficult and abrupt, yet was so widely respected his death this week sparked admiring recollections of his drive. But a woman who won’t go along with her boss? Must be a real … well, we all know the word. Show her who’s in charge, stick her in Veterans Affairs and see how she likes that.

If Trudeau’s much-heralded (though largely by himself and his admirers) pledge to replace native confrontation with reconciliation hadn’t already run aground, it must surely be scraping bottom now. “When it’s a male, it’s not even considered anything that’s negative,” noted Sheila North, another female First Nations leader.

According to Wilson-Raybould’s father, Bill Wilson, a hereditary chief and long-time native leader: “The reality is that with Trudeau and this government, reconciliation is more a farce than the Conservatives. They’ve been dancing around the table, just as (Pierre Trudeau) did with me.”

“…I’d like to see it all come out in the wash, because I don’t have any doubt that she’ll be one of the few standing clean.”

Not least of the ugly images emanating from Ottawa is that of Liberals once again twisting themselves in knots to protect a Quebec company (and generous Liberal donor) that can’t seem to do business without official favouritism, all the while bemoaning its powerlessness to help the oil and gas industry of western Canada, which does more to power the Canadian economy than SNC-Lavalin or Bombardier Inc. could ever imagine.

The Liberals had barely managed to push John McCallum’s name out of the headlines, after he blew up their claim that politics were wholly uninvolved in the fate of Meng Wanzhou. Government lawyers are scrambling to contain the damage from the treatment of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, which carries the same scent of backroom backstabbing that permeates the Wilson-Raybould case. And now we have the prime minister’s mishandling of this latest crisis, yet another demonstration of a government that seems to be perpetually in over its head. More than three years into the job, Justin Trudeau seems more overwhelmed by it than ever.

National Post




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