August 17, 2019

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Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony puts PM in hot seat

Editorial

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Wednesday was a disaster whose epic proportions will take a while to be fully understood.

If the testimony of former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould before the House of Commons justice committee is to be believed, what was laid bare Wednesday was a calculated and systematic attempt, by the prime minister and his most senior officials, to undermine judicial process for partisan political purposes and then to deceive the Canadian public about the nature and magnitude of the interference.

In nearly four hours of testimony that was meticulously prepared, deeply detailed, unflappably delivered and impenetrable to those who sought to challenge its substance, Ms. Wilson-Raybould succeeded in presenting herself as someone who should be believed.

And in so doing, she essentially cast as opportunistic liars Mr. Trudeau and staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office who had previously sought to declare their dealings with the former attorney general, in relation to the prosecution of the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, as acceptable in both legal and ethical terms.

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For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Wednesday was a disaster whose epic proportions will take a while to be fully understood.

If the testimony of former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould before the House of Commons justice committee is to be believed, what was laid bare Wednesday was a calculated and systematic attempt, by the prime minister and his most senior officials, to undermine judicial process for partisan political purposes and then to deceive the Canadian public about the nature and magnitude of the interference.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press FILES</p><p>Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould </p>

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press FILES

Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould

In nearly four hours of testimony that was meticulously prepared, deeply detailed, unflappably delivered and impenetrable to those who sought to challenge its substance, Ms. Wilson-Raybould succeeded in presenting herself as someone who should be believed.

And in so doing, she essentially cast as opportunistic liars Mr. Trudeau and staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office who had previously sought to declare their dealings with the former attorney general, in relation to the prosecution of the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, as acceptable in both legal and ethical terms.

Quite frankly, it’s difficult to imagine a way in which Wednesday could have unfolded more badly for Mr. Trudeau.

The leader of the official Opposition has declared — to the surprise of absolutely no one — that the PM has lost the moral authority to govern and that he should resign, dissolve Parliament and call an immediate federal election. What is surprising is that a number of political commentators across the country have come to the same conclusion. When he swung his feet out of bed on Thursday morning, Mr. Trudeau found himself standing on decidedly shaky ground.

The headlines were damning; the endless newspaper column inches dedicated to covering Wednesday’s hearing described "a consistent and sustained effort" to pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould "in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin," government officials who were "treading on dangerous ground" with their persistent demands, and "veiled threats" of consequences if she refused to comply with the PMO’s wishes. Ms. Wilson-Raybould was, of course, subsequently demoted from her senior post and soon thereafter resigned from cabinet.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony detailed four months of meetings and phone conversations that included frequent inappropriate references to potential job losses in Quebec if SNC-Lavalin were to relocate to Britain, pressure created by a looming shareholders’ meeting in Montreal, and the possible effect the prosecution could have on Liberal fortunes in Quebec’s provincial election.

The only thing left for the PM to do in the aftermath was what he did at the outset of this controversy: deny and deflect.

"I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning, that I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally," Mr. Trudeau said late Wednesday. "I therefore completely disagree with the former attorney general’s characterization of events."

Given the broader context of the day’s events, it was not a convincing declaration. And what many Canadians would rather hear the PM declare is whether his government stands for the rule of law or the protection of regional economic interests in an effort to maintain political power.

Clearly, he will not accede to Mr. Scheer’s demand that he resign, but he should be concerned by the Opposition leader’s request for the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation. And he owes Canadians more than the tepid observation that it will be up to the federal ethics commissioner to decide who’s telling the truth.

It’s time for Mr. Trudeau to come clean.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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