June 17, 2019

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Protecting Quebec votes is business as usual

Editorial

In Ottawa this week, the opposition parties are eager to establish that the messy unravelling of the breach-of-trust case involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is just another example of business as usual for the Trudeau government.

Conservatives and New Democrats will argue that, just as was the case with the SNC-Lavalin affair, the sudden decision to stay the charges against Mr. Norman is a result of misconduct by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior government officials.

Ultimately, they might have a point. But in pursuing this opportunity to condemn the current federal government for its overreach into judicial matters that are supposed to be free from political interference, the opposition parties might also end up reminding Canadians that business as usual in Ottawa is business as usual regardless of which party is in power.

Four Conservative MPs and one NDP member last week signed a letter to the clerk of the House of Commons national defence committee, requesting an emergency meeting of the committee and a formal review of the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Norman, a highly respected naval officer whose reputation was tarnished by the case that was abruptly abandoned last week.

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In Ottawa this week, the opposition parties are eager to establish that the messy unravelling of the breach-of-trust case involving Vice-Admiral Mark Norman is just another example of business as usual for the Trudeau government.

Conservatives and New Democrats will argue that, just as was the case with the SNC-Lavalin affair, the sudden decision to stay the charges against Mr. Norman is a result of misconduct by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior government officials.

Ultimately, they might have a point. But in pursuing this opportunity to condemn the current federal government for its overreach into judicial matters that are supposed to be free from political interference, the opposition parties might also end up reminding Canadians that business as usual in Ottawa is business as usual regardless of which party is in power.

Four Conservative MPs and one NDP member last week signed a letter to the clerk of the House of Commons national defence committee, requesting an emergency meeting of the committee and a formal review of the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Norman, a highly respected naval officer whose reputation was tarnished by the case that was abruptly abandoned last week.

Vice Admiral Mark Norman was accused of leaking classified government information regarding a contract with Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Vice Admiral Mark Norman was accused of leaking classified government information regarding a contract with Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding.

At issue in the case was an allegation that Mr. Norman, then second in command in Canada’s military, had unlawfully leaked classified government information in the hope of influencing a cabinet decision regarding a $668-million contract with Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding for converting a civilian container ship into a navy supply vessel.

The letter to the defence committee states that Mr. Trudeau influenced the case in 2018 by indicating he thought the RCMP’s investigation would lead to a conviction, which suggests he had access to inside information. The MPs’ complaint also refers to the federal government’s efforts to stymie Mr. Norman’s lawyers by blocking access to documents necessary for his defence.

The request for a review of the case includes a list of individuals who should be called to testify, including Mr. Norman, Mr. Trudeau, several cabinet ministers, the PM’s chief of staff, former Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick and the PM’s former chief secretary, Gerald Butts.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it’s necessary to have those associated with the Norman case answer questions in order to ascertain "what went so wrong here."

Mr. Scheer’s interest in getting to the bottom of things presumably extends only as far as the Trudeau government’s involvement, but the shipbuilding contract at the centre of the case dates back to the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which in 2015 changed rules of procurement to allow Davie to secure the contract without a formal bid process.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer know winning in Quebec is one of the keys to winning a federal election.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer know winning in Quebec is one of the keys to winning a federal election.

And the reason for the change was to protect a Quebec business at a time when crucial Quebec votes were going to largely determine the outcome of a federal election. Mr. Harper’s government was defeated anyway, before the Davie deal was completed, and Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals quickly signed the contract after taking office.

In the Norman case and the SNC-Lavalin affair alike, government meddling sought to deliver a desired result to a Quebec enterprise out of fear that failing to do so would bring a stern rebuke from voters in that province. Opposition MPs will point to this as a failing of the Liberal government, but history suggests the Conservatives would likely have done exactly the same things if faced with the same challenges.

The NDP’s higher-ground claim is based on never having formed government and therefore never having faced the prospect of losing Quebec.

Business as usual, indeed.

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

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