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A Very Firm Mood

Now that Jody Wilson-Raybould is being criticized for recording a phone conversation, Convivium Publisher Peter Stockland raises an eyebrow at the conveniently-timed pot-stirring by critics. Based on what we currently know, he writes, Wilson-Raybould did nothing wrong. What is wrong is a prime minister's mood trying to direct an attorney general's actions.

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A Very Firm Mood April 1, 2019  |  By Peter Stockland
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There’s something almost giddy-dizzying about journalists who spend their days recording interviews suddenly raising “questions” over Jody Wilson-Raybould doing exactly the same thing.

Yet since Friday when the former attorney general released tapes and transcripts of her telephone conversation with former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, enough hints and allegations have bubbled up through the spin cycle to suggest members of the media think those “questions” deserve to be answered seriously. The worst of the lot was yesterday’s CBC interview in which federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu was allowed to disparage Wilson-Raybould as “deceptive and unethical” for taping the country’s top bureaucrat during a December 18, 2018 phone conversation about SNC-Lavalin’s criminal bribery woes. 

Patty Hajdu? Would that be the same Patty Hajdu who blindsided every credible religious leader in the country 18 months ago with her obfuscations around the Canada Summer Jobs program? Deceptive? Unethical? Those she has bruised politically might be inclined to recommend a mirror.

In fairness, the CBC, in its capacity as a national source of even-handed neutrality, might have been simply trying to provoke a good fight among Liberals. After all, we’re only six months out from an election. In fact, we’re only three days before a caucus meeting at which Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott are expected to be ousted for daring to stand up to the prime minister. Nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned reportorial pot stirring to accelerate a blooming intra-party feud.  

But as a serious contribution to the national conversation? There are very few things Patty Hajdu could say after the Canada Summer Jobs debacle that many Canadians be prepared to take seriously. At the same time, no one else’s questioning of Wilson-Raybould’s integrity on this specific matter so far merits any greater degree of seriousness, either. Why? Because based on what we currently know ­– and that’s always a critical caveat ­– she did absolutely nothing wrong. 

Her use of a recorder to capture her conversation with the Privy Council clerk, as she described it in her submission to the justice committee, was no more than employment of a digital aide-memoire in place of having an aid present taking handwritten notes. Or, if there was one difference, it’s that the recording was guaranteed to be 100 per cent accurate where a human scribe might have been somewhat less. 

Fittingly, that kind of scrupulousness has characterized Wilson-Raybould’s conduct throughout the SNC-Lavalin scandal at least as far as what has been, and continues to be, made public is concerned. She has, from the outset, given every indication of having set and followed a course by which she only acts after being provoked beyond all reasonable measure of remaining silent. 

In the case of the recording, she kept it private for more than three months – three months! – before the flagrantly obscuring statements of former principal secretary Gerald Butts, PC Clerk Michael Wernick and, indeed, the prime minister himself obliged her to release it to set the record – literally – straight and defend her good name. 

Three months was ample time for them to come to Jesus about what was true and was false. It was plenty of time for them to realize, as a friend of mine put it on the weekend, that the entirety of the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio comes down to a very smart woman (Wilson-Raybould) trying to tell a very obtuse male (the prime minister) what he needed to do to protect himself and, more importantly, his country’s institutions. 

When time ran out, Wilson-Raybould released a clean, clear, honest, accurately recorded account of exactly what was at issue. To even suggest that doing so constituted some kind of nefarious, secret, unethical deception is to make the lunatic claim that every reporter who records an interview subject as a matter of course, absent some kind of formal declaration, is engaging in the same thing. Nothing in Canadian law, nothing in any reasonable ethics, nothing in just doing the right thing requires an announcement about a preferred method of note-taking or aid to memory.

There is simply no question then, based on all we know, that she did the right thing for the right reasons. There are, however, a multiplicity of questions raised by the recording and transcript, all of them (and more) needing to be directed at the prime minister and the inner circle that has dissolved around him. 

Here is one of them. When Wilson-Raybould continues to resist Wernick’s insistence that she countermand the refusal of the Director of Public Prosecutions to do SNC-Lavalin’s bidding, he tells her that Prime Minister Trudeau is “in a very firm mood about this” – i.e. about wanting her to do exactly what she says she can’t. 

In a very firm mood? Really? Is that how Canadians are governed? By the firmness or softness of the prime minister’s “mood” on a given day? Is that what the attorney general of the country, indeed the cabinet and the Liberal caucus itself, must respond to? Dad’s in a “firm” mood so just do what he says and avoid trouble? 

Is that how things now roll on Parliament Hill? Someone from the CBC might make so bold as to ask. 


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