Maclean’s April 4, 2019
Paul Wells: How did the SNC-Lavalin scandal manage to rattle this government so badly? Because it reveals some truths to Canadians about this Prime Minister.
Jody Wilson-Raybould’s and Jane Philpott’s place in or out of the Liberal caucus matters less than most of the two-month SNC-Lavalin drama. A parliamentary caucus is not a rules organization, it’s a trust organization. Liberals no longer trusted the two former ministers, in part because clearly neither trusts the Prime Minister. So out they went. How other people organize their clubs is their concern.
I’ll note a contradiction: in 2002, when the entire country knew Paul Martin was plotting to unseat a sitting Liberal prime minister, Paul Martin continued to sit as a member of the Liberal caucus. Ah yes, some Liberal friends remind me, but that’s because most of the caucus was in on Martin’s scheme. That’s true, and it raises stubborn and recurrent questions about the wisdom of Liberal caucuses. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous sometimes say, “My best thinking brought me here.” A Liberal caucus in the grip of its best thinking is a wonder to behold.
But onward. I’m left with questions from Wilson-Raybould’s recording of her December phone conversation with Michael Wernick, the soon-to-be-former clerk of the Privy Council. Sure, it’s a terrible thing when a woman records her 20th surreal conversation with people who insist they’re not pressuring her. Here’s her penalty: I’ll ignore what she said on that call and listen only to Wernick.
He describes an imminent, pressing economic crisis that has transfixed the Prime Minister of Canada. “Our intelligence from various sources,” he says, is that SNC’s board has asked consulting firms for options that could include “selling out to somebody else, moving—you know, various things.” All of this “seems to be real and not a bluff,” Wernick says.