At this point, it’s hard to believe that anything Jody Wilson-Raybould or Jane Philpott might reveal could be worse for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau than the lingering sense that he’s covering up something bad.
Unless one of them tells the country that they saw Mr. Trudeau rip off his mask to reveal the fiery head of Satan, whatever they have left to say about the SNC-Lavalin affair can’t be worse than what he is already experiencing – a series of political explosions combined with the hint that there are more revelations to come. Can it?
One former cabinet minister, Ms. Philpott, said there’s much more to the story. The other, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, is planning to present new written submissions to the Commons justice committee even after they shut down hearings into the affair. And that still won’t be all because they won’t cover the period after she was shuffled out of the attorney-general’s post and before she quit cabinet.
So it’s time for Mr. Trudeau to cross the Rubicon that he should have crossed a month ago. He should tell the country that Ms. Wilson-Raybould can reveal everything – and extend the waiver of solicitor-client privilege that he already issued to Ms. Wilson-Raybould so that it covers another 30 days, the period when she was veterans affairs minister. And then he should invite both former ministers to say their piece in the House of Commons.
Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers are already out there calling for the two former ministers to tell all. Humber River—Black Creek MP Judy Sgro argued both ministers can say whatever they want in the House of Commons under the protection of parliamentary privilege. On the weekend, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould and Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly echoed the call in TV interviews.
But the problem is that Mr. Trudeau is still saying something different.
He’s not saying Ms. Wilson-Raybould is free to tell all. He’s saying she is free to say enough.
He issued a waiver releasing her from solicitor-client privilege that covered the period when she was attorney-general and he argued that’s the only period that matters because the affair centres on the allegation that Mr. Trudeau’s aides and officials put pressure on the then-attorney-general to halt the bribery prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and order a settlement be negotiated.
But Ms. Wilson-Raybould has indicated that important parts of the story happened later, in the four weeks that she was veterans affairs minister – which ended with a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Trudeau when she resigned.
It is possible that something important happened then. Did Mr. Trudeau say why she was moved from the attorney-general’s post? About SNC-Lavalin?
No one will say. Ms. Wilson-Raybould has indicated she still feels she cannot say. If the Liberals want to tell the country that she can, then all Mr. Trudeau has to do is extend the waiver to cover another 30 days.
Certainly, some of his own backbench MPs want him to do it. Some really are frustrated – and were annoyed when Ms. Philpott told Macleans there is much more to the story, but wouldn’t say what.
Perhaps Ms. Philpott figured it is really Ms. Wilson-Rayboud’s story to tell. Certainly Ms. Philpott is not subject to solicitor-client privilege. And neither former minister is bound by an all-encompassing law of silence about what happened when they were ministers.
Conversations about cabinet shuffles – key in this affair – aren’t covered by cabinet confidentiality because they are the PM’s prerogative, not a cabinet decision, noted University of Ottawa law professor Yan Campagnolo, who has written extensively on the topic. And it’s a well-established exception that a minister who quits in a dispute with their cabinet colleagues can outline the nature of the disagreement.
Cabinet secrecy is supposed to serve the public interest by allowing ministers to deliberate freely, not to facilitate improper conduct, he said. In his view, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott would not face legal sanction if they provided their account of conversations about the cabinet shuffle, but would perhaps risk expulsion from the Liberal caucus.
Perhaps the two former ministers can say more. And if so, they should.
But it’s still too soon for Liberal ministers to insist they can. Mr. Trudeau could dispel all the allegations that he is gagging Ms. Wilson-Raybould simply by extending a waiver for 30 days. So far, he has chosen to suffer the damage.