NP View: Unacceptable behaviour from a stubborn and wilful man

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s report on the SNC-Lavalin affair is unequivocal. In trying to force former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to alter a decision he opposed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pulled out all the stops, marshalling the full forces of his office’s power to undermine the woman he recruited and elevated to cabinet, knowingly using his position of authority to pressure her to reverse a position he feared might cause his government political harm.

It was wrong, and deeply unethical. To quote Dion: “The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”

He did so to further the interests of SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based firm that had lobbied strenuously for help escaping prosecution on corruption charges. Trudeau’s government had already passed legislation creating an escape hatch for SNC-Lavalin, but felt stymied when Wilson-Raybould’s department concluded it didn’t qualify under the new law’s provisions.

It was wrong, and deeply unethical

There is plenty of disquieting material in the report, but most striking is the light it shines on Trudeau, and the character that resides beneath the carefully-crafted public image he and his aides work so hard to present. There is evidently something in Justin Trudeau that compels him to place himself above ordinary people, above the accepted norms of government, above the rules that protect the sanctity of legal independence.

Confronted with the report, the prime minister professed to accept responsibility, while making clear he doesn’t really mean it.

“We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made,” Trudeau said. “Where I disagree with the commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper.”


A 63-page report by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring the attorney general to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to help the company avoid a trial.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

He repeated his determination to never apologize for “standing up for Canadian jobs,” as if breaking the law is justified if a job is at stake. Can all Canadians now feel free to break windows or steal cars if a job is in danger?

How many times now has the prime minister refused to accept blame for his or his government’s actions? His close friend and aide Gerald Butts claims Trudeau’s calamitous trip to India was the fault of Indian leaders who “were out to screw us.” The two-year vendetta against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for allegedly leaking cabinet secrets, abandoned in May at the cost of a presumably hefty confidential settlement, was pinned on Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Allegations by a British Columbia woman that Trudeau groped her at an event in August 2000 was dismissed as proof women and men “can experience interactions differently.” A holiday trip to the Aga Khan’s private island, ruled unethical in an earlier decision, struck Trudeau as acceptable because he considered the man a longtime friend, though he’d seen him only once in 30 years. And his decision to abandon electoral reform was pinned on ordinary Canadians who didn’t share his preference for a ranked ballot system: “We thought that was the right, concrete way forward. Nobody else agreed,” he said.

How many times now has the prime minister refused to accept blame for his or his government’s actions?

As telling as his inability to admit failure is Trudeau’s response to those he blames. When Wilson-Raybould refused to cave to pressure, word began to filter through Ottawa that she was “difficult.” In a submission to Dion, Trudeau’s lawyer deployed all the time-tested male aspersions about women: Wilson-Raybould was too emotional, she wasn’t up to the job, she wasn’t a team player, she didn’t do her homework. Ultimately, Trudeau demoted her, and has continued to trash her; in a book due out this month, CBC journalist Aaron Wherry reports that Trudeau claims he had doubts about her long before the scandal.

While denouncing Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau refuses to grant access to documents that might allow others to tell their side. Repeated requests for access to cabinet documents were denied, even after Dion pledged the information would not be divulged. Witnesses were prevented from telling all they knew for the same reason. Trudeau’s lawyer blamed the decision on the Privy Council Office, but the prime minister did nothing to overrule it. Once again, someone else is to blame.


Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks to supporters about her political future during a news conference in Vancouver on May 27, 2019.

Jackie Dives/Reuters

The overwhelming evidence we’re left with is that Trudeau is a stubborn and wilful man. He believes that what he wants, he should get. He is not remiss about using his position to get it, by putting pressure on subordinates, sending emissaries on his behalf, building up pressure and supporting aides who deliver thinly-veiled threats. When the targets of his efforts still refuse to comply, he dismisses them, while underlings conduct a campaign to tar their reputation.

In no way is this acceptable from a prime minister. Trudeau’s judgment, character, honesty and discipline are all matters that voters should carefully consider as we approach this fall’s vote.