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Miscellaneous: 11 Feb 2019
Prime Minister’s office needs a housecleaning in wake of SNC-Lavalin scandal, Dosanjh says
VANCOUVER—With a federal election within eight months, the Liberals must “clean house” in the Prime Minister’s office if they want to hold onto their hard-fought seats, particularly in B.C., argues former Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh.
|The Trudeau government has been forced to respond to allegations that Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould was bounced out as Canada's attorney general and demoted to minister of veterans affairs because she wouldn't intervene in a case against SNC-Lavalin. (Star Vancouver/David P. Ball)|
Dosanjh spoke to the Star Vancouver in the wake of allegations Thursday that the PMO unsuccessfully pushed former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop prosecuting Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin.
Former Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh says the Liberals must “clean house” in the Prime Minister’s office if they want to hold onto their hard-fought seats, particularly in B.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Thursday report in the Globe and Mail was “false.”
But Dosanjh, who supports Trudeau and the Liberals, said he is deeply “concerned” about the allegations, and even if untrue, they’re hurting the party’s chances in B.C.
The former B.C. premier listed a series of controversies, such as Trudeau’s embarrassing trip to India, his breach of conflict laws in taking a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, and firing ambassador to China John McCallum over remarks about the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
“Unless properly handled, this is serious, coming on the heels of the Aga Khan trip, the India trip, and the Huawei thing being somewhat mishandled,” Dosanjh said in a phone interview. “Now this? Over time, as governments become a little longer in the tooth, these missteps begin to pile up and can be easily transformed into a narrative.”
The former Liberal Cabinet member blamed both the latest accusations and the previous controversies on PMO staff, saying they have steadily gained power in the last four decades.
“(Justin) Trudeau has been ill-served by his staff,” Dosanjh said. “Having been in two cabinets — provincial and federal — (leaders) sometimes are lulled into listening to them more than your cabinet ministers.
“Given all the past performance and missteps, a thorough housecleaning at the PMO is long overdue. Over time, it has become stronger and stronger; the senior staff continue to become more powerful. That’s not a good development for democracy or accountability.”
Speaking to reporters in Toronto on Thursday, Trudeau denied any directions were given to Vancouver-Granville MP Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec company SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution for allegations it paid bribes to get government business.
“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was directed by me or anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter,” he said. “We have been consistent that Canada is a country of rule of law that respects the independent judiciary and always will.”
But with a federal election expected in October, the latest allegations couldn’t be more poorly timed, and the Conservatives hammered the Prime Minister throughout the day Thursday, with leader Andrew Scheer alleging a “cover up.”
He suggested that Trudeau punished Wilson-Rayboud by demoting her in a Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle, from justice minister to minister of veterans affairs.
The Trudeau government has been forced to respond to allegations that Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould was bounced out as Canada's attorney general and demoted to minister of veterans affairs because she wouldn't intervene in a case against SNC-Lavalin.
B.C. pollster Barb Justason, president of Justason Market Intelligence, said it’s unclear whether Wilson-Raybould or other Vancouver area Liberal MPs will be hurt by the federal party’s string of controversies. But they certainly haven’t helped their re-election chances.
“I don’t know if this is something that’s going to blow over by the election, but the attorney general is supposed to be independent,” Justason said. “I think this helps Jody, but harms the PMO.
“If she doesn’t survive the next election, it’s likely to be because of the federal Liberal brand, not because of her personal brand; she was very well-received in the riding she won.”
Many Lower Mainland voters were already dismayed by the Liberal government’s broken promise to reform the electoral system, as well as its $4.5-billion purchase of the unpopular Trans Mountain pipeline.
But ethics concerns tend to stick with voters longer, and could hamper their local chances.
“This region was critical in the 2015 election to the federal Liberals getting in,” Justason said. “It would certainly hurt the party, but whether (Wilson-Raybould) wears that in the context of the things she’s achieved, I don’t know.
“She has to toe the company line at this point.”
In a Jan. 23 interview, she told the Star Vancouver she planned to run for re-election in October, and said she’d defended the “rule of law” and transparency in her time as justice minister.
“Being the MP for Vancouver-Granville has been one of the greater honours of my life, so too was being attorney general,” she said. “I’d say to my constituents that I ran to be an MP for a reason: to be involved in how Canada operates, the values and principles that make our country the greatest in the world, the values of the rule of law, good governance, and being open and transparent.
“I knock on doors in my riding every week, and that’s what my constituents want.”
Shortly before the scandal broke, Wilson-Raybould took the unusual step of posting a lengthy screed on her Facebook page emphasizing her “principled independence” in the role of Canada’s attorney general.
“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she wrote on Jan. 14. “The Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served.”
Dosanjh said he was “intrigued” by what seemed like a “defiant” or “angry” tone.
“I was surprised she wrote anything, but even if she were to (make a comment), it would have been OK to say, ‘I’m proud of my accomplishments,’” he said. “But when I was the attorney general, I had to fiercely guard my independence during the (NDP government of Glen) Clark era, and all those difficult things we went through.
“Sometimes, using Jody’s own words, you have to speak truth to power; you have to say, ‘This is not appropriate.’”
Among Wilson-Raybould’s family back in B.C. however, the allegations only emboldened their sense of her as a rebel in high places.
“History will prove that she did the right thing,” her father, a lawyer and Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief, Bill Wilson wrote on Facebook Thursday. “Her demotion makes sense now, ugly political sense.”
With files from Alex Ballingall and Ben Spurr.
David P. Ball-Star Vancouver/Somnia/AA
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