CanadaSNC-Lavalin scandal a window in Ottawa’s power culture
Liberal MP says SNC-Lavalin 'entitled' to agreement to avoid criminal trial
A Liberal MP says his party believes the SNC-Lavalin is “entitled” to a deferred prosecution agreement — a legal mechanism that would allow the Quebec engineering firm to avoid criminal prosecution. "Our belief is that this company is one that is, like its competitors around the world, entitled to a deferred prosecution agreement, like they would be able to have access to in the U.K.," Steven MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Services and Procurement, told CBC News's Power & Politics today.
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Last November, SNC-Lavalin held a massive schmoozefest in Ottawa featuring Liberal cabinet ministers as guest speakers. The firm was the marquee sponsor for the 26th Annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships Conference. This event has become a who’s-who for companies looking to get into the feeding frenzy of privatized infrastructure and service contracts under the Trudeau government.
Two scandals: How political power really works in Ottawa and Queen’s Park
The SNC-Lavalin and Ontario Provincial Police scandals playing out in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park make for good political theatre. But amid the intrigue and the unanswered questions there is a wider pair of points being missed. One is our apparent inability to really understand how political power is actually exercised in Canada. That makes it hard to talk about how it should be used. The other point we miss is around the public interest. Any discussion of the use, or misuse, of power, has to connect with the purposes for which that power is exercised. There are few laws and provisions that formally empower the Prime Minister or Premier.
The fact that this was happening as the government was trying to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into cutting a deal for SNC shows that the Trudeau government treated the approaching corruption trial as an annoyance to be managed. SNC-Lavalin has over 100 active federal contracts. There is no indication that federal departments have thrown any red flags or even raised concerns over the fact the company might be soon be ineligible to contract with the government.
In fact, if you read the briefing notes to the minister of innovation, it was as if SNC wasn’t facing charges at all. According to a briefing provided by the civil service, SNC “went through years of turmoil and a corruption crisis in 2012 after several senior managers, including its former CEO, were found guilty of corruption. SNC has revamped its senior management team and board of directors since then, and has also pioneered new systems to prevent, detect and respond to unethical behaviour.” Problem apparently solved!
Bob Hepburn: Why Jody Wilson-Raybould is no hero
Make no mistake about it, Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts and the gang in the Prime Minister’s Office screwed up big time in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
What threw it all off the rails was that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to play ball.
As much as the scandal has turned into a human drama pitting Jody Wilson-Raybould against Justin Trudeau, the real story is about the incredible power of the very rich to get the ear of government. The SNC-Lavalin scandal is giving Canadians a sobering look at who really has power in Canada, and how they use it.
The SNC scandal is a stark reminder that there are two distinct planes of political power in Ottawa. Most Canadians focus on Parliament where day-to-day partisan politics play out through debates carried on in public.
But the real decisions are often made offstage between corporate insiders and the PMO. How else was it possible to have deferred prosecution agreements slipped into an omnibus bill without even seasoned parliamentarians noticing? SNC lawyers were certainly well aware of the legislation being passed.
Trudeau to discuss SNC-Lavalin affair in Thursday morning press conference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will issue a public statement on the SNC-Lavalin scandal in a Thursday morning press conference in Ottawa. Trudeau is expected to offer his reaction to Wednesday's testimonies from his former principal secretary Gerald Butts and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick. He will take questions from journalists following the 8 a.m. presser, the Prime Minister's Office confirmed to Global News. READ MORE: Jody Wilson-Raybould says she’s willing to give additional testimony on SNC-Lavalin The embattled prime minister had been expected to change his tone on the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
In fact, so cosy are the relationships between key corporate players and government officials that they don’t even get caught up in anything as mundane as the lobbying registry. When SNC-Lavalin chose Kevin Lynch, former clerk of the privy council as the chair of its board, they knew they were appointing someone who could move mountains in times of crisis. Lynch was an “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” hire. When they learned that Wilson-Raybould was not playing ball, Lynch used his all-access status to call upon present Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick for action.
The SNC scandal has provided a rare window into the world of real power in Ottawa. This is a city that is still driven by the “who you know in the PMO” pattern of insider access. The Infrastructure Bank model of privatization might be newfangled in Canada, but the relationships that drive it are old-school to the core.
The SNC scandal is a moment of reckoning for the Trudeau government. Right now, it still seems likely that the government is going to push ahead with negotiating a DPA. If they do go down this road, it will do serious damage to Justin Trudeau’s credibility as a politician committed to feminism, open government and reconciliation. But the ties to SNC at the centres of power are deep.
Trudeau promised to give Canadians something more than the cynicism of the Harper government and something better than the cronyism of the Chrétien /Martin years. In his handling of the SNC prosecution, he has given us the worst of both.
Charlie Angus is the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay.
Scott Thompson: Liberals fail to change channel on Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin scandal.
It's not just the average Canadian who is losing confidence in Trudeau — it continues within his own party, Scott Thompson says.
The National for March 7, 2019 — Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin Response, Facebook Changes, Iqaluit Apology
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