It is going to be impossible to look at Justin Trudeau’s government the same way again.
Jody Wilson-Raybould has blown apart many things with her devastating allegations about her life inside the Trudeau government — just how much, we may not know until the October election.
But her story will get immediately committed to the political memory around Ottawa, mainly for the searing details Wilson-Raybould assiduously noted over four months: an offhand dismissal of annoying “legalities,” talk of “giving us cover” and the inevitability of “some interference” to help SNC-Lavalin.
And that was just in one conversation she says her chief of staff had with the prime minister’s most senior advisers, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, toward the end of what she called a four-month “sustained” effort to change her mind.
Even with Butts gone from that inner circle, one of the early casualties of this no doubt enduring saga, how does the Trudeau government put itself on a steady keel again? This is not obvious at the moment.
It’s certainly not sunny ways. The Liberal ad team might want to throw out that pitch for the next campaign. Conservatives and New Democrats accumulated enough footage from Wednesday’s committee meeting to animate a full election’s worth of ads about a Liberal leader beating up on an Indigenous woman in his government.
Speaking of campaigns, Wilson-Raybould claimed the prime minister made his case in September for helping the Quebec firm, not just in the context of potential jobs lost if she didn’t agree to a plea deal for SNC-Lavalin, but against the backdrop of a looming Quebec election. So, she said, did Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick — the same supposedly non-political bureaucrat who made a vigorous and also memorable presentation to this justice committee last week.
Wilson-Raybould said in her statement on Monday that Wernick thought it important to tell her in September that the SNC-Lavalin board needed some answers before a looming meeting with shareholders and warned that the firm would relocate to London if Canada proved inhospitable to a plea deal. He then leapt into the politics of the situation — the Quebec election coming on Oct. 1.
“At that point the prime minister jumped in, stressing there is an election in Quebec and that, quote, ‘I am an MP in Quebec, the member for Papineau,’ end quote. I was quite taken aback. My response — and I remember this vividly — was to ask the PM a direct question while looking him in the eye. I asked, ‘Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the AG? I would strongly advise against it.’”
Wernick was already facing criticism for the partisan bent of his testimony last week; Wilson-Raybould has only given credence to those arguments.
A week or so ago, one of the senior officials who figured in the Wilson-Raybould story was talking off the record, and said the government couldn’t keep “fighting ghosts in The Globe and Mail.”
Well, now we have a very different ghost story — actually, more like one of those scary movies with the line: “The call is coming from inside the house.”
Wilson-Raybould is that caller and she brought everyone into the house with her with a hair-raising tale about how politics works in this government.
There’s an old rule of opposites when it comes to Canadian prime ministers — they always exit office with an image opposite to the one they had when they took on the job. Trudeau, we’ll recall, was the just-not-ready, feminist guy who was going to make his relationship with Canada’s Indigenous people the most important one in his government.
Wilson-Raybould has presented that opposite image: a prime minister who made life very difficult for an Indigenous woman in his government, who was more than ready to embrace the hard cynicism of power. That image just doesn’t line up with the one Trudeau, or even his critics, have presented of this government so far. But it’s now a signature picture in the political history books.
Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt