August 14, 2019 was a good day for Canadians and Canadian democracy when Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, found Prime Minister Trudeau used his position of authority over former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in an effort to convince her to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
For the Prime Minister’s conflict of interest to be exposed, it required more than Dion and Wilson-Raybould. The other players were Jane Philpott, the often-maligned free press and former Prime Minister Paul Martin.
The Prime Minister’s misdeeds would never have seen the light of day if not for one of Canada’s top dailies, the Globe and Mail. They broke the story through hard work, verifiable facts, real informants and a team of investigative reporters.
Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, simply gave all Canadians a lesson in ethics, not only by exposing the Prime Minister, but also by doing his job.
A lesser man may not have had the moxie to expose the man who just last year appointed him to the position of Ethics Commissioner. A lesser man may have been inclined to soften the report given that he is a Quebecor where SNC-Lavalin is an economic giant.
Yet Dion, a retired lawyer with a long career in public service, showed us all that those who serve the people do have a higher calling than politics and their political masters.
Former Prime Minister, Paul Martin is in the story because it was his government in April 2004 that passed legislation making the Ethics Commissioner an independent Officer of the House of Commons.
The importance of that reporting relationship change is clearly evidenced today.
Pre-2004, the report would have gone to the Prime Minister where it could have been sanitized, redacted or completely hidden.
Wilson-Raybould, lawyer, former crown prosecutor and former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations believes in Liberal values, but she chose to harm her political career and her political party in the fall election rather than compromise the law, truth or her ethics.
Sitting by to watch the soul of the Liberal Party and parliamentary democracy weaken was not an option.
Jane Philpott, a former physician, a profession where ethics is also drilled into your soul, could not stomach the cover up nor the treatment dished out to Wilson-Raybould by the Prime Minister and fellow Liberal colleagues.
This story goes further than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however. It is unfortunately another example of how much pressure elected politicians are under to kowtow to Big Corporate. And we must remind ourselves that it’s hard for Canadian corporations to be competitive when deferred prosecution agreements, which was at the heart of the cover up and conflict of interest affair with SNC-Lavalin, are readily used in the United States, Great Britain, Singapore and France.
These countries all enable criminally-charged corporations, such as SNC-Lavalin, to get-out-of jail via deferred prosecution agreements.
We need to be proud and protective of the ethical leadership shown by this select group of civil servants, elected officials, journalists and lawyers who stood up for the rule of law. But we also need to be mindful that until the voters become the politician’s bosses again rather than Big Corporate, this behaviour will not stop.
Be assured equivalent pressure will one day be applied by yet another corporation to yet another Prime Minister or Premier. And next time, we may not have a Jody Wilson-Raybould or a Jane Philpott willing to take a personal bullet for the public good or an Ethics Commissioner, appointed by the Prime Minister, with the guts to do his job rather than the Prime Minister’s bidding.