The SNC-Lavalin affair is a bit like Shakespeare’s “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
It has had its hour and much more. It has wreaked considerable havoc, damaging the credibility of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and knocking his Liberal Party into second place in the polls, while, ironically, making one of the Liberals’ own, Jody Wilson-Raybould, a heroine – an Indigenous woman bravely fending off a horde of male politicians who pursue power at the expense of principle.
There is something wrong with this image of Wilson-Raybould as the Jeanne d’Arc of Parliament Hill, but let’s pass on.
As the scandal – if that’s what it was – fades, it leaves a bad smell behind. It is a smell produced by a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism and opportunism. None of the principal players is an innocent.
Trudeau was elected in 2015 on a promise that his government would be open and transparent. But when the SNC story broke on Feb. 7, Trudeau met it with denial that morphed into evasion – a reaction one might have expected from a Stephen Harper, not from a prime minister who is ostensibly committed to playing politics differently.
And once the Commons Justice Committee started to poke into the SNC matter, the Liberals repeatedly used their majority to limit the scope of its inquiries and to cull the witnesses the committee could call.
The Conservatives matched, if not outperformed, the Liberals in the hypocrisy department. My favourite Justice Committee moment was when Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt gazed deeply into the eyes of Wilson-Raybould and, her voice dripping with sincerity, declared she believed every single word the witness had said.
This is the same Lisa Raitt who on April 5, 2016 had to apologize after she tore a strip off Wilson-Raybould and accused her of lying in the Commons. "If she's going to base her arguments by spewing lies in this House of Commons, then she should absolutely be very careful," Raitt said.
Did Raitt really believe Wilson-Raybould was “spewing lies” in 2016? Of course not. The Conservatives were desperately trying to stop the Liberals’ assisted-dying legislation, and if trashing the minister might help, that’s what Raitt set out to do.
And did Raitt really believe Wilson-Raybould was an unalloyed truth-teller at the Justice Committee?
I don’t think so. Everyone on the committee was aware that the witness had mixed motives. She wanted to defend her decision as Attorney General to launch a criminal prosecution of SNC, and she wanted to make the Prime Minister pay for removing her from her “dream job.” Opposition party members on the committee played along with her.
Meanwhile, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer trained his hyperbole on Trudeau, calling for his resignation and demanding the RCMP investigate the “disgraced” Prime Minister. Does Scheer really believe Trudeau is corrupt or criminal or up to “something sinister,” as he alleged?
Of course not. With the budget, the Liberals are moving into their pre-election campaign and Scheer is simply trying to get voters to notice him – something they have not done in overwhelming fashion since he became leader.
SNC-Lavalin was the Conservatives’ golden opportunity to put the Liberals on the defensive, and it did that. It knocked the government badly off message and, even though the affair may be a distant memory come October, the Conservatives are determined to keep it alive as long as they can.
On Sunday, Conservatives strategists decided they would use the party’s Monday opposition day to tie the Commons in knots for a couple of days by forcing recorded votes on dozens upon dozens of motions – a tactic designed to block Finance Minister William Morneau from delivering his budget speech today. That ploy collapsed when the Liberals, who control the parliamentary schedule, simply moved the opposition day from Monday to Wednesday.
Undeterred, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who has assumed the same attack-dog role with Scheer that he previously enjoyed with Harper, pledged to "use every parliamentary tool in the toolkit” to keep Liberal feet in the SNC-Lavalin fire.