Opinion: Sorry, Justin Trudeau: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott aren’t the villains here

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Opinion: Sorry, Justin Trudeau: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott aren’t the villains here

In a statement after her Tuesday expulsion from the federal Liberal caucus, Jane Philpott showed again why she was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most effective cabinet minister before resigning last month to protest her former boss’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

In her role as health minister after the Liberal victory in 2015, then as Indigenous services minister until her move to Treasury Board in January, Ms. Philpott displayed a unique ability to get to the nub of problems. And as anyone knows, correctly identifying a problem is the key to solving it.

As Mr. Trudeau provided ever-changing accounts of what went on within his government and his own office in the months leading up to former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s January demotion to veteran affairs minister, Ms. Philpott never wavered. When the Prime Minister tried to explain on Tuesday the ouster of two of the Liberal caucus’s most capable members – rambling on about trust breaking down, civil wars and an “unconscionable” tape recording – Ms. Philpott again cut to the chase and exposed Mr. Trudeau’s attempt to discredit them for what it was.

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“Rather than acknowledge the obvious – that a range of individuals had inappropriately attempted to pressure the former attorney-general in relation to a prosecutorial decision – and apologize for what had occurred, a decision was made to deny the obvious – to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her,” Ms. Philpott said.

With that, the now involuntarily independent MP for Markham-Stouffville – a woman to whom Mr. Trudeau should be eternally grateful for providing gravitas and competency to a cabinet understocked in both – made it clear to anyone with an open mind why the Prime Minister is the cause of this crisis, and not the two women he has tried to pin it on.

“Does [Mr. Trudeau] understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean?” Ms. Wilson-Raybould asked former privy council clerk Michael Wernick in the Dec. 19 telephone conversation that she taped, undoubtedly for her own protection after facing weeks of escalating pressure from the clerk and the Prime Minister’s Office to overturn a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to deny a deferred prosecution deal to SNC-Lavalin.

“This is not about saving jobs,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould continued. “This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.”

To which Mr. Wernick replied: “Well, I don’t think he sees it as that.”

Well, that’s a problem. When the Prime Minister is nonchalant about intervening in the judicial process because, you know, he’s used to getting what he wants, then someone needs to take him aside and explain the facts of life, not to mention constitutional democracy. He may very well have good reasons to think the DPP made the wrong call on SNC-Lavalin. But tough: There is a greater principle at play – the independence of prosecutors to act free of political interference – that cannot be sacrificed simply because, as PMO aide Mathieu Bouchard reportedly told Ms. Wilson-Raybould, “we can have the best policy in the world, but we need to get re-elected.”

Former Trudeau principal secretary Gerald Butts allegedly attempted to sway Ms. Wilson-Raybould by telling her that former prime minister Brian Mulroney had directed his attorney-general to order a Supreme Court review of David Milgaard’s conviction for the 1969 rape and murder of a Saskatoon woman, which would eventually be deemed a wrongful conviction. But that’s a red herring. Successive decisions by Canadian courts denying Mr. Milgaard a review of his conviction had made his case a cause célèbre by 1991, when Mr. Mulroney publicly met with Mr. Milgaard’s mother and vowed to do everything he could to help her son.

His then attorney-general, Kim Campbell, was under no illusions about where her boss stood – he was on the public record as supporting a review of Mr. Milgaard’s case. Unlike the PMO’s machinations surrounding SNC-Lavalin, the Milgaard saga played out almost entirely in the public eye. Ms. Campbell, who eventually did order a Supreme Court review of the case, made it clear that she never interpreted Mr. Mulroney’s public declarations as a directive to her.

“The Prime Minister is too good a lawyer to make that kind of statement,” Ms. Campbell said in September, 1991, after Mr. Mulroney met with Joyce Milgaard outside a Winnipeg hotel.

Mr. Trudeau, owing to his own inattention to details and sheer arrogance, has created a royal mess. By ousting Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott, he looks more interested in preserving power than upholding the principles he was elected on. It’s not “because it’s 2015” any more: Instead, it’s because it’s 2019, and there’s an election, the Liberals were born to win.

Trying, however, to paint Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott as the villains of this story just doesn’t wash. Canadians are smarter, and more principled, than that.

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