Much ado about everything:  But the problem is ‘ruling from the centre’

I think that everyone may be telling the truth to the Commons committee. And that’s a problem for a committee that’s trying to find out who may be lying.

The law of the instrument holds that if a five year old boy is given a hammer, everything he sees is a nail. If a committee is given a soapbox to look for fibs and whoppers, they will do their level best to find them.

Can we think about this for a moment? There’s a Cabinet Shuffle and Jody Wilson Raybould loses her dream job and quits Cabinet thinking that she was fired over the SNC Lavalin affair. This makes perfect sense as it would seem far-fetched that the retirement of Scott Brison as Treasury Board Chair would signal the removal of a seasoned crown prosecutor from the Cabinet job for which she was most qualified.

It is also reasonable that she would see it as a demotion to be moved to Veterans Affairs (VAC). Although VAC is an important role, it does not have the gravitas or the importance of either the Justice Ministry or Attorney General, the top legal positions in Canada outside of that held by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

It’s easy to see why she would be hurt and be asking the question: “What did I do?” Logically she came to view that she had done something substantively wrong or something that others did not like. And she came to an obvious conclusion.

So why did she not raise the issue of undue influence before the shuffle? That again is obvious. She still had the job of Justice Minister and Attorney General and her opposition to a deferred prosecution agreement had been upheld. She reasonably concluded that a new Minister might go with the PMO and issue the deferral.

And why would Jane Philpott leave Cabinet?  Again, if one can argue the case that an esteemed physician and senior medical administrator would see the Health portfolio as ideal, you would likely be right. And it would not have weighed on her too much to be transferred to Indigenous Services where the health of Aboriginal peoples is a serious issue of the type she enjoys as a challenge. After all, she spent a decade or more in Africa dealing with medical issues that are not entirely dissimilar to those sometimes found on First Nations.

But Treasury Board? Why Treasury Board for this talented physician specialist, again one who was doing very well in her second portfolio by all accounts?

So Philpott goes too and it’s not hard to see why she would leave for much the same reasons. Talented lawyer bounced from Justice to a position where her career path has little relevance.  A capable physician goes to a place where her medical skills and knowledge are largely unrequired.

And don’t forget that Wilson-Raybould is 48 and Philpott is 58. They are at the stage of their respective careers when they should be doing their best and most relevant work.

So Wilson Raybould does what she does best as a crown prosecutor. She starts building her case and following a leak in the Globe and Mail – the ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top – she gets her chance in a committee of the Commons.

The issue she raises about SNC Lavalin again is very reasonable. She felt that she must have done something wrong. Why else would you get taken out?

But then some funny things happened.  Both the Deputy Justice Minister (Drouin) and the clerk, Tim Wernick say that there was no undue influence. As is always the case in government, senior staff and the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) ask a Minister to take another look at things. He is correct when he says that it is his job to do this. Drouin reports to him. He’s her boss.

Wernick reports to Justin Trudeau. Trudeau is the Prime Minister and head of the Liberal Party. It’s his job to ensure his Ministers have all appropriate information and he does have a role if she makes a decision that he believes requires more deliberation. This simply cannot be seen as either harassment or undue influence. It’s just what happens when people work together in any organization. The boss gets to have his or her say.

You could see Wernick bristle. Man! Was he pissed when people told him that he was wrong to do the job he was appointed and paid to do!  And opposition parties are taking advantage of the fact that Canadians generally don’t know how government works and can get them riled up when it actually runs as designed .

The second funny thing that happened is that Gerry Butts said that the resignation of Scott Brison was the reason for the shuffle and that SNC Lavalin had nothing to do with it. Well this just rings true because of the political situation in Nova Scotia. The Liberals are losing incumbents and Scott Brison was one of them.

They had to shuffle the Cabinet and they wanted strong seasoned Ministers in Treasury Board and Indigenous Services. What I can’t understand is why this meant two seasoned Ministers had to leave Departments for which they were highly qualified. Why couldn’t just one other Parliamentary assistant be brought into Treasury Board for what is essentially a six month appointment before the election and especially when the 2019 Budget is already written and baked into government processes.

Gerry Butts and the PM know the answers to these questions and I don’t. But what I do know is that Ministers Wilson Raybould and Philpott signed up for something different in 2015 and they are now fighting back while withdrawing their support from within Cabinet.

Mr. Butts said that you can’t start having Ministers allowed to influence the process of Cabinet selection or then, in his mind, you lose control. He may be right or wrong but they lost control regardless. And he lost his job.

In my mind, this is what this whole debacle is all about: control from the centre and what is allowable and what is not. I think a new day is dawning and that ruling from the centre is losing out.

In my view, the whole debacle has nothing to do with SNC Lavalin, undue influence, meddling, who is telling the truth, or who is doing their job correctly. Similarly, it has little to do with different versions of the truth or ‘he said – she said’ when and where. The committee already has the most truth it’s going to get. People can see the same events differently. That’s a daily event in the lives of all of us.

No. What really happened is that two strong women with excellent track records, exemplary careers and deep commitment to public service found out that the work that they signed up for and who decides who will do it was to be handled utterly differently than what they thought.

And they did something about it.