THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – Those among us who have not heard the name Judy Wilson-Raybould at least once over the past five months have been living in a distant hermitage. The rest of us will surely remember how this once competent and promising member of parliament for Vancouver-Granville and Minister of Justice in Trudeau’s cabinet was forced into exile from the governing Liberal Party caucus and to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons.
All of this because JWR (the social media shorthand given her) refused to weaken charges against SNC-Lavalin, one of Quebec’s all-star international engineering corporations, despite consistent and repeated urgings from the Prime Minister’s Office and likely from Trudeau himself to do so. The Minister could have instructed her officials to negotiate with SNC-Lavalin and grant a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA) thereby permitting the corporation to apologize for their corruption improprieties, submit to a fine and avoid the substantial cost and public humiliation of lengthy trial proceedings. Further, there was a vital financial advantage with this option: A guilty verdict at trial against SNC-Lavalin would thereby prohibit the company from bidding on Canadian contracts. The result: a less than desirable impact on their bottom-line. A DPA would not so restrict SNC-Lavalin. With the decision of a Quebec judge on May 29th that there is sufficient evidence to charge SNC-Lavalin with corruption and proceed to open trial, it is highly likely this DPA option is off the table.
Although she remained wisely mute on the subject until her silence became untenable, it was generally held even in January of this year that Minister JWR was preparing to proceed to trial with formal and open bribery and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin. Therefore, because she refused to heed the pleadings of PMO to pursue a DPA option, she was fired. Fellow Minister Jane Philpot resigned in protest and support.
With public sympathy on her side, JWR stoically informed a waiting media that she wanted time to consider her future in politics including her participation in the coming federal election. After a requisite postmortem and much media speculation about the possibility of both former ministers joining the suddenly ascendant Green Party of Canada – a seemingly a perfect fit, JWR and Philpot simultaneously announced they would remain Independent members and run as such in the coming election.
Independent candidates are rarely elected to parliament. More frequently, they become Independents MPs only after they have been elected and have left or were expelled from the party with which they were affiliated – usually through some disagreement with party policy or party brass including of course, the Prime Minister.
There are any number of reasons why their decision was an unfortunate one and a major strategic blunder.
If either or both are elected as Independents and that in Canadian politics is a very big IF, and despite their current prominent profiles, their ability to influence, alter and implement public policy and resolve national issues will be marginal at best and rendered irrelevant at worst. They will not have access to the research and resources open to registered political parties and the mutual support/exchange of opinions offered by party caucuses. Persistent solidarity with other members of the House is not a characteristic of Independents! Further, there will be very limited opportunities offered to pose questions during Question Period or respond to ministerial statements. Nor are there open opportunities to select and participate in House of Commons committees.
When all is said and done and the media have had their fill with the final chapter in the JWR-Philpot mini-saga, come the October election the electorate is far more likely to remember how Trudeau tried to salvage the image of a much-tainted Quebec-based corporation than they are the firing of a minister. Even if the reverse is true for the electors of Vancouver-Granville and JWR is returned to parliament, it is not to a bright and effective political future.
For both JWR and Philpot they may very well become muted backbench voices languishing in a far corner of the House of Commons where few will hear them! That is a loss for them and a loss for Canada.
Beverly Anne Sabourin is a member of the Deer Clan of the Pic Mobert First Nation and former Vice-Provost of Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead University. Peter Andre Globensky was seconded from the Privy Council Office to the Prime Minister’s Office as a senior policy advisor on Indigenous Affairs. He retired in 2003 as Chief Executive Officer and Director General of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.