Embattled Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday expelled former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and another female former minister, Jane Philpott, from the Liberal Party caucus. Wilson-Raybould unleashed a firestorm upon the Trudeau administration in February by accusing Trudeau and his underlings of politically interfering with a corruption prosecution against the enormous SNC-Lavalin construction company.
Kicking Wilson-Raybould, an accomplished woman and a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw indigenous nation, out of the party is a damage control measure on par with using gasoline to extinguish a fire, but Trudeau apparently felt it was a step he had to take after she continued pressing her allegations against him.
On Friday, Wilson-Raybould published emails and text messages supporting her charges of political interference plus an audio recording of former Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick pressuring her to scuttle the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribery and fraud related to projects in Libya. The 17-minute conversation is a fairly blatant example of the political interference Wilson-Raybould complained about, and includes Wernick stating clearly that Trudeau was “quite determined” to halt the prosecution “one way or another.”
Many members of the Liberal Party directed their outrage against Wilson-Raybould rather than Trudeau, accusing her of disloyalty and unethical behavior for recording her conversation with Wernick, even though her actions were legal under Canada’s rules for recording phone calls. Some said she has been excessively dramatic about the normal rough-and-tumble of Canadian politics and said she misunderstood the importance of halting a prosecution that could cost thousands of jobs
“Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them. That’s why I made the difficult decision to remove Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott from the Liberal caucus,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday.
Trudeau angrily described Wilson-Raybould’s decision to record her conversation with Wernick as “unconscionable.”
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, who resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet because she said the SNC-Lavalin scandal has destroyed her faith in him, both wrote open letters to Canadian lawmakers on Tuesday.
Wilson-Raybould wrote that she still believes Trudeau shares the Liberal Party’s vision, but implied his conduct has made it difficult for the party to achieve its goals:
Now I know many of you are angry, hurt, and frustrated. And frankly so am I, and I can only speak for myself. I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings, I am not the one who made it public, and I am not the one who publicly denied what happened. But I am not going to go over all of the details here again. Enough has been said.
Growing up as an Indigenous person in this country I learned long ago the lesson that people believing what they wish about you does not, and cannot ever, make it the truth – rather than letting authority be the truth, let the truth be the authority. Indeed, if I had succumbed to interpreting the beliefs of others to be the truth, I never would have been able to push forward in the face of the racism and misogyny that far too many Indigenous women, and others, still experience every day.
Ultimately the choice that is before you is about what kind of party you want to be a part of, what values it will uphold, the vision that animates it, and indeed the type of people it will attract and make it up.
Philpott’s letter was more heated, complaining that Trudeau did not give her an opportunity to address the Liberal Party caucus before she was expelled and fiercely denying accusations of disloyalty:
These attacks were based on inaccuracies and falsehoods. I did not initiate the crisis now facing the party or the Prime Minister. Nor did Jody Wilson-Raybould.
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 occurred, a decision was made to attempt to deny the obvious – to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her. That approach now appears to be focused on whether Jody Wilson-Raybould should have audiotaped the Clerk instead of the circumstances that prompted Jody Wilson-Raybould to feel compelled to do so.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott said their actions were intended to save Trudeau and the Liberal Party from their mistakes and satisfy the demands of the Canadian people for full transparency in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
CBC News noted few Liberal Party lawmakers seem inclined to stand up for Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, suggesting a general willingness to throw them under the bus to make the SNC-Lavalin scandal go away, coupled with real anger at them for politically damaging the party with their allegations as elections loom in the fall.
Many Liberals apparently share Trudeau’s attitude that releasing a tape of the conversation with Wernick crossed a line. Trudeau rejected the idea of expelling her from the party several times before the tape was released.
“When the top lawyer in the country and the clerk of the privy council are having a conversation about something very important, it is totally inappropriate to record without notifying the other person. It is not an honorable thing to do,” explained Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
“To play these kinds of games, and almost entrapment to the clerk of the privy council? I’ve got no respect for someone like that,” said veteran Liberal lawmaker Wayne Easter on Monday.
“I trusted this woman. I felt she had been reading from a script at times to try and draw out, to make the clerk – and the prime minister, and cabinet colleagues and us that sit in caucus with her – look bad. Of course I’m angry,” he said of Wilson-Raybould’s actions.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer fired back by castigating Trudeau and his party for choosing to “condemn colleagues who spoke truth to power and to prop up a prime minister who is drowning in scandal.”
“The message they have sent today is clear: If you tell the truth, there is no room for you in the Liberal party of Canada,” said Scheer.