Published On: Wed, Feb 20th, 2019

Let Jody Wilson-Raybould tell her own story

The key people involved in the increasingly tangled SNC-Lavalin affair are by all accounts just dying to let us in on what really happened.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister, clearly wants to speak out. She’s got a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, no less, figuring out just how to do that.

And Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s closest adviser until Monday afternoon, apparently is also eager to give his side of the story. That’s reportedly a key part of why he suddenly quit as principal secretary to the prime minister.

To which we say: bring it on, and as quickly as possible.

Every day the principal figures in this affair remain silent is another day that questions will pile up about what really went on, and another day for the government’s credibility to be undermined.

If the government ever hoped it would all just blow over, that possibility evaporated when Butts gave up his position. A government can’t lose a justice minister and the prime minister’s chief adviser in the space of a week and expect the public to walk on by.

Two things must happen quickly in order to start clearing the air.

First, the government must find a way to waive the solicitor-client privilege that prevents Wilson-Raybould from speaking out about allegations that she came under political pressure to let SNC-Lavalin avoid a damaging criminal trial on charges of bribery and corruption.

And second, a public venue must be found for the whole affair to be aired in detail.

The most obvious is the House of Commons justice committee. The Liberal majority on the committee now say they will invite Wilson-Raybould to appear before them and tell her story. That’s the first sensible thing the Liberals have done in what has been a remarkably bungled response to allegations that she was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to act on behalf of SNC-Lavalin, before being shuffled off to veterans affairs in January.

The Liberals were dreaming in colour if they thought their best course was to keep Wilson-Raybould quiet. Even without speaking she has badly embarrassed the government. At this point the politically smart thing to do — not to mention the right thing to do — is to let her speak as frankly and as publicly as possible. Otherwise the government will have to endure a daily drip of suspicion that they are trying to cover up serious wrong-doing.

For both of those who have resigned, it’s important they be allowed to tell their story.

Wilson-Raybould, in particular, needs to be freed to speak, despite the constraints of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality.

So far others (mostly men) have been shaping her story. First it was the anonymous voices in the Globe and Mail who alleged that the PMO tried to pressure her to give SNC-Lavalin a break.

Then it was the prime minister, who told the world she had assured him he had not “directed” her to fix things for the company. Her father, too, has been speaking out, voicing the outrage of many at what looks like pretty shoddy treatment of the first Indigenous justice minister.

Wilson-Raybould deserves the simple respect of being able to tell her own story as she experienced it. In the end, there may be no clear conclusion. What she felt as pressure to act in a particular way may be just the “robust discussion” that government sources acknowledge did take place with the ex-minister. But let her speak, and let the facts come out so we can all form our own conclusions.

Butts, too, deserves the right to give his version of events. He was adamant in the statement he issued on Monday that neither he nor anyone else in the PMO did anything wrong in the SNC-Lavalin saga.

Nonetheless, by dint of being so close to the prime minister he had himself become part of the government’s political problem. The SNC-Lavalin affair gained so much traction so quickly in part because it seems to fulfill the narrative of an all-powerful PMO manipulating everything from the centre, the polar opposite of what Justin Trudeau promised back in the truly sunny days of 2015.

Fairly or not, Gerald Butts personified that narrative and did a service to his friend the prime minister by stepping aside.

At the same time, he sounded some important notes in his departure statement. In the midst of the turmoil of the SNC-Lavalin meltdown, he underlined the importance of government at its best and praised the “good, hard-working people who devote their time and energy to public service.” And, as a long-time environmentalist, he insisted on the vital importance of finding solutions to the issue of climate change.

That’s taking the long, long view, something that’s easy to lose sight of in the midst of a political eruption like this one.

The trick in government is to manage the inevitable short- and medium-term problems in such a way that they don’t overwhelm efforts to address the long-term issues that make a real difference in people’s lives.

For the past couple of weeks the Liberals seemed adrift, unable to figure out how to navigate through this mess. They now seem to realize that more openness, not stonewalling, is the way forward. That’s the first step toward regaining control.

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TORONTO STAR

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Let Jody Wilson-Raybould tell her own story