The scandal surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shows just how cozy the country’s elite really is.
It’s true that Canadians are a trusting, generous lot who generally believe in the greater good, institutions and the rule of law. Consequently, the country is prone to imagining itself more bound by a mythology of its own goodness than it actually is. But there’s a darker side to Canada’s smallness. Our tiny network of political, business and intellectual elite is insular and concentrated.
The scandal now enveloping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a bilingual, feminist, pro-multicultural liberal who embodies much of what we like to celebrate in our national character — should put an end to this.
At its heart, the SNC-Lavalin scandal that threatens Mr. Trudeau’s leadership is about political interference in our judicial system. The Globe and Mail first reported in early February that last fall, the prime minister and his office pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, then the justice minister and attorney general, to seek a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, which is equivalent to a plea bargain, for SNC-Lavalin, a politically well-connected civil engineering firm based in Montreal.
SNC-Lavalin has been at the center of corruption scandals for decades. (In 2013, the World Bank debarred the company and more than 100 of its affiliates for 10 years, single-handedly putting Canada at the top of the bank’s corruption list.) In this latest scandal, the company faces criminal charges for bribing Libyan officials, including Muammar el-Qaddafi’s son, with millions of dollars to secure contracts in Libya.
The Deferred Prosecution Agreement would permit SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution, allowing it to continue to bid for domestic government contracts. Without this, the company might face existential peril.
The only person in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet who seemed to push back was Ms. Wilson-Raybould. In January, she was put in charge of the veterans affairs ministry, effectively a demotion.
Last week, she went public, speaking before a House of Commons committee about the pressure she’d been under to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin. For hours, she delivered extensive testimony, citing notes and texts, detailing inappropriate levels of political interference in a criminal proceeding.
Her account was impossible to reconcile with Mr. Trudeau’s previous flat denials. The prime minister and his defenders have come across as weak and dishonest, more interested in protecting a Quebec-based corporation than in the independence of the judiciary. His government is now in chaos. On Monday, one of his key cabinet ministers, Jane Philpott, resigned, saying she had “lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.”
Mr. Trudeau came to power in 2015 on the promise of a new, revitalized Liberal Party, removed from the stale old boys’ club of yore. The party, though it imagines itself as representing the quintessential ideals of Canadiana, has a long track record of corruption and chicanery, particularly in Quebec.
With an electoral base in the country’s most heavily populated regions, like Quebec, the Liberals have enjoyed many decades in power. It is not without merit that they are referred to, derisively, as Canada’s Natural Governing Party.