Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has been expelled from the Liberal caucus. Her colleague, Dr. Jane Philpott, former minister of health and Treasury Board president, is going with her.
Both women, who previously resigned cabinet, are very well educated, accomplished, articulate and principled. They were brought on board by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not only because they were highly qualified professionals, but because they could help reflect the vital importance of diversity as well as women’s meaningful presence in government.
These women were given important positions in cabinet and caucus by a prime minister who, at the time, truly believed in their abilities and principles. This self-proclaimed feminist prime minister acknowledged that more women in politics reflect the true and diverse demographics of Canada.
Although I have great respect for both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, I believe the prime minister had no choice but to let them go. Neither could firmly admit support for their leader after his management or apparent mismanagement of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Which ever side of the fence you may sit on, this is not about gender or gender equality. It is about two Liberal cabinet ministers who resigned their posts because they had lost confidence in their leader.
They have made this quite clear in media interviews and letters to colleagues in caucus on the day of their firing that the PMO had inappropriately tried to convince Wilson-Raybould to do something she felt was wrong.
She refused time and time again but stopped short of calling the pressures illegal.
Yet, both women wanted to remain as Liberals and sit in caucus. This situation had the potential to have made it very uncomfortable for their colleagues to carry on important and sometimes confidential meetings.
Wilson-Raybould continued to give her reasons to the press as to why she did what she did, using rather strong language at times. But to her, she was simply doing her job to protect herself, the prime minister and the rule of law.
Philpott, on the other hand, took a more conciliatory tone, saying she had confidence in the prime minister and the values of the Liberal team. Wilson-Raybould stopped short of going the conciliatory route and did not reveal any trust in the leader whatsoever. But she wanted to remain a Liberal.
When Wilson-Raybould released a tape, she recorded of her telephone conversation with Michael Wernick, then clerk of the Privy Council, this was the bombshell that was the beginning of the end for her.
As a lawyer, and once the top lawyer in Canada, she taped a conversation with the top bureaucrat of Canada unknown to him. Technically, for all intents and purposes, Wernick and the government were her clients.
I would expect my rights as a client would be upheld within the laws of attorney/client privilege in Canada. Recording a tape of our conversation would circumvent that law and the professional relationship with this individual.
The expectations that my sensitive issues would be kept private is tantamount, but to realize they were recorded and shared would ultimately destroy any possibility of reconciliation.
This lawyer has the right to remove herself from this attorney/client relationship. Wilson-Raybould should have resigned early on and removed herself from this situation when she felt threatened by the PMO.
Wilson-Raybould’s fears had formed over time and her decision not to give a deferred prosecution to SNC-Lavalin that she needed to record the conversation in order to protect herself is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
She felt something very dangerous and bad was going to happen. She felt hounded with constant and inappropriate pressure, but not illegal pressures from the PMO. Wilson-Raybould even made a dark reference to the Saturday Night Massacre of Oct. 20, 1973, which involved Richard Nixon during Watergate.
That did not bode well for him.
On the other hand, the PMO and Liberal party contend they were having robust conversations like colleagues in cabinet and caucus are expected to do. They say disagreements between diverse participants in government do occur on many occasions and they are welcome.
Justin Trudeau disagrees, these two women disagree with him. They obviously believe in the Liberal ideology, but it is the man who leads the party who remains a thorn in their sides.
Wilson-Raybould is a whistle blower, while Philpott is the collateral damage because of her friendship with her. One is assertive the other is recessive, a combination that could spell control of one over the other.
Whistleblowers usually end up with the short end of the stick. They act on principle and what is right, but it is also crucial that they are aware of the consequences of what they are doing based on their personal values and best practices.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott must have known that the outcome to this unprecedented scandal may not come out in their favour. They had to have known that after they resigned cabinet because they had admitted publicly to a loss trust and faith in their leader, Justin Trudeau, that that was the beginning of the end.
How could either one possibly believe that they could be trusted. How would their colleagues know for certain that if Wilson-Raybould found herself in a tight situation once again that she would not wear a wire?
The SNC-Lavalin affair, which has dominated the news for almost two months, has given the Conservatives, the official opposition, and the NDP, a huge bone to chew on.
There has been no shortage of blood, a constant drip by some accounts, to keep the feeding frenzy on the front page. NDPers and Conservatives have developed a love-in with the former attorney general despite Conservative MP Lisa Raitt once accusing her of spewing lies in the assisted dying file and NDP MP Charlie Angus once accusing her of dilly-dallying on an important Indigenous file and being difficult to work with.
Wilson-Raybould’s requests of the prime minister included an apology, which is reasonable as he has bungled this scandal from the beginning. She also apparently requested that Attorney General David Lametti follow her lead and not interfere by granting SNC-Lavalin with a deferred prosecution agreement.
He has said he would not tolerate pressure or interference. She denied this in an interview with CBC.
Wilson-Raybould and her colleague and friend, Jane Philpott, have sailed in the same boat through rough waters. They remain in the boat together, fuelled by their obligations to tell their truth and remain steadfast in their principles that are inherent in the value of truth.
Their boat sank with their expulsion from the Liberal caucus and they must now sit as independents.
The story is evolving as we speak and the Liberal government is under great scrutiny.
Consider this; a Liberal minority come October, both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott winning their respective ridings as independents.
The power to make a real difference in how the Liberal Party evolves could be in this possibility; independent ex pats, so to speak.
Trudeau should take this very real possibility into consideration and start planning for the fallout.
Patricia Baker is a Sault Star district correspondent