3 April 2019

Ahead of the 2019 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ejected Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from caucus for their public disagreement over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Tuesday afternoon, Trudeau told the two they would be removed. Trudeau said that the trust between the two and the government had eroded. The two will no longer be allowed to sit as Liberal lawmakers and they are banned from running for the party in the coming election.

Wilson-Raybould had previously secretly recorded a telephone conversation with Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, the country’s top bureaucrat. Last straw that broke the camel’s back, came when she released the recording as evidence of an intense pressure to persuade her to override her decision to deny SNC-Lavalin a remediation agreement, which would allow the engineering giant to avoid criminal proceedings on corruption and fraud charges.

In January, Trudeau moved Philpott from her  Indigenous Services cabinet portfolio to her new role as President of the Treasury Board. Jody Wilson-Raybould was moved from the cabinet position as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to the post of Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Both of them had previously resigned from the cabinet, citing concerns over a corruption case against engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin. Wilson-Raybould said she felt “inappropriate” to pressure the Director of Public Prosecution to settle the case against SNC by applying a Deferred Prosecution Agreement instead of a criminal law suite. Philpott said on Facebook that she was expelled without being given a chance to speak to the national caucus. Axios.com reported.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said the clerk of the Privy Council Office, Michael Wernick, never briefed Justin Trudeau on his talk with ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, that was captured on a recording released on Friday.

Wernick’s testimony to the House of Commons justice committee was widely seen as partisan and unbecoming of a senior bureaucrat who is expected to be non-partisan.  Wernick will officially step down as the country’s top bureaucrat in April. The federal government announced Friday that Ian Shugart, who served as deputy minister of Foreign Affairs since 2016, will take over as clerk of the Privy Council on 19 April.

In the coming elections, Canadians will decide what is good for them – Trudeau or time-honoured justice system. This is also a good time for them to reflect that it is good for the country to have a bureaucrat as Attorney General, instead of a politician from the ruling party. This will ensure the independence of judiciary – free from interference from the legislature and the executive. SNC is not the problem. It is only on the principle of an independent judiciary.

Separation of powers requires independence of judiciary, legislature and the executive.
The role of the Clerk of the Privy Council also comes into question. The Clerk’s job is to advise the Prime Minister and elected Government officials in managing the country. The Clerk does so from an objective, non-partisan, public policy perspective.
He has three main roles:(1) Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister, (2) Secretary to the Cabinet, (3) Head of the federal public service. In his first two roles above, he is a partisan politician.
The third role he should be non-partisan otherwise the public service will not be impartial towards the public. The third role should be held by a person not holding the first two roles. In some countries civil service is headed by a public service commission consisting of 3 or more commissioners. This also a good practice. There is a need to change the system.

It is also for the people to decide whether Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick told the truth to the House of Commons justice committee when he said no improper influence was ever applied to Wilson-Raybould. If he had told the truth in his evidence to the justice committee, then people should ignore the recording of the telephone conversation. If he had not told the truth, then  Trudeau should be held responsible for what he (Wernick)  did.