There is an unanswered, barely whispered question at the heart-attack centre of the SNC-Lavalin scandal now dumping buckets of freezing rain on Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways/sunny days parade.

And that question is this: what would Andrew Scheer or Jagmeet Singh have done differently?

In our system of government, opposition parties are expected to oppose, not propose, at least until there is an actual election, during which they can lay down their own we-would-do-things-differently campaign platforms.

But here’s the problem with that. Politicians lie to get elected. I could offer you chapter and encyclopedia about that based only on our recent experience here in Stephen McNeil’s Nova Scotia Funhouse of Electoral Mirrors — remember that family doctor for every family, those real enforcement powers for the privacy commission, etc., etc. ad nauseum — but let’s stick for the moment with Justin Trudeau, the SNC-Lavalin scandal currently roiling Ottawa and its own inciting lie.

That scandal has its unlikely beginnings buried deep inside a 556-page door-stopper of scattershot legislation the Liberals introduced last year. Officially known as the Budget Implementation Act, it wasn’t. Instead, it was a Trojan horse. The Liberals stuffed every conceivable piece of legislation about which they didn’t welcome real debate into their one-vote behemoth boll.

That legislation included, of course, the what-does-this-have-to-do-with-the-budget amendments to the Criminal Code designed to allow companies accused of corruption to cop deals, known as “remediation agreements,” to avoid criminal prosecution. For “companies,” read SNC-Lavalin, the real authors of this piece of legislation within the legislation.

Such bills are known in the politics trade as omnibus bills.

Wait a minute. Didn’t Justin Trudeau rail against omnibus bills? Of course he did. As the National Post reminded us last month, then-Opposition leader Trudeau forcefully declared back in 2013: “I wouldn’t use [omnibus bills], period.”

As if to underscore his principled stand, the Liberals’ 2015 election platform was explicit: “Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will … bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”

Ah, yes. That was then. This is now.

Forget then.

One of the many problems with adopting the Harper regime’s “undemocratic practice,” however, was that basic questions about the Criminal Code changes — for example, why was the government writing legislation to benefit corrupt Canadian companies? — were never answered in the all-over-the-map debate on the omnibus.

While a Liberal MP on the Finance Committee did timorously raise the fairness question and Conservative and NDP MPs half-heartedly demanded the government split the bills so each part could be more carefully debated, nothing came of it.

The Liberals got their here-you-go-SNC-Lavalin Criminal Code amendments, and the opposition parties were never forced to put themselves on record stating explicitly their own position on the legislation.

Convenient that.

Especially now that they are able to sound so shocked and appalled — “Resign! Resign!” — after the government’s ham-handed attempts to convince Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to actually use the legislation they’d so carefully crafted and passed specifically for this circumstance.

But that brings us back to the question: what would the Tories and NDP actually have done differently? Would they have refused to bow to SNC’s intense lobbying and simply not introduced such legislation in the first place? With the legislation in place, would they have chosen the door marked “Prosecutorial Independence” or the one with the flashing neon sign: “Jobs?”

While there are legitimate questions about the government’s unsourced, apocalyptic predictions of 9,000 job losses if SNC-Lavalin is convicted of its many and nefarious corrupt practices in court, there is no doubt it is a significant employer in Quebec and beyond and, as the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert put it last week, “any responsible federal government would have taken the time to carefully weigh the option of mitigating the possible damage to the firm’s future following a criminal conviction.”

Which brings us back — again — to the question: What would Andrew Sheer or Jagmeet Singh really do that was different from the unpleasant path Justin Trudeau chose? Hébert herself offers a hint: “It is no accident that in their French-language interviews, Conservative and New Democrat MPs from Quebec have been at pains to stress that their parties are not on a vendetta against SNC-Lavalin.”

And so it goes.

With a federal election barreling down upon us, we are left with mostly unpalatable choices on this issue.

None of the above?

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Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. the Liberals behaved no differently than would either of the other two parties with regards to the SNC Lavalin matter and the question of whether or not the company ought to be considered for a deferred prosecution routing.

    Politicians will opt to (and their senior advisors will offer to) suggest ways that certain ‘delicate matters’ could best be handled. In Nova Scotia for example, there was a spill of effluent from the Northern Pulp Mill that still has not been reported on by the Dept. of Environment. Ask this dept. when the spill volumes will be released , and they will report that the “matter is still under investigation”. Well, how hard is it to collect the volume of each vacuum truck involved and the number of such trucks that carried a load to the holding cell ? These figures should have been released weeks ago.

    Is there anything connected to the most recent pipe breakage and the Environmental Assessment process that is currently in the hands of the Environment Minister? Sure there is!
    It is politics, and it sucks! In Nova Scotia though, there is nothing to smooth over because there is no provincial cabinet minister who has stepped forward to say- this isn’t acceptable.

    Similarly, there are things that are happening and have happened in closed meetings that “offend” some people, and there are things that have to be kept hush-hush. Wilson Raybould was offended; the Trudeau government would have preferred a hush-hush, as would the Scheer gov. and the Singh government. The advisors,who tried to direct such a hush-hush outcome, are considered indispensable by the sitting politicans- particularly the cabinet ministers. There will always be these ‘indispensable’ advisors’, and people in provincial and federal cabinets will be influenced by them.

    Wilson-Raybould dared to buck this, and what happened with the SNC file has happened because someone in the system spoke out and said that “it stinks”. Wilson-Raybould, somewhat like her father, has called it the way she saw it. This is not the norm in politics. Too bad that it isn’t!

  2. I have no doubt that under the previous government’s rule-by-fear leadership that this “scandal” would never have surfaced. Doesn’t mean that there were not far worse shenanigans occurring in fact there probably were.

  3. I’m more interested in seeing the people who bombed Libya for human rights or democracy or something prosecuted than anyone at SNC-Lavalin or in the Trudeau administration. Libya was one of the most egalitarian and functional countries in the MENA region – and even now, eight years after NATO helped ‘moderate rebels’ overthrow Gaddafi there are open air slave markets and all kinds of horrible stuff that is bad even by the standards of the region.

  4. I’m certain the opposition would have done something very similar. But the whole question would be moot if the Feds prosecuted the execs who made the decisions, and maybe even those who were only following orders, as the saying goes. If the C-suite types were looking at prison sentences for violating the law, I think you would a lot more compliance. Why should being a corporate honcho come with a get-out-jail-free card? On the other hand, big international deals are supposedly rife with bribery. How is SNC supposed to compete if they can’t join in the corruption?

  5. I’m no lawyer, but I read through the part of the omnibus bill relating to remediation agreements (conveniently at the very end), and I have to say, I’m not sure why the prosecutor didn’t think it applied. It seems to me that it covers any type of malfeasance.