I write concerning the SNC-Lavalin affair and the conduct of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and of our MP, Michael Cooper.
The company SNC-Lavalin broke Canadian law by bribing people to receive favoured status concerning foreign contracts. It’s the norm in many parts of the world, but illegal in Canada. This was discovered and the Attorney General at the time, Ms. Jodi Wilson-Raybould, got a recommendation from her subordinates to “prosecute to the fullest extent.” This would have precluded SNC-Lavalin from bidding on future federal contracts. The Privy Council (i.e. the PM and cabinet) decided this wouldn’t be in the best overall interests of the country and elected not to prosecute to that extent. Ms. Wilson-Raybould disagreed and as a result was shuffled out of the Attorney General position. She subsequently resigned and has made her disagreement a controversial public issue.
The CPC and NDP are portraying the matter as one of interference by the government with the course of justice. It’s a false premise.
Our legal system provides for “The Government” at municipal, provincial and federal levels to review legal situations and make decisions whether to prosecute an offence and, if prosecuting, to decide at what level to do so (e.g. to prosecute a killing for manslaughter versus murder and if so, to what degree of prosecution).
The government’s collective Privy Council decision concerning SNC-Lavalin’s crimes differed from the individual preference of Wilson-Raybould. Their decision was an allowable political one and took into account the severity of the infraction versus the penalties the Canadian justice system might impose on the company and the resultant impact on the country as a whole. Ms. Wilson-Raybould disagreed. Because of her disagreement with her superiors – the Privy Council – she was reassigned to another cabinet post.
This Privy Council decision is a classic example of how a government takes action to address a serious legal issue that has significant national import. It’s also exemplary of how any private company might deal with a valuable senior executive who strongly supports a course of action at odds with the CEO, executive management and its corporate board.
Over past decades, the CPC has strongly supported and fought for the supremacy of parliament over our judicial system. Their opposition to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to court decisions with which the CPC has disagreed is well documented. Former prime minister Steven Harper and his government jousted over this more than once with the judiciary during his tenure, up to and including with the Chief Justice at the time.
In this case, the government assessed the SNC-Lavalin situation and decided what to do, or not to do, regarding the best interests of Canada – prior to the matter being prosecuted through the judicial system. It’s a perfect example of the parliamentary supremacy that Mr. Cooper’s party has touted for decades.
The current government made the best of a bad situation. It decided on a prosecutorial approach in the best interests of the country. It didn’t prejudice the legal system but rather made an allowed political decision upstream of formal legal action. Western Canadian voters who ardently believe in Parliament’s supremacy over the judiciary shouldn’t decry the ability of the government to do as it did, and while they may not like the government’s decision, they should support its right to make one.
The CPC’s and Mr. Cooper’s criticisms of the government’s decisions and actions ring hollow. Given their party’s past record, their demands for resignations and inquiries are outlandishly hypocritical.
David Merrit, St. Albert