Some 500 years ago in England during the reign of Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England. He did so because, despite enormous pressure from the King and most of his court, he could not approve of the King’s actions in splitting the English church away from the papacy which had refused Henry’s request for a divorce from his barren wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry was not one to take no for an answer, and so he created the independent Protestant Church of England with himself as both its spiritual as well as temporal leader. More’s continuing opposition eventually led to him being beheaded in 1535. He died for his uncompromising principles and refusal to sacrifice his personal integrity for the sake of political expedience. He was subsequently given the sobriquet of “The Man For All Seasons” by his admirers.
If you are finding familiar parallels to this in what has been happening recently in the corridors of power in Canada, you would not be mistaken. Last week in testimony before Canada’s Parliamentary Justice committee, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould unveiled in painful documented detail the concerted effort over four months by the Prime Minister and his chief cohorts to pressure her to intervene and stop the prosecution of a bribery and fraud case against a major Quebec construction company SNC-Lavalin.
The company stood accused of having paid millions in bribes over the course of a decade to Libyan strong man Moammar Qaddafi to secure lucrative construction contracts. The Liberal government was greatly concerned that if the case proceeded, the company might go bankrupt or alternatively relocate from Canada, thereby resulting in the potential loss of up to ten thousand jobs in Quebec. This would conceivably put in jeopardy the many seats that the Liberals hold in Quebec. In simple terms, it looked very much like the Liberal power brokers were putting political pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a legal case for partisan political purposes. That of course is illegal, and she commendably stuck to the law and her principles and refused to intervene. Shortly thereafter, she was demoted from her cabinet post and shuffled off to a minor portfolio, from which she resigned several weeks later.
Now Prime Minister Trudeau and all the key players in this are claiming that her being removed from the Justice/Attorney General portfolio had nothing to do with her refusing to intervene on the SNC-Lavalin case. If you believe that, you are either a die-hard unquestioning Liberal supporter, or politically very naïve. Further, the PM’s primary justification that he was merely trying to save jobs in Quebec is more than just a little lame, when one considers that he and the Liberal party have exhibited no similar sense of urgency or action over the loss of a much larger number of jobs in the oil industry out west. Of course, there are few if any Liberal seats out West that are at risk.
I should make it clear that I owe allegiance to no one particular party, so my views on this do not spring from any partisan bias. In fact, for most of Prime Minister Trudeau’s first few years in office, I much admired his focus on human rights issues, gender equality, social conscience, global warming, indigenous affairs, and many other progressive policies and initiatives. Of late though, it has become obvious that his halo has slipped, and he is on the road to becoming another self-serving politician whose primary interest is getting re-elected at whatever the cost.
Principles, ethics and respect for the law seem to be ripe for sacrifice on the altar of political expediency.
I find this more than a little sad. When he got elected, I believed that Justin Trudeau was a different kind of politician and I held great hope that perhaps he might be the catalyst to fundamentally change the entrenched political system, that his priorities and programs would be based on principles and progressive ideology, instead of serving the interests of the old school political power brokers and corporate moguls. The events of the past few months have been a stark reminder that those expectations may have been more than a little naïve, and that Justin Trudeau is proving to be not that much different than his predecessors.
As for Jody Wilson-Raybould, I guess she can take some comfort in the fact that in our day and age, people don’t lose their heads when they challenge the existing political power structure as in Sir Thomas More’s time. In many ways she has taken on the mantle of “The Woman For All Seasons” and it is more than a little ironic that she was brought down for showing the kind of principle and integrity that probably played a big role in getting Trudeau elected in the first place.
The Liberal Party needs more people like her, and I hope that this is not the end of her political career. It is also a good time for the Liberals to take a hard and serious look at what they have done and come away with the appropriate lessons.