Politics

Christie Blatchford: Liberal sheep may be ready to move on from LavScan, but I’m not

And the world moves on.

Aided and abetted by newer news (the terrible crash of the Ethiopian jet), the fact that the collective attention span is that of an agitated toddler and the Liberal majority on the Commons justice committee, it may well be that LavScan or LavScam, as the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio has come to be called — You see? We can’t even settle on a proper handle — will soon disappear entirely from the Canadian consciousness.

On Wednesday, Liberal MP Francis Drouin took non-Liberal members of the committee by surprise — the opposition had called the emergency session to discuss getting deposed attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould back as a witness and MPs had just started making arguments — when he abruptly moved to adjourn the meeting and the sheep duly followed.

To opposition shouts of “This is disgusting!” and “Coverup!”, the Liberal members bravely slipped out back doors.

PM Justin Trudeau himself was either in Florida, or heading back to Florida, or heading home again from Florida: For a while there, he was in and out like a sailor on shore leave. He appears to treat that state like he treats question period: It’s there for his convenience.

The committee’s next meeting, slated for next Tuesday, is expected to be held behind closed doors, and it certainly appears the majority will again reject the need to hear again from the former AG.

The adjournment itself was a superbly partisan move, moved by superb partisan — Drouin, the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, joined the party at the age of 17, served as president of the Young Liberals for a couple of years, worked for former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and ran a couple of campaigns before being elected himself in 2015.

Unlike JWR and former Treasury Board boss Jane Philpott, no angst for that boy, no being torn between the good of the party and principle.

And after all, the scandal lasted more than a month, since Feb. 7, when the Globe and Mail published its blockbuster story — every word of which has been borne out — about politicians and government officials improperly “pressing” the former AG to issue SNC an invite to negotiate what’s called a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA.

Turns out, the pols and officials were doing that and more, with PMO staffers trying to work around Wilson-Raybould via her staff, Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick taking a call from the SNC board chair, the former clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch, who was begging him to do something, the PM banging on about potential job losses and even Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s chief of staff leaning on JWR’s chief of staff.

It was indeed a full-court press.

But, as some have pointed out, that’s a lot of attention for a scandal without sex or personal gain.

So what? We should feel good about having managed to pay attention to the same subject for so long?

I find it impossible to feel good, or for that matter, to move on. I must be, to borrow a line from the PM, experiencing the scandal differently.

What it has done is remind me of the time I spent covering the Gomery inquiry, and how I was several times reduced to tears of rage at the greasiness I saw there.

The inquiry, for those who forget, probed the misuse of public money under former PM Jean Chrétien, who after the close call of the referendum in Quebec in 1995, started a program to promote federalism in the province. It was run by Alfonso Gagliano, then the minister of public works, and the PM’s former chief of staff.

Under the so-called sponsorship program, Quebec ad agencies were paid for work not done, but made cash contributions — illegal kickbacks — to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberals.

One of the last witnesses I saw testify — and one of the least consequential — was a young woman lawyer who had done some volunteer work for the party. She knew she was a volunteer, of course, and said she never expected to be paid or reimbursed.


Justice Committee Chair Anthony Housefather during a committee meeting in Ottawa, March 13, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Yet when a cheque, made out to her from a company she’d never heard of, mysteriously arrived a couple of weeks after her volunteering was done, she did what any grasping party member would do — she cashed it.

It wasn’t that it was for a ton of money, just a few hundred bucks as I recall it now.

But the culture of the party was so corroded, the rot so endemic, that even a low-level volunteer thought nothing of gaming the system.

In fairness, it should be noted that Chrétien’s successor, Paul Martin, was the man who called for the inquiry — mind you, after a searing auditor-general’s report on the millions wasted and utter lack of financial controls — and after it was done, promised the Liberal party would repay $1.14 million to the federal treasury.

Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

• Email: cblatchford@postmedia.com | Twitter: blatchkiki

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