month ago Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party were looking good in the polls. The economy was doing well; unemployment was at record lows and a New York Times columnist called Canada the “moral leader of the free world.”
At the same time the NDP were in disarray and not sure their leader Jagmeet Singh was going to win the by-election in Burnaby South. Some NDP MPs were secretly hoping he would lose and give them a second chance to pick a more popular leader.
For their part the Conservatives were not getting any traction under Andrew Scheer. His plodding demeanour was not exciting voters and his tack to the right was not producing tangible results.
Then all of a sudden, in the wake of a cabinet shuffle caused by the retirement of Scott Brison, the Liberal world turned upside down.
The Prime Minister shuffled his Justice Minister and Attorney General to Veteran’s Affairs as well as a few other Ministers. That didn’t sit well with the Justice Minister and Attorney General. She believed that she was being demoted because she did not yield to the influence allegedly being directed at her to grant Quebec based engineering and construction behemoth SNC-Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA).
A few days after the shuffle the Globe & Mail reported, in extraordinary detail, attempts by officials in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and other Minister offices to exert pressure and grant SNC-Lavalin a DPA without revealing the source of this information.Having had some time to watch the fallout from the bombshell revelations in the media and before her new business cards were printed, the new Minister of Veteran’s Affairs resigned from cabinet.
Her resignation touched off a firestorm and resulted in the remarkable resignation of Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and close personal friend. As this was playing out, the former Minister retained a former Supreme Court Justice to advise her on what she could say. A concerted campaign was launched to let her tell her story by breaking client-solicitor privilege and cabinet secrecy.
The former Minister took the unusual step of addressing her former Cabinet colleagues for nearly two hours. According to media reports, the former Minister spoke of pursuing judicial independence and the sanctity of her office. In talking to cabinet she was able to deliver a blow to the PMO and senior civil service mandarins, whom regardless of party, have been known to exert pressure on cabinet Ministers and backbenchers alike. She also knew that anything she said would not be revealed because of cabinet secrecy. She also effectively boxed in the Prime Minister’s staff knowing that denying her an appearance would make them look mean spirited.
After unrelenting pressure the government waived both and allowed her to testify before the Justice committee. Having command of the moral high ground, the former Minister used her testimony to direct her fire publicly at the PMO over alleged improper pressure she felt over the SNC-Lavalin DPA.
So far the former Minister has executed the perfect political takedown. She effectively took out the Principal Secretary while at the same time delivering a body blow to the Prime Minister’s credibility. Whether she was motivated by animus over being moved out of her former portfolios or some other reason, she has given the Liberal’s enemies a golden gift.
Some Liberals were actually of the opinion that the tide was beginning to shift and that the testimony by Gerald Butts will stabilize things. That was dealt a blow when President of the Treasury Board Jane Philpott’s surprise resignation over the SNC-Lavalin issue. Philpott’s resignation letter shook Ottawa on a day that the Prime Minister was launching his climate change initiative with a rally in Toronto and radio ads by the Liberal Party. Any sign that this issue was going to fade away were dashed. Instead there is a new game in town, which Minister or Member is going to resign next over this.
All of this activity has been generated by Liberals directed at other Liberals. We have not seen this this type of regicide since the Martin-Chretien battles of years ago. None of this was as the result of any opposition party. It is as they say in the military the result of friendly fire. There is nothing so damaging and tragic as your own troops shooting themselves for no apparent reason. In the end, its not your enemies that you have to worry about, its your friends.