Andrew MacDougall is a London-based columnist, commentator and consultant at Trafalgar Strategy. He was formerly director of communications to Stephen Harper.
Imagine you’re Justin Trudeau.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal has been battering your government for weeks. Your story keeps shifting. The usually docile media aren’t letting it rest. Even a thousand coordinated tweets about the positive impact of the Canada Child Benefit can’t change the channel.
On the contrary, l’affair SNC—now christened LavScam—is picking up steam.
You’ve been forced to accept the resignation of your good friend and top advisor, Gerry Butts, who showed himself the door despite doing absolutely nothing wrong on SNC. Your boy Buttsy jumped on the SNC grenade to spare others the damage.
Only Butts missed the grenade. Completely.
Even worse, Jody Wilson-Raybould—i.e. the grenade-launcher—is now before the Justice Committee. She’s (relatively) free to speak and she is letting loose. And now the shrapnel is everywhere, and everyone is bleeding.
You’re bleeding. Your chief of staff is bleeding. Your Quebec advisor is bleeding. Your policy guy is bleeding. Your big-spending, do-nothing finance minister is bleeding. Your finance minister’s chief of staff is bleeding. And the “non-partisan” clerk of the Privy Council—i.e. your own personal pick for the post? Well, Michael Wernick is soiled. Comprehensively soiled. And bleeding.
It’s riveting testimony. The media are typing as if their lives depend on it. The cable guys are running the full hearing. And ordinary people are watching, because it’s not every day you see a member of a government strafe its leadership. Strafe you.
Only strafe isn’t the word. It’s more of a shiv. There is no emotion or hysteria. There is ice in Jody Wilson-Raybould’s veins and a steely determination as she coolly, calmly and credibly outlines the myriad ways your political and bureaucratic apparatus attempted to impress upon her independent mind the need to have another think on SNC, despite her repeated attempts to everyone—including you—that her thinking on the matter was all done.
You’re watching this all go down, and it is devastating. Your government is in peril. You’re in peril. You’re staring a return to your career of part-time drama teaching right in the face.
And so you decide it’s time to fight back. Because the cast of fifth-rate clowns you sent to fill the Liberal seats at the justice committee certainly didn’t do any fighting back. They not only missed the grenades, they picked them up, played with them, and then didn’t even realize when they went off in their faces.
But that’s all right. You’re Justin Trudeau. Mr. Sunny Ways. Mr. Hope and Hard Work. You got this. So you wheel yourself out to ‘push back’ against Wilson-Raybould’s allegations.
Only you don’t push back.
You don’t counter Wilson-Raybould’s facts and recollections with any of your own. You don’t dispute what was said, even about your alleged direct personal involvement, other than to say you disagree with Wilson-Raybould’s “characterization” of events.
And it stinks.
It stinks as you moan about a difficult couple of weeks because of “internal disagreements.” It stinks as you reference your success in making it easier to die, and your success in making it easier to get high. It stinks as you talk about your job being to stand up for jobs and pensions, to stand up for Canadians, and for Canadian workers, and all in an overly dramatic tone that suggests that no other prime minister has ever had that in their job description. It stinks as you speak about anything other than what Canadians need to hear from you.
And you say all of this nothing in front of a carefully crafted human backdrop meant to demonstrate your love of youth and diversity. Except the youth look like they’re in a hostage video (they are). Your human backdrop even includes your new MP, Rachel Bendayan, who is standing over your shoulder tonight playing the role of Huma Abedin while you step all over your wiener.
There isn’t a hint of contrition, or even a speck of responsibility for letting things get this far. No acknowledgment that Wilson-Raybould has laid out a set of serious charges that require serious answers. Your focus remains political.
When you’re asked about Andrew Scheer’s call for your resignation over the seriousness of these allegations, you mumble something about Stephen Harper being a bad man and this coming election being about a choice, blithely assuming you’ll still be in function to see it out. And when you’re asked about Wilson-Raybould remaining in the Liberal caucus, you say you will have to review her full testimony—testimony you have already dismissed, by the way—before deciding her fate, when it really should be the other way around.
You tell Canadians—in that sanctimonious and overly serious tone you adopt when you’re under the cosh—who have watched Wilson-Raybould rattle their confidence in Canada’s institutions to now have confidence in the ethics commissioner, an office that has already found you guilty of breaking another law, but isn’t equipped to investigate the allegations unfurled by Wilson-Raybould. And while you’re busy doing that, you have your office tell media that nobody else will be resigning based on Wilson-Raybould’s testimony.
In other words, every move you make tonight makes you look like the un-smart, un-serious man that so many of your political opponents have always insisted you are.
But you can’t let that worry you.
Your only bet now is that you being you will be enough to see you through. If there is enough talk about evil Tories, or lost jobs, or Liberal values, then Canadians might just go back to sleep and wake up thinking you’re that wonderful man who promised to change everything in 2015.
Things have certainly changed. And you’ve changed, Justin Trudeau. My how you’ve changed.