Politics Insider

The social media vomitorium's growing role in the SNC-Lavalin saga

Politics Insider for March 8: Trudeau must have lost the 'contrition' memo, follow the tweets, and a simple solution for the Liberals

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Apology expected: Ahead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s first press conference devoted solely to the SNC-Lavalin controversy, most observers thought they’d hear some form of apology from him. Leaks to the media had suggested Trudeau spent considerable time honing a message of contrition for a saga that had lost his cabinet two high-profile members, as well as cost the job of his closest advisor.

Instead Trudeau delivered a non-apology for the ages, writes Anne Kingston, who notes that when pressed to be personally accountable, Trudeau has a tendency to transform things into a ‘teaching’ moment. On this day, it did not work:

If the presser was intended to quell the controversy, it failed. Maybe it was assumed that Trudeau’s physical presence equals transparent and accountable government. His respect for justice, Trudeau pronounced, is unassailable, part of his DNA. After all, his father was once the justice minister. He recast the issue at hand in now-rote terms: the government’s unwavering commitment to protect “9,000” jobs and pensioners. He could have made the point that such noble ends meant they screwed up inadvertently on the “means” part. But he didn’t. (Maclean’s)

At one point a reporter specifically asked Trudeau if he was apologizing for anything today—to which he noted, yes, as a matter of fact, he was on his way to Canada’s north to deliver an “Inuit apology.” But he quickly followed that by batting away the apology question. “I continue to say there was no inappropriate pressure.” (He never made the Inuit apology either, in the end. A blizzard kept him from traveling to Iqaluit.) (Global News)

One reason Trudeau may have opted against contrition is a bet that if he lets the story of SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould play out long enough, eventually Canadians will lose interest. (Maclean’s)

Read a full transcript of Trudeau’s speech here.

Dispatches from the vomitorium: Social media has played a prominent role in the SNC-Lavalin controversy in a way that’s different from comparable scandals past. From that first Globe and Mail story alleging Wilson-Raybould faced pressure to help the company avoid prosecution, the tweets of various players have hinted at where the story might head next. For example: Jane Philpott posts a tweet praising Wilson-Raybould, two weeks later Philpott resigns on principle too. The past 48 hours has seen social media make headlines in several ways:

  • Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, who’d used his first testimony before a justice committee to describe social media as a “vomitorium” came prepared to his second appearance with printouts of nasty messages he’d received calling him “garbage,” a “traitor,” a “loser” and a “liar”—evidence, he said, of attempts to intimidate a witness (though most successful women who venture online might just call that a Thursday). (Canadian Press)
  • During his SNC press conference, in which Trudeau described an “erosion of trust” between his office and Wilson-Raybould, the prime minister also said his leadership style aimed to “foster an environment where my ministers, caucus and staff feel comfortable coming to me when they have concerns.” Moments later Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who announced last week that she would not run for re-election this fall, tweeted a cryptic response: “I did come to you recently. Twice. Remember your reactions?” She has yet to elaborate on what she meant.  (Twitter, Toronto Star)
  • Also Thursday morning, shortly after Trudeau’s press conference, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which prosecutes federal offences and is handling the SNC-Lavalin case, sent out a tweet—only its third missive since joining Twitter in January—asserting that its “prosecutors must be objective, independent and dispassionate, as well as free from improper influence—including political influence.” Surely this was a response to the unfolding drama on Parliament Hill? Not at all, said a PPSC spokesperson. (Twitter, CBC News)

Missed opportunity: As Gerald Butts explained in his testimony Wednesday, the initial plan for last fall’s cabinet shuffle would have seen Wilson-Raybould moved to Indigenous Affairs, a position she refused to accept because of her long opposition to the Indian Act. While many agreed the idea of putting Wilson-Raybould in charge of Indigenous Affairs was a terrible one (including Butts, in hindsight), some Indigenous leaders think its a missed opportunity not having Wilson-Raybould lead that ministry. Said Heather Bear, vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations: “I would have welcomed her presence there in order to fix what we know is wrong with the system. I do question whether or not it would have been wise for her to occupy that space and maybe come up with some solutions, but it is a difficult situation.” (Canadian Press)

This one’s on us, Justin: After Trudeau’s non-apology apology, Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer tweeted out a simple statement that could make the whole SNC-Lavalin problem go away for the Liberals. Maclean’s asked him to elaborate on it, and he did, with a two-minute crisis fix for Trudeau. (Maclean’s)

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