Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his senior advisers knew they were going to have a difficult election campaign this fall. Polling numbers between the governing Liberals and opposition Tories were getting tighter, and Trudeau’s personal popularity had significantly dropped by the end of 2018.
Nevertheless, few would have predicted the biggest threat to Trudeau’s reelection bid would be a member of his own party.
That would be Jody Wilson-Raybould, a British Columbia-based Liberal member of Parliament who became the first indigenous person to be minister of justice and the attorney general of Canada for Trudeau’s administration.
Most first-term MPs don’t even receive a fraction of this workload. Trudeau and senior advisers obviously had faith in Wilson-Raybould’s work ethic and communication skills.
When she was shuffled out of those two posts in January into a lesser cabinet position, Canadians from all walks of life were floored. These things happen in politics, and no minister is safe from either being moved or booted out of the cabinet. But she seemed like an unlikely target.
This fall from grace would normally spell the beginning of the end for a politician. But Wilson-Raybould, like a cat with nine lives, was about to make the comeback of all political comebacks.
On Feb. 7, the Globe and Mail produced a bombshell report of an investigation into SNC-Lavalin. The newspaper alleged the Prime Minister’s Office had unsuccessfully tried to influence — or “pressure” — Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a criminal proceeding involving the Montreal-based engineering and construction company.
Trudeau rejected the story. He claimed he had never “directed” Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the case. But when asked about pressuring her, there was no immediate answer, and suspicions began to develop.
The story has been consistently changing on a near-daily basis. Meetings between senior Liberals and Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin were originally denied, and later acknowledged as “vigorous debate.” Trudeau expressed his disappointment with her decision to leave the cabinet, although he later apologized for not properly defending her from attacks in editorial cartoons and opinion pieces.
Meanwhile, Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary, friend and closest adviser, abruptly resigned during this controversy — even though he claims to have nothing to do with it. Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council, spoke out in defense of the government, albeit with some bizarre statements about the “vomitorium of social media” and fears that “somebody is going to be shot” in the upcoming federal election.
Through it all, Trudeau steadfastly refused to waive privilege to let Wilson-Raybould speak. He finally issued an order late Monday, and she will appear before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday.
Wilson-Raybould, for her part, has played this political chess game in a way that grandmasters such as Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov would admire.
She’s kept a low profile because of solicitor-client privilege, which relates to her previous role as attorney general. She has retained legal counsel to ensure that the parameters of what she can and can’t speak about are clearly defined. She’s used personalized words and phrases, such as wanting to speak “her truth,” to create sympathy and prove she acted in an ethical way.
When she does speak, it’s powerful.
“I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth and want transparency,” Wilson-Raybould said in the House of Commons on Feb. 20. The standing ovation she received from opposition parties, and the silent, stone-faced looks from her Liberal colleagues (and Trudeau) who had let her back into a caucus meeting and thought all was forgiven, was a stunning image.
Her committee appearance could be a powerful political spectacle rarely seen in Canada. Wilson-Raybould could seriously injure the Liberal government by making specific references to meetings, dates, participants and discussions. She could show that Trudeau’s office put her in a terrible bind by pressuring her to act unethically. She could allude to other requests from senior Liberal advisers that the public isn’t aware of.
Wilson-Raybould has proven to be a far superior political strategist and tactician than Trudeau and his camp. She controls the political narrative in the country. She’s rebuilt her public image in a way few would have imagined a few weeks ago.
Are those the qualities of a political fighter, future Liberal leader and Canadian prime minister? Time will tell, but I believe Trudeau should be worried.