Which Shoe Will Drop Next Week?

Next Tuesday will it be the new shoes or the other shoe to drop that gets most of the attention?

That’s because next Tuesday, March 19th, is both the day that Finance Minister Bill Morneau will bring down his last budget before next October’s election, and also the day that the House of Commons Justice Committee meets again on an issue that could very well determine who the winner of that election is.

The Liberals have been planning for a budget that would outline much of their platform as they head for a date with the other parties at the polls next October 21st. Now they hope the budget can do much more than that. They are hoping the plans and promises in the budget are exciting enough to change the channel away from the issue that has dominated all political discourse in Canada for the past month.

The Conservatives and the New Democrats are hoping the scheduled meeting of the Justice Committee will do just the opposite. Keep the issue alive and on the front burner, turning up more compelling testimony at committee hearings and perhaps even criminal wrongdoing that would ensnare Liberal politicians in the Prime Minister’s office and elsewhere.

That issue of course is the testimony of former Justice Minister and Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould that last fall she and her staff were inappropriately pressured by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his top advisors, and other political aides, to overrule the Public Prosecutor and negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with engineering firm SNC-Lavalin so the company could avoid prosecution on corruption and bribery charges.

Wilson-Raybould testified before the Justice Committee on February 27th. For four hours — sitting alone as a witness — she went through the material and testimony that climaxes with her losing her job as Justice Minister and Attorney-General in a cabinet shuffle at the beginning of this year, and then quitting the cabinet entirely the next month. As far as she is concerned, Wilson-Raybould says she lost the justice job because she would not bow to the pressure and agree to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for SNC-Lavalin.

Since Wilson-Raybould testified at the end of February, the committee has also heared from Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Principal Secretary who resigned shortly after the Minister quit the Veterans Affairs Portfolio she had been shuffled to, and by Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council. In fact, Wernick has testified on two separate occasions. The first time he was deemed to have been too partisan for a public servant. The second time didn’t turn out any better.

However, his encore performance triggered calls form the Opposition Parties to have Wilson-Raybould back again too. So far, the Liberals have been blocking that by using their majority membership on the committee to quickly adjourn it this week, and then scheduling a meeting next Tuesday, Budget day, behind closed doors.

“Cover-up” has been the opposition parties claim since that happened. It is still not clear whether the former Justice Minister will testify again, but the Conservatives and the New Democrats might be careful what they wish for.

Wilson-Raybould was so compelling her first time testifying, a second appearance might be anticlimactic. In her first appearance, the Liberals weren’t quite sure what to expect and the members of the Government on the committee soft balled their questions and approach to a witness that is both a woman and an indigenous Member of Parliament.

Wilson-Raybould is the worst nightmare for the Liberals, a woman and indigenous, attacking a Government whose leader Justin Trudeau says he is a feminist, and whose major objective as Prime Minister is indigenous reconciliation.

However now that it’s clear that Wilson-Raybould is out to destroy the Trudeau Government, the government is going to have to try and destroy her.  If she again appears before the Justice Committee that process will have to begin there.

Prior to bringing down a budget, Finance Ministers follow a time honoured tradition; they get a new pair of shoes and on Thursday Bill Morneau did that, sort of. Instead of a new pair of shoes he picked up a pair he already had that had been resoled at a shoe repair shop. The shoemaker who repaired them had used a government grant to retrain as someone who can repair shoes, and then set up her own business.

The Finance Minister will wear those shoes when he gets up to deliver his budget on Tuesday afternoon. He and the Government can only hope that what he has to say will ultimately have more impact than what Jody Wilson-Raybould does if she get another chance to justify, and lets the other shoe drop in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.