CBC has just reported on the first words from Trudeau about his conversation with the former Attorney General, about SNC Lavalin: Here is a quote from their report on his speech to reporters:
“There were many conversations going on, which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her or going to direct her to take a particular decision and I of course said no, that it was her decision to make and I expected her to make it.”…..
“Obviously as a government we take very seriously our responsibility of standing up for jobs, of protecting jobs, of growing the economy, of making sure that there are good jobs right across the country as there are with SNC-Lavalin, but as we do that we always need to make sure we’re standing up for the rule of law and protecting the independence of our justice system.”
Let’s mine these words for a few moments, as if we were hypothetically standing in the Attorney General’s shoes, hearing these words from her “boss” and listening to them in the light of, and through the lens of centuries of broken treaties with Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Speaking with “forked tongue” is a phrase that indigenous people have used to paint the white man’s obsession with power, dominance, racism and impunity for centuries.
Squeezed to its precipitate, Trudeau’s words would read:
“I am not going to direct you to a particular decision BUT I am underlining the extreme need for jobs, especially at SNC-Lavalin.”
In therapeutic terms, we would describe this sentence as a “mixed message”. It covers Trudeau’s backside by formally and deliberately taking him off the hook from a potential “meddling” with the justice system charge (although his government previously buried that “remediation” clause in the Budget in 2018 allegedly primarily for SNC-Lavalin). At the same time, he unequivocally leaves the then Attorney General in no doubt about the direction he wants her to move.
In non-therapeutic terms, read political parlance, his statement, like many made by the political class, wants to have his cake while he eats it. Given that the political messaging is almost exclusively symbolic, peppered with hot-button words, (jobs in Quebec being the sine-qua-non for a Liberal re-election in 2019, and jobs at SNC-Lavalin in particular) and given that most political announcements are not subjected to the rigours, residing simply in a connotative context and escaping a denotative definition, as would apply in a courtroom, Trudeau was immersed in his “political-master” role in what could become his tragic Greek-theater election drama of 2019.
In terms of national governance, Trudeau is facing what eerily evokes the National energy attempt by his father. A caravan of some 160 trucks, buses and cars (at its inception) rumbles along the Trans-Canada highway from Red Deer to Ottawa, as we write this, to demand jobs in the fossil fuel sector, in a political context that seems to have put him in the position of favouring (to the untrained public eye and ear) Quebec jobs and the government of Quebec’s premier who blatantly and publicly calls for an immediate remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin. Not incidentally, Quebec is out front on measures to protect the environment, while the Alberta caravan protesters want all carbon taxes eliminated.
Bribing officials in 2004 and 2005 in Lybia to secure construction contracts, may seem like an almost forgettable crime to some; and certainly, given the low level of business and human rights ethics around the world, it is not difficult to conclude that SNC-Lavalin was behaving in a manner that imitated behaviour of their competitors. So, we have an international “low-bar” for business ethics, ironically linked to a very high bar for Canadian companies to refrain from bribing their potential partners (at least on the public face of it), and even more ironically linked to a new “clause” in the criminal code that “remediates” companies who have committed bribes from criminal charges, and the potential exclusion from even bidding on government contracts (the core of SNC-Lavalin’s work) for ten years. Bribing potential partners in the construction business, at the municipal level, also, is reputed to be a generally accepted behaviour among some developers even in Canada, and not exclusively in Quebec.
If I were in Wilson-Raybould’s Attorney General shoes, when she listened to Trudeau’s words (relying on CBC’s accuracy in their reporting), I would conclude, without reservation or confusion or uncertainty, that the Prime Minister wanted a “favourable” decision with respect to the application of the “remediation clause” to SNC-Lavalin. I would also know that my parents, my family, my indigenous people, my legal ethics professors, my constituents, and many in the federal Cabinet would readily understand my difficulty, and would nevertheless, each of them, understand my preference for a prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, given that I did not agree, in the first place, with the “remediation clause” nor with its “secretive” yet public inclusion in the omnibus bill back in the autumn of 2018.
The complexity of explaining why I did not resign when that clause was included in the omnibus bill, however, remains outstanding. I hoped and even envisioned that I would not likely have to make a decision to invoke that remediation clause. Facing multiple complex issues, in a fast-paced environment, as a first female, indigenous Attorney General in Canada’s history, while clearly not an excuse for any behaviour, either of commission or of omission of specific actions and decisions, tends to make one extremely conscientious about succeeding in my performance of the duties and responsibilities in that office. And while I became resigned to the shuffling from Attorney General to Veterans’ Affairs, and to remaining in Cabinet, the fullness of the narrative of the many conversations, and the clarity of the urgency of how the government was going to move, (to invoke the remediation process), not to mention the words of the Prime Minister earlier this week, I felt I had no alternative but to resign from Cabinet.
Somehow, indigenous people and political leaders have to find new ways to build trust and confidence in a new, reconciled and sustainable relationship. “Speaking with forked tongue” whether in the PMO, or on the hustings, on in press conferences, finally, is not the way forward.
The phrase “indigenous foundations” is foreign to many non-indigenous Canadians. However, it includes a profound respect and honouring of nature, of our ancestors, of our place in Canadian history and in our honouring our unique and insightful perspective on how this country can become an even more honourable and honoured nation on the world stage.
I can only hope that, in the long run, my actions, attitudes, beliefs and convictions can and will contribute positively for the further maturation of this country we all love.