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Thursday
Feb282019

What comes Next? Perhaps a Snap election.

What an amazing day yesterday! A brutal day for the Liberal Party and especially staff in the PMO.

Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was devastating and no matter how the Liberals now attempt to discredit her testimony and no matter how many attack dogs they send out to dispute what the former Attorney General stated- they can no longer win that argument.

This doesn’t leave the Liberals with too many choices.

Can the Liberals leave an obviously upset MP, who has been widely quoted (with very damaging content) in caucus where she might inspire others to speak out as well? Probably not and a first step would be to remove her from caucus.

Today Trudeau was out there pretending that he still had to watch all of her testimony while at the same time stating that he completely disagreed with everything she said. A bit of a contradiction there. But, this opens the door for him to delay a few days until the break week starts.

She could then be removed by stating that they reviewed her testimony and asked her to reaffirm publicly her confidence in the PM and the Finance minister etc and if she doesn’t, then out the door. Do it over the next two weeks when the MPs are off in their ridings. There will be an outcry of support for the former AG, but with a two week break ahead it will be muted.

The bigger issue going forward is what do the Liberals do leading up to the October election? They are boxed in with very few options, none of which are good ones.

The clamor for the former AG to be allowed to speak fully and with no restrictions will build. Denying her that right makes the Liberals and the PM look guilty. That will play out over many weeks. The same is true with demands for a full public inquiry.

The committee will be demanding to see many more witnesses implicated in her testimony. A smart opposition can drag those requests out for weeks, even months- just look back at Shawinagate and the Sponsorship Scandal.

The only option other than tossing present and former staff to the wolves is for the Liberals to repeatedly use their majority on the committee to prevent this from happening. Very bad optics for the Liberals. The Liberals will be pounded daily in the media on corruption and scandals leading up to the October election- they can’t afford to have that happen. (Note: Gerry Butts did ask the committee today if he could testify).

Even if Trudeau cleans house in PMO, fires the Clerk and any staff named by the former AG, it won’t help them. The last thing they need is bitter ex-staff deciding that they are willing to testify if only to get even with their former boss. Besides, at that point everyone is more interested in saving their own necks and reputations.

Whether or not the RCMP will get involved is another issue as for that matter is the Ethics Commissioner. Even without their final report or charges being laid, day by day voters will be reminded that investigations are underway. Most likely neither of those will be finalized by election day, leaving voters concerned and giving the opposition lots of fodder to attack and speculate about corruption in the PMO and government and the PM’s role in it.

The other shoe that is still to drop is the Norman trial. A lot of this will be out in the open in the weeks leading up to the October vote. We have already seen some of the games being played there with disclosure of documents and emails. It is another no win for the Liberals.

If they allow all of that to happen, in my opinion the Liberals won’t be able to weather the storm.

How do they go forward then? There is the ultimate channel changer available to them.

Call a snap election and change the channel to a fight over policy issues and try to bury this scandal and get out ahead of further revelations in the Norman trial as best as possible.

This will shut down the committee, the former AG will be replaced as the Liberal candidate and become a sideline player, perhaps an independent candidate, who will spend her time trying to win her own seat.

They have the opportunity with the budget on March 19th. First offer new funding to all sorts of special interest groups to buy their public support. Next, talk up the economic success they have had.

Then put a poison pill in the budget that will give them an excuse to say there is a crisis and they need a new mandate. For example, put a nation- wide compulsory carbon tax in the budget with an implementation date of July 1st or sooner. When there is the expected outcry from the provinces that are opposed to it- state that you have a crisis, call the election and take your chances.

Run on climate change. Remember the line in Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s former top advisor’s resignation letter- “Our kids and grandkids will judge us on one issue above all others. That issue is climate change. I hope the response to it becomes the collective, non-partisan, urgent effort that science clearly says is required. I hope that happens soon.”

Try to make the election about saving the environment and a strong economy (as would have been outlined in their budget document).

They can frame it as the doom and gloom anti-immigrant, no vision, extreme right-wing Conservatives versus a Liberal party with a green vision of the future and a vision of making Canada a better place for our children.

They can try to attract enough Green and NDP supporters to support a Liberal “Green Climate” push and once again try to get young voters out to support the Liberals on an issue that younger voters support, perhaps even a few older ones as well. At the same time, they promote a stark choice to those voters- vote Liberal or you get the Conservatives.

The opposition will cry foul, but what would the Liberals care about that. After a few days hit in the media, the interest will shift to the day by day match up as parties release their platforms. Jody Wilson-Raybould will be part of the campaign mutterings by the opposition, but a lot will get buried in the campaign.

Does it guarantee them a happy ending? Not at all, but what choice do the Liberals have? Hang in to October and get buried day after day with negative media coverage or go now and roll the dice.

It will be interesting to see what they do.

Thursday
Feb212019

It Is CYA Time

The SNC-Lavalin scandal continues to expand with lots of twists and turns. Canadians are in for a real treat as the inner workings of the Trudeau government are going to be exposed.

As a result, it is CYA time- Cover Your Ass time! We will see a lot of that as anyone who is even remotely connected to this file will be analyzing every comment, decision, recommendation or email they sent or received on this file and that includes political and departmental staff.

It gets more complicated with the former Justice Minister and Attorney General threatening to speak out on how she feels she was pressured on this file. There will be lots of folks trying to justify their actions/involvement.

Keep in mind the RCMP can step in at any time if they think there might have been criminal wrong doing.

Today the Clerk of the Privy Council, the most second most powerful person in Ottawa (some would argue the most powerful) next to the Prime Minister and the person in charge of all federal civil servants was before the House Justice Committee.

If we ignore his inflammatory language which was probably a diversionary tactic IE what caught the media’s attention first, was it his assassination comment or the fact that he met with the Attorney General to discuss/review/ contemplate the SNC-Lavalin file.

The follow-up questions from the media should be:

  1. How many individual ministers did you meet with to discuss individual files since being appointed Clerk by Justin Trudeau?
  2. Name those files and ministers
  3. In each case who suggested to you (note not requested) that a meeting might be a good idea.
  4. How many ministers initiated the request for a meeting? How often did the “suggestion” come from PMO?
  5. Follow-up questions for any of those ministers who met with the Clerk should be how did you arrive at the decision to meet with the Clerk? Was it “suggested” as a good idea? Who by?

It is a red herring to suggest that Jody Wilson-Raybould had options such as going to the Ethics Commissioner if she felt pressured. What minister would every do that with the risk involved if it was ever made public?

I don’t know a single minister from my days on the Hill who would not feel a little bit intimated meeting with the Clerk of the Privy Council to discuss a file or meeting with senior PMO staff for that matter, especially if that minister felt PMO might not like their decision. Ministers hold their jobs at the pleasure of the PM- they know that all to well.

Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Why did this meeting even take place (the Attorney General has a deputy minister, who reports to the Clerk and senior political and departmental advisors who would have informed or briefed her on the pressure from the company, their lawyers or the Quebec government or PMO for that matter?

Monday
Feb182019

The First Shoe Drops!

Today Gerry Butts resigned. This is not a surprise as someone had to pay the price in PMO for the SNC- Lavalin mess. However, there is nothing at this point to link him directly to the scandal.

All too often political players get attacked in the media with little if any evidence of actual wrong-doing. We have had plenty of evidence of that over the last few years- just think of the Senators who were pilloried in the media as just one example.

While there will be all sorts of speculation and pontification from various pundits and media types trying to link him to the resignation of the minister- no one really knows at this point if he was involved or not. That story has yet to come out.

I spent over 15 years doing political issue management and one thing it taught me was to never fully believe the first days run of any story. As I used to say to staff, this is only the first shoe to drop, do what we have to do, but wait for the second shoe to drop as well.

With the election fast approaching the Liberals had to quickly shut down this issue before it damaged their brand as badly as the sponsorship scandal did to Chretien and Martin. We will see if it worked this time or not.

Either way with the loss of such a skilled political advisor the election dynamic has suddenly changed.

The SNC-Lavalin scandal still has a lot of twists and turns in it. There will be plenty of other shoes to drop before this story is done. It will be quite a ride, sit back and enjoy it.

 

Friday
Feb152019

Worth A Read

John Ivison and I had an exchange concerning the latest Trudeau PMO miss steps and what I would have done differently if still doing issues management. Part of that is reflected in this article which is well worth a read.

https://t.co/7TMFAtPb6u

Thursday
Feb142019

The Committee Got Nowhere- No Surprise!

Yesterday the drama on the Hill unfolded as expected when the Justice Committee met on the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Everyone knew opposition MPs would be demanding answers to the SNC-Lavalin mess while the Liberals would try and stonewall any investigation.

Other than a lot of phony outrage, did anyone actually expect the Liberals to allow an investigation into the actions of the PM and his senior staff?

Over my career, I spent many long days in committee meetings on both the House and Senate side as well in both Opposition and government. The result of this meeting was pretty much as I expected.

No one, especially the reporters who sounded so shocked at the outcome yesterday (as they tried to create some drama around the story) should have expected anything different.

The Justice committee has a Liberal chair and a Liberal majority. Who in their right mind thinks they will vote to investigate their own sides misdoings?

It is a sad fact of Canadian political life that this is how our committees behave. All MPs in these committees reflect the wishes of either PMO or their Leader’s Office.  To do otherwise is almost a guarantee that they would either be replaced, or a substitute member brought in to vote the wishes of the party.

I have written hundreds of talk points and speeches for committees. The Liberal speeches and talk points were either very sloppy or the MPs incapable of delivering them properly. Either way their messaging sucked. They did more damage to the PM and the Liberal brand than the opposition members at the table.

Lisa Raitt and Nathan Cullen were good. They were on message, stuck to their talk points and succeeded in positioning their respective parties for the next series of attacks which will come in Question Period and down the road as the election gets closer.

There is a lot more to come out in this story and it continues to be a fire that Liberal spinning and the smearing of Jody Wilson-Raybould cannot put out.

I would wager that it will be solid investigative reporting that will break this story open- not some committee meeting that was going nowhere before the participants even sat down at the table.