David Olive: David Olive: The SNC-Lavalin ‘scandal’ lies entirely with the Trudeau government
|Toronto Star 19 Feb 2019 at 15:26|
What the mob thirsts for is not good government in itself, but the merry chase of a definite exponent of bad government. — H.L. Mencken
Canada cannot afford the damage that the SNC-Lavalin affair is doing to this country in undermining its government.
A Trudeau government that has stood up to Donald Trump, to the police state that is China and to a thuggish Saudi Crown Prince should be able to hold itself accountable for its conduct in dealing with a special pleader here at home.
And it must do so — quickly.
, principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the PM’s top political adviser, should mark an end to this government’s self-destructive conduct in the SNC-Lavalin case.
Butts’ departure is momentous. The PM’s chief of staff and his principal secretary are second in power and responsibility only to the PM. They are central to policy development and guidance to cabinet officers on its execution.
The casualty count is mounting in this debacle. It has also cost the government one of its top cabinet officers, Jody Wilson-Raybould. She is said to have been pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to favour SNC-Lavalin when she was the federal justice minister.
As everyone knows, Wilson-Raybould was inexplicably demoted from Justice last month and abruptly resigned cabinet altogether Feb. 12.
Another casualty is the 108-year-old SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., based in Montreal and one of the world’s leading engineering and construction firms.
What is routinely labelled “the SNC-Lavalin scandal” is no such thing. The company’s more than 50,000 employees, including about 9,000 Canadians, are global Canadian ambassadors building essential infrastructure in some 50 countries.
This is a political scandal, not a business one.
True, for several years, about a decade ago, a small number of SNC-Lavalin employees and foreign contract agents working to secure projects for the company are alleged to have engaged in bribery and other improprieties at home and abroad. Criminal charges against the firm dating from that period remain outstanding.
The scandal arises from the feds’ response to SNC-Lavalin’s efforts to negotiate a remediation agreement to pay for its past sins and avoid potentially devastating criminal prosecution.
The malefactors in SNC-Lavalin’s alleged misconduct are long gone from the company. The firm’s previous management and board of directors were swept out.
Today’s SNC-Lavalin is a leader in exemplary ethical conduct. It also stays out of countries where bribery and other improper conduct is the norm, forfeiting business in a large part of the world.
No, the current scandal lies entirely with the Trudeau government.
Did it improperly pressure the federal justice minister to act on behalf of a special interest, an SNC-Lavalin seeking a remediation deal?
Canada, the U.S. and Britain have adopted the remediation process to expeditiously resolve long-standing charges of improper corporate conduct, so that enterprises can pay their debt to society and move on.
Last year, Parliament enacted “deferred prosecution agreements” (DPAs) enabling companies like SNC-Lavalin to negotiate remediation deals. For a cogent primer on DPAs,
The remediation process is meant to be punitive.
It requires companies to pay large financial penalties, remain under Crown supervision and implement ethics reforms. The latter wouldn’t be required of SNC-Lavalin. It has already undergone one of the most wrenching ethical and corporate-culture overhauls in Canadian corporate history.
Yet for reasons not explained, the opportunity to negotiate a remediation agreement has been withheld from SNC-Lavalin — though DPAs have been extended to the company’s rivals in other jurisdictions.
Finally, let’s be clear on how this scandal unfolded.
Neil Bruce, turnaround CEO at SNC-Lavalin, has been relentless in seeking from Ottawa a remediation agreement. At stake are billions of dollars in federal contracts that SNC-Lavalin would be ineligible to bid on if it is subjected to a criminal trial that ends in a conviction.
The intensity of Bruce’s campaign cannot be overstated. Bruce pressed his case for a remediation agreement personally with Justin Trudeau, Tory Leader Andrew Scheer, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
The whirlwind of special pleading by SNC-Lavalin in Ottawa may be unprecedented. And Bruce wasn’t alone in creating it. Two Quebec premiers and many Montreal business leaders joined in, due to SNC-Lavalin’s status as a pillar of Quebec Inc.
At the centre of that vortex was Jody Wilson-Raybould, then the federal justice minister. Her former ministry oversees the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), which decides on DPA cases.
This is quite a spectacle we are enduring.
It appears that Trudeau gave insufficient assurance to Wilson-Raybould that she was truly independent of politics in her decision-making. We can well imagine how confusing Trudeau was in his several talks with her on SNC-Lavalin, given his dissembling since the scandal broke Feb. 7.
It is also possible that the PPSC has been a stickler in its regulatory powers. Actually, the formidable character of Kathleen Roussel, the Director of Public Prosecutions, suggests that Zeus could not sway her.
Canadians cannot afford to wait for planned investigations of this scandal by a Commons committee and the federal ethics commissioner. We need answers now from the government, so that it, like SNC-Lavalin, can move on. What remains of the government’s credibility is evaporating.
This isn’t the place to detail Canada’s laggard progress on global warming, Native Canadian living conditions, hallway medical treatment, and so on.
But the merry chase is distracting Canada from urgent business. Only Justin Trudeau can end it, and he will be judged by how quickly he does so.