For those of us who had spent our adult, working lives demanding full-disclosure from governments, the SCN-Lavalin fiasco may just be the latest depressing episode.
Or at least, this has been the case so far.
As of the writing of this, former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was getting ready to testify before the House the Commons justice committee.
But while she had received a partial waiver that would allow her to disclose some conversations with government officials surrounding the prosecution of the international Montreal-based engineering and construction company, even Wilson-Raybould seemed to be downplaying expectations on what she could say.
Wilson-Raybould had already written to the justice committee saying that while she would be willing to speak, she wouldn’t necessarily be able to speak freely because on-going constraints “do nothing to release me from any restrictions that apply to communications while I served as minister of veterans affairs and in relation to my resignation from that post or my presentation to cabinet after I had resigned.”
Combined with cabinet and confidentially by which Wilson-Raybould and all ministers who swear the oath of office must abide, it seems increasingly doubtful the public is going to get the full disclosure it deserves from government.
This always seems to be the case in government where its members use their majority to hide information from the public.
Certainly, one gets the sense from the behaviour by Liberal government members that hearing the truth from Wilson-Raybould or anyone else is about the last thing they want.
The Conservative and NDP MPs on the committee were justifiable angry last month when the majority Liberal members on the committee initially used their numbers last month to block not only Wilson-Raybould but also Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford or former principal secretary Gerald Butts (who, mysteriously, has resigned his position).
According to Liberals MPs last month, having critical witnesses who could actually answer questions about allegations of undue pressure placed on the former justice minister isn’t actually the kind of thing lawmakers on a justice committee do. “The role of the justice committee is not an investigative body,” said Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault. “At best, committees of the House of Commons are political theatre that can occasionally achieve good studies.”
But lest one feel too bad for the frustrated Conservatives on the committee, it’s worth noting that under former prime minster Stephen Harper they pulled the same stunt to block key witnesses from testifying at the Senate hearings investigating Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses.
Moreover, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer isn’t exactly making any commitments to do anything differently. Nor would Scheer commit to changing the rules around criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin related to the deferred prosecution agreement that the engineering company was allegedly lobbying for in its meetings with Trudeau and others. (Scheer was among those that met privately with SNC-Lavalin’s lobbyists.)
And here in Saskatchewan, we witnessed Saskatchewan Party government backbenchers block opposition requests that key government employees come forward to address legitimate questions on the overspending for land purchased by the Global Transportation Hub just outside Regina.
But as frustrating as this is, maybe it’s important to recognize that change comes slowly and in small increments.
There was a time not so long when the public didn’t have accountability through freedom of information or disclosure through the timely release of budgets and quarterly and mid-year updates.
The political system resisted each and everyone of these changes, too. Governments, once in power, don’t want to change rules that are to their advantage. But change did happen.
Sometimes, the best we can do is watch for the events that produce small changes.
That Wilson-Raybould is even appearing before this committee may just be such a small, baby step forward.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.