Wilson-Raybould shows us how power really works in Ottawa

SNC-Lavalin held 89 meetings with government. Guess how often oil companies lobby Trudeau?

I, like many Canadians, sat in awe during the testimony of former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould last week. I was impressed by her courage, her commitment to ethics, her attention to detail and her perseverance. I was not, however, surprised by her story.

In B.C., everyday people are getting pretty used to being walked all over by corporations, CEOs and lobbyists. And we are unsurprised when politicians hold the door open for them to stomp all over us. This has happened in the ‘Wild West’ for decades, especially before we banned Big Money in politics and changed campaign donation laws.

And now, thanks to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, we are getting a glimpse of how decisions are really made in Ottawa.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony opens up a whole host of uncomfortable questions: If SNC-Lavalin was granted that much access to high-ranking ministers and PMO officials, what other corporations have similar power over our decision makers?

In British Columbia, we automatically think of the largest corporate give-away in recent memory: Trudeau’s $4.4 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. But were Big Oil lobbyists afforded the same access as SNC-Lavalin?

The answer is: more.

SNC-Lavalin, Trans Mountain: By the numbers

In 2017 SNC-Lavalin sent a letter asking the new Public Services Minister, Carla Qualtrough, to change the country’s anti-corruption laws “as expeditiously as possible.” The company wanted the option of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in Canada — a wish it was granted in the following budget.

Pressure from the construction giant didn’t stop there. Over the past 12 months, federal officials met with SNC-Lavalin a total of 89 times. Almost all these meetings were with Neil Bruce, the President and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, who came to SNC from the oil & gas industry. One of his stated purpose for these meetings included “policy changes related to white collar crime.”

SNC wanted special treatment from the federal government. They wanted a way to escape criminal corruption charges, so they could continue to bid on multi-billion dollar public contracts. As Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould had the power to refuse to interfere in the prosecution against SNC. But what if that decision had been up to the whole cabinet?

Oil companies also want something from the federal government. Oil producers want as many pipelines as possible to Gulf Coast and California refineries, so they can expand exports of heavy crude before global climate action renders it worthless. How many times have those companies lobbied government to build them a pipeline? A lot more than SNC-Lavalin.

I filtered these meetings down to only include lobbyists who specified “Trans Mountain” in their registration. I also included the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association in my calculations. While their registration does not explicitly mention the Trans Mountain pipeline, the lobby group has been very public in their support for the project. Their lobby records do include seeking changes to laws that are directly related to the pipeline and tanker project and the National Energy Board.

The total number of meetings between industry lobbyists and the government related to Trans Mountain in the past year is 356 — four times the meetings granted to SNC-Lavalin.

Testimony from Justin Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, seems to suggest that last summer, the Prime Minister’s Office was far more concerned with pipeline expansion than it was in obstructing the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

In his testimony to the Justice Committee, Gerald Butts outlined the number of meetings the PMO’s office had with the finance minister’s office in the weeks leading up to the purchase of Trans Mountain: “On the TMX acquisition… I would say probably 100.” Talk about consistent and sustained pressure.

Butts was offering this information in an effort to put the ten meetings the PMO had with the Attorney General about SNC-Lavalin in context.

Lobbyists run this place

This is not intended to be an apples-to-apples comparison. I’ve identified ten different companies and industry associations lobbying for the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker expansion project. SNC-Lavalin appears to have acted alone.

Still, the SNC example hints at the scale of lobbyist pressure influencing legislation and big decisions in Ottawa.

Wilson-Raybould described to Canadians how she saw things: SNC-Lavalin threatened the government and Trudeau bent to their whim — hiding a get-out-of-jail-free card law in an omnibus budget bill and then pressuring the Attorney General to use it.

To British Columbians this story is all too familiar. A Texas-based pipeline company threatens the government and Trudeau jumps. How high? Trudeau was taken for a fool, paying $4.4 billion to buy the 65 year-old leaky pipeline — and the rights to an expansion that was halted by the courts. This time, however, it was easier to get the minister responsible onboard — Bay Street CEO Bill Morneau is no Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Presumably also in lockstep was Morneau’s chief of staff, Ben Chin. Chin was explicitly and repeatedly named in Wilson-Raybould’s testimony as pressuring her and her chief of staff to offer SNC-Lavalin a DPA. He is recorded as being part of multiple lobbyist meetings with both SNC-Lavalin — and oil interests lobbying for Trans Mountain. And to British Columbians, he might be even more familiar. The former news anchor was Christy Clark’s executive director of communications.

But jobs…

Trudeau makes the same case for both SNC-Lavalin and Trans Mountain: jobs. If SNC-Lavalin moves its headquarters… jobs! If we don’t get Trans Mountain built… jobs!

Jobs are important. It’s true. But Canadians need to ask ourselves what kind of jobs we want. Do we want employment at any cost, even if it is building prisons in Libya for a murderous dictator? What if it’s working on construction contracts bought from politicians by mob bosses? What if those jobs hasten the disintegration of our climate and ecosystems, the extinction of other species or the death and displacement of millions of people?

We need to ask ourselves what kind of jobs — what kind of country — we want. No matter how many meetings or illegal campaign donations CEOs and lobbyists can cough up, politicians work for us. And Canadians are demanding better of our government. We are no longer going to put up with corporations who blackmail us to get their way, or corruption and greed from politicians who talk out of both sides of their mouth, at the expense of our ethics, our laws, our health, our communities or our futures.

Trudeau’s Liberals are up for re-election in just eight short months. And as has become clear from Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Trudeau is truly worried about only one job: his. If his party is capable of breaking free from the clutches of corporate lobbyists, now is the time to prove it. Otherwise, this government could be a one-term wonder.

36 Responses to “Wilson-Raybould shows us how power really works in Ottawa”

  1. George Webb says:

    The problem is the Conservatives would carry on in the same way but would need less lobbying to do the corporations bidding. The only potential way out is for Canadian to vote for the NDP and the Greens but it is doubtful they can win a majority. Best hope is a liveral minority with the Greens or the NDP with the balance of power

  2. Joys Chow says:

    Cronyism and old boys sticking together using the same playbook is nothing new. However, in the past when they close rank, no one could gainsay them even though we, the little guys, see right through them. So we go back to our lives, earn our livings and look after our family. What’s new this time is that we have someone of equal stature willing to speak up, doing her job as the attorney general. JWR and then, JP have created an opportunity for every citizen to have a voice in this. What saddens and frightens me is that even in the current atmosphere of #metoo movement and mansplaining, there are still too many comments based on her sex rather than her capability. At the same time, there are also many who are willing to repeat sound bites that are put out by the PMO – seemingly not finding them at odds with our PM’s actions.
    If we voted for transparency, accountability and representation, then we can’t shirk our responsibility to hold our government responsible.

  3. Elizabeth Brunelle says:

    SNC lobbied Scheer and he was more than willing to do the same thing that Trudeau was trying to do.

    • Lisa Sammartino says:

      They did lobby Scheer in advance of the bill with the DPA passing. They also met with Jagmeet Singh around the same time.

  4. henry borkowski says:

    So this begs the question as to who drafted the legislation for the deferred prosecution agreement option…. was JWR on side with it back then ? or did others in cabinet back then push for it by saying well it doesn’t have to be used. Maybe JWR felt it was wrong to write a new law and push it through with the decision virtually already made to use it with SNC. I wonder when SNCs legal staff first saw the new law? Before it was passed I bet…

  5. Mary Armstrong says:

    I agree. A Liberal minority is our best bet.

  6. Dave King says:

    Trudeaus comment today in response to the JWR case, were just waffle. Grabbing at a straw that there was disagreement, trying to save jobs. Sure the disagreement was he wanted JWR to change her mind, he tried several tactics to get her to do that. Saving jobs, where is the proof that jobs were in danger? We have never been given that information. Trudeau needs to come clean, but he never will now.

  7. Gary Warburton says:

    I for one would like to see the greens and the NDP into one party called the Green progressives. The NDP have no choice but to completely accept green ideology the the green party we have to reject the token green initiatives of the liberals which are really a corporate party anyway. And the greens can`t really take a corporate view of economics and ignore human rights and progress ideas either it is not what you do if you believe in Democracy.

  8. Fred says:

    Corporate capture of almost all politicians in Canada at every level of government is complete and should be no surprise to the Canadian electorate. Our problem now in this so called democracy is How will this ever be resolved?

  9. Mama Bear says:

    Good question henry borkowski. Who did draft the deferred prosecution agreement and what is its background?

  10. Ed Northcott says:

    “A get-out-of-jail-free card law” — I frequently see this take foisted on the mess surrounding the SNC-Lavalin affair. I can’t even bring myself to call it a scandal, as it shouldn’t be. It’s a molehill being made into a mountain.

    A deferred prosecution agreement is a new tool in the Crown’s toolbox, cribbed from success that’s been had with similar legislative measures in the Netherlands, England, and the USA. The end effect is essentially to reverse this bizarre trend of treating corporations like people, and instead treat them like groups of people — some of whom are innocent, and some of whom are guilty. A DPA defers full prosecution, but in lieu of that levies a financial penalty and puts conditions of operation on the company, ensuring that they comply with agreed-up ethical standards for the term of the agreement or full prosecution proceeds immediately. In addition, it frees up prosecution to go *directly* after the decision-makers responsible for the corruption (who are not exempt from prosecution), and spares innocent workers from having their lives turned upside down. It’s shown success in turning around the behaviour of such companies, and creates an incentive for CEOs to make ethical decisions — because under DPAs, they’re not sheltered from the consequences of their actions: instead, it’s in the company’s best interests to hand over everything they can so that the decison-makers are the prime targets.

    For years on end we’ve all lamented about how big business does horrible things, then the company gets a slap on the wrist, corrupt CEOs fall softly with their golden parachutes, and the everyday worker gets hosed as their positions are cut to feed the fatcats and the corporations. This turns it around. Finally.

    And everybody’s whining about the government pushing for its use. Current evidence points to everyone around JWR advising her to take this route; her superior, her peers, even her subordinates who prepared a report on the impact of prosecution — a report she buried.

    I’m far from impressed with Trudeau’s leadership, but it’s not because he leaned too hard on Wilson-Reybould. It’s because he didn’t take a strong enough tack and shut this down hard. He’s so busy trying to be huggy-feely and stay on good terms with everyone that he’s let his cabinet and caucus go to Hell because he’s trying to validate everybody’s feelings instead of getting the job done. JWR was wrong, and was willing to proceed with a course of action that would have made thousands of Canadians suffer just to be the one who was ‘right’… and when that failed, she decided to throw a wrench in the political machinery — first through anonymous info fed to the Globe & Mail, then later directly when she had been removed from the ministerial portfolio she wanted — and increase the odds of Scheer getting elected, instead. This isn’t the behaviour of someone fighting for the common good.

    It blows my mind that people, both left and right, are parroting dogmatic positions instead of looking at what was on the table and judging the situation on its merits.

  11. Ahda says:

    I have watched the hearing and have noted that the statements made by the clerk of the privy council Wernick are passing without much public discussion. In my opinion for him to say that his actions were not politically motivated does not negate the evidence that suggests that he was, however, acting in support of the intensive lobbying done by SNC Lavalin. Those efforts began many years ago and Mr. Wernick has been there in the halls of power since Cretien. The fact that the former clerk of the privy council Kevin Lynch and Wernick have an extended phone call during the time period that the Attorney General was being repeatedly petitioned. The relationship between the clerk of the privy council and that of industry is far too close and it seems evident to me that, beyond elected political leadership, we have a problem in our government and more transparency is needed still in the role that Wernick played.

  12. Bear Hamilton says:

    Ed ……. I think you have summed it up well. The reality of the situation.

  13. Doug Dent says:

    absolutely right !

  14. Cate Maracle says:

    So to show how strong her ethics and principles were, she violated ethics and principles (secret recording) to show how hers were superior. Yep…totally makes sense and shows the hypocrisy of those that support her.

  15. Linda Chernecki says:

    I agree with you. If Scheer gets in he will align with Doug Ford (already has) and then it’s a free for all. I really believe that Doug will end up giving pulling the strings. Scheer isn’t that strong or bright to be his own man. This is the worst time in our history. I live in a solid Conservative riding. I am so depressed!!

  16. Austen Barnes says:

    It is regrettable this wonderful country with its many positive features has leadership in power yielding to lobbyists demanding individual survival instead of heeding the super urgent needs of combatting climate change. We should be focusing on new industries serving global needs in new energy generation and local survival technology. We need trees and plants as part of our cities; we need local emergency food growth ; we need compact portable fire and water resistant low cost housing; we need efficient local energy sources for emergencies. Meanwhile our future is likely to be in danger from shrinking emergency response and lack of being able to supply globally needed products and technology. Resources can hinder true development. Switzerland has done very well using brains inventing and serving global needs instead of ruining its environment and fostering graft.

  17. Linda Chernecki says:

    Here is the link to the prosecution agreement https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deferred_prosecution_agreement_(Canada)

  18. Charlene Simon says:

    Speaking of lobbying, 356 meetings with TransCanada and 89 with SNC Lavelin, we taxpayers are footing the bill in terms of salaries, facilities, etc. for our rep’s to attend.

    There needs to be limits on these meetings.

  19. Albert Willems says:

    We in Canada are quickly catching up with the US when it comes to crimes and corruption in the government. Aii government meetings should be open and recorded. Secret meetings are by definition already suspect. Things would soon change, if Ms. Jody Wilson Raybould was PM. Jewels of integrity are hard to find. Something for us non Indigenous people to remember.

  20. D Kellock says:

    Good ridence to her and Philpot.

  21. Jim Griffiths says:

    You are right about ‘jobs’ – the standard introduction to or justification of any legislation or budget that advances social good against profit for the few . . . dastardly politics

  22. Shelley says:

    Sorry Ed, I don’t buy it. If what you say is true, I cannot believe that the CEO of SNC is thinking: “I gotta get me some of that”.

  23. David W Glavin says:

    It Just goes on to tell to you that Justin Trudeau cant be trusted Any Much more Longer. I he gets Back hes lucky ifhes going to get Re-Elected in his Riding of Papineau. I Have an Idea Trudeau will lose his seat in the Next Election
    to Either a New Democrat Green or a BQer. If hes lucky to win Back his Seat then it wont be by much. But Trudeau
    is in for the Fight of his Life over the Kinder Morgan Soap Opera and also to do with USCMA or formerly Known as
    NAFTA. Hes going to for sure lose his head in the Next Election on having Expeled Both the 2 of Jody Wilson-Raybould and also Jane Philpot. Shame on him and his Administration on having made such a Mess on all there
    is and has been. If he wins his seat Back and if he gets Re-Elected it will be a Minority and hes Lucky to get Re-Elected with a Minority. If Not then Andrew Scheer is going to be Elected with a Majority but lets only for now hope
    its a PC Minority. I Don’t like either of these 2 But theres bound to be Possibly a PC Majority or Minority lets Only
    Hope that its a Minority. But Trudeaus Had the Biscuit for sure.

    Dave W Glavin

    Burnaby BC

  24. Jean says:

    DON’T Kill the messenger !! Trueau is a disgrace !

  25. WM Johnstone says:

    “JWR was wrong, and was willing to proceed with a course of action that would have made thousands of Canadians suffer….”
    Well, that’s just your opinion, Mr. Northcott. Even the CEO of SNC-Lavalin has already disagreed with your claim that thousands would suffer.

    “…first through anonymous info fed to the Globe & Mail…. This isn’t the behaviour of someone fighting for the common good.”
    You suggest, Mr. Northcott, that JWR fed the story to the Globe. But the Globe writers said they’d been working on the story for months, following the trail of breadcrumbs left by the new deferred prosecution legislation.
    Fortunately most Canadians have a better sense of our common good than your corporate mindset.

  26. Michael Obrecht says:

    Thanks Ed.

    Your post triggered a search for info on the use of the DPA elsewhere. An international law company provides useful info here…


    … and a Canadian law company comments on the DPA here…


    Apparently DPA’s do not necessarily lead to better prosecution of the individuals in a corporation who were responsible for white collar crime(s). A US academic, Mike Koehler, stated in 2015 that… “[from] 1977 to 2004, 85 per cent of corporate enforcement actions resulted in individual prosecutions,” [Since 2004, when DPAs came in, the numbers have flipped] “80 per cent of corporate enforcement actions have not resulted in any individual prosecutions of company employees.”

    In Canada it is up to the Public Prosecutor to determine whether or not the conditions for a DPA have been met. The Public Prosecutor determined that SNC-Lavalin did not meet the conditions for a DPA. The Federal Court subsequently reviewed and upheld the Public Prosecutor’s ruling.

    By the way, one definition of scandal is “loss of or damage to reputation caused by actual or apparent violation of morality or propriety.” The sustained pressure on the Attorney General by the Prime Minister and others to reverse the Public Prosecutor’s decision demonstrates “violation of propriety” I think.

    By my accounting, the PM has made three big mistakes: ignoring the recommendations of the all-party committee on electoral reform, buying the Trans-Mountain pipeline, and attempting to bully an Attorney General into submission.

  27. Lorne Szmek says:

    A green majority would be the best option. Giving the Libs or PC’s any power is insanity and suicidal.

  28. The Liberals have not earned another term. Lies and deception should never be rewarded.

  29. Rhonda Hill says:

    You make Ms Wilson-Raybould out to be some shining beacon for transparency and squeaky-clean, ethical governance.
    She had reservations about the ethics of the Liberal government’s proposal to purchase Kinder Morgan pipeline project but quickly fell into line on that issue. She never expressed any concerns that she was pressured to stand with the Liberals on that issue but one has to believe that there must have been. As Justice Minister, she had to and did defend the government position on that issue.
    What is a niggling question is why did Ms Wilson-Raybould tow the party line when it came to spending taxpayer dollars on a pipeline that will never be profitable, that almost half of taxpayers are against, and that might create 2,500 short term construction jobs over 2 years and, using Kinder Morgan’s own estimates, 50 direct full time jobs upon project completion and 2,000 project spin off jobs (estimated by many other sources to be more like 800 spin off jobs) in Alberta but she suddenly had a problem with being pressured to consider the consequences to 10,000 employees of SNC Lavalin in Quebec of any decision she chose to make?
    To me, both of these decisions were ones where a truly principled person should have called them out as being not honest or responsible but as politically expedient.
    But Ms Wilson-Raybould cries ‘Foul’ on one as an affront to her principles but sold out her principles on the other.
    It just makes me wonder what the real agenda was in this situation.
    The whole thing, on all sides, just reeks.

  30. I agree it would be better for NDP and the Green Party to join forces, in order to change from outdated partisan politics, which no matter what their name is they only have on agenda of exploitation and domination.

  31. The trouble is we’re treating huge powerful corporations as persons instead of going after the specific criminals within them that hide behind the corporate facade. We also tend to treat political parties the same way, until there’s a moment like this when there’s serious internal problems and the bad actors are exposed.

  32. Grace Hamilton says:

    I appreciate your succinct explanation. I was rooting for JWR and her stance, but now that I understand this process better, I am not so sure. However, we need greater transparency. I think when these serious cases come up, the public really needs to be educated better on all the terms. What do you think of all the lobbying that oil and gas companies do, constantly trying to get more, and get away with more? While we struggle to come up with ways to combat climate change, while our whole planet faces air and water pollution, loss of soil and farmland, loss of habitat, an unending list of troubles, how do we stop the onslaught of powerful companies coercing/influencing our governments to the detriment of the planet?

  33. Vivian says:

    There would be no need for such awkward mergers if we had proportional representation!

  34. Finn K says:

    Ed Northcott
    Your point around the benefits of a DPA is intriguing…
    I wonder however, if it came down to it, if the aforementioned process would actually be properly executed in Canada. Here they can easily take legitimate policies and make them into weak, useless ideas.

    However I don’t think that it was wrong for JWR to spill everything that’s wrong in the house of commons. There are bad things happening behind closed doors and the public deserves to hear it.

    I’m disappointed that this issue may increase Andrew Scheer’s popularity. If there’s one thing wrong with him, it’s that he’s a hypocrite. He calls out JT for doing unethical, corrupt things. He calls him out for siding with corporations. But I guarantee that if get got elected he’d immediately do much worse.

    Have a good one,

  35. Thanks for the insight on this.

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