By Chad Ingram
Published March 7, 2019
If you think you’re sick of hearing about the SNC-Lavalin matter now, then buckle up, or maybe don’t pay attention to the news until the fall’s federal election, or maybe leave the country for a bit.
With Monday’s resignation of cabinet minister Jane Philpott, which followed the resignation from cabinet by former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, there is some blood in the water, which means that the Opposition will try to stir up a frenzy that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer can ride into the election. He’ll continue to make calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calls Trudeau will ignore, as whatever kind of inquiry there is going to be into allegations of political interference by the PM unfolds.
It’s a familiar chorus, as the great pendulum of federal politics in Canada swings back and forth between red and blue. A Conservative leader chastising the alleged unethical behaviour of a Liberal prime minister. Trudeau coasted into power in 2015 after Canadians became sick of the government of Stephen Harper, who many had come to see as a serial abuser of power and whose government was found in contempt of Parliament. Nearly a decade before, Harper rose to the office of PM on the current of the sponsorship scandal that had engulfed the previous Liberal government.
So on and so forth. That is politics in this country and the political theatre around the SNC-Lavalin affair will play out as it will.
The whole situation has underscored a flaw in our system, one that doesn’t receive as much attention as alleged bad behaviour by a prime minister. In Canada, the jobs of attorney general and justice minister – which are two, separate roles – are vested in one person.
The attorney general is a politically neutral position, beholden only to the rule of law.
Cabinet ministers, on the other hand, are, it is generally understood, beholden to the government, and to their boss, the prime minister.
So when the country’s attorney general is acting in the capacity of attorney general, it is completely inappropriate for the prime minster to try to influence the behaviour of that person (which is the allegation against Trudeau). However, when that person is acting in the capacity of justice minister, it is completely appropriate for that person to take direction from the PM.
It’s a problematic situation that is rife for conflict, the kind of conflict we are now seeing play out and will see play out for weeks and probably months to come.
And there’s a simple solution to avoiding this situation in the future. Split the roles and assign them to separate human beings. It’s done in other countries, and it makes irrefutable sense, regardless of one’s political or partisan leanings.