A couple of weeks ago I had a sudden attack that left me drained of energy: that explains why there has been a two-week interregnum in these Chronicles: I had begun to wonder if I would ever write another one, taking into account what my cancer doctor describes as “taking things in context,” by which he means, unless I am mistaken, “After all, remember, you are 91.”
Unexpectedly, I woke up one morning feeling somewhat better, and I have been improving ever since, and have started to look around me at what seems to be going on. When I stopped, I was taking a keen interest in the British progress towards Brexit; and in Canada, I was following the incident by which our Justice Minister, Jody Wilson Raybould, had been replaced after alleging that improper pressure had been put on her to make a decision in favour of the major international engineering company SNC Lavalin, which was being accused of having paid millions of dollars in bribes in order to obtain a contract in Libya.
What d’you know, two weeks later, the same two subjects are filling the airwaves, nothing seems to have advanced in either case, and if one weren’t careful one might come to the conclusion that politics both in Britain and Canada had seized up and were being repeated day after day as if on a loop of some kind. The Wilson Raybould affair, in particular, was beginning to sound as if it had been talked out; and yet, on and on the commentariat talk, endlessly repeating the same things about the same subject. At its heart, we have been told, is a constitutional matter of the highest importance, namely, the independence from political pressure of the prosecutorial service. The facts seem to have been that the Justice Minister had been pressured by various civil servants, and even by the Prime Minister himself, to intervene in favour of the big, wealthy company, and had refused to do so. Even during the later debates on the subject, the retired minister admitted that no law had been broken, bur she was insisting that once the Director of Prosecutions had made up her mind to prosecute the company, rather than allow them to face a Deferred Prosecutorial Agreement under which they would admit culpability, pay a huge fine, and not face a criminal trial, the essence of the case being that, if found guilty of a criminal charge, the company would not be eligible for government contracts for the next ten years. The company has almost 9,000 workers in Canada alone, so the impact of such a criminal charge could, one imagines, have had some severe consequences.
As someone remarked during this lengthy argument, any political pressure brought on a prosecutor as to whether to prosecute or not, is too much. The discussion uncovered something I had never been aware of, which is that the two offices, of Justice Minister and Attorney-General, are and should be separate, even when both are held by the same person. So, okay, Ms. Wilson Raybould in her function as Attorney-General, responsible for the directorate of prosecutions, insisted that the decision had already been made to subject the company to a criminal prosecution, and she reported that she was subject to a blast of requests to change her mind which she refused, warning the Prime Minister that he was in danger of doing something improper.
A long hearing of the House of Commons Justice Committee was held, and if Prime Minister Trudeau had been a bit more experienced, more nuanced in his behaviour (perhaps one should say, less arrogant in his attitude), that should have been all that we heard of the subject. The opposition Conservative party, jumping in over their heads from the first, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister --- an unlikely event ---- tried to keep the argument going, with cries of scandal, scandal that even to an interested ear like mine bore little conviction. Jane Philpott, an acknowledged competent minister, resigned from the government in sympathy with her friend Wilson Raybould, and the question bubbled on for a week or more as to whether they should be allowed to remain in the Liberal party caucus, or should be expelled from it.
Meantime, Ms. Wilson Raybould, pressing her case, released a conversation she had with the Clerk of the Privy council --- effectively the top man in Canada’s civil service ---- which she had recorded clandestinely. This was denounced by fellow Liberals as bad form, unethical behaviour, and it more or less demanded that, with such a complete loss of trust between colleagues, she at least should be denied caucus membership. Just before I sat down to write this, Prime Minister announced that he had suspended both former ministers from the caucus, and from their prospective candidacy in the upcoming election as candidates for the Liberal party.
It should now be left to die a natural death, no great harm having been done, except by Ms. Wilson Raybould, to herself. But the Conservatives, led by their pathetic attack dog Pierre Poilieve, are trying to keep the matter alive until the time of the election in September. I hope they don’t succeed: the matter is played out finally, and should be laid to rest.
On the second of my enthusiasms, the case of Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Community, the issue has moved from the serious to the surreal. Ms. Theresa May, the Prime Minister --- now laughingly called LINO ---- Leader in Name Only ---- by a Guardian columnist ---- has obtained from the EU a deal by which Britain could exit, except that her deal has now been rejected by the House of Commons three times, with the biggest defeats in modern British Parliamentary history. Still, undeterred, she is vowing to bring the deal before Parliament for a fourth try, although meantime she has been forced to concede that she should consult the Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as to the possibility of finding an alternative deal that might be acceptable to Parliament. The date of the withdrawal has come and gone, with a new date set at April 12 --- five or six days down the road ---- if she cannot persuade the EU to accept a later date still.
I will leave the explanation there: I really don’t have the energy to go into all the ins and outs of the subject at this time, but promise to return to it in the next few days as matters unfold. Meantime, stay tuned: we are told Parliamentary history is unfolding, because the House of Commons has succeeded in wrenching the decision-making from the hands of the govcrnment, with results that we are all awaiting breathlessly with every passing day.