Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Veterans Affairs Minister Jodie Wilson-Raybould attend a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canada just upstaged the U.S. in political calamity

Burgeoning Canadian scandal overshadows former Trump lawyer’s Congressional testimony

What a week last week was for political news junkies.

Michael Cohen, the former fixer and lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, testified about his involvement in paying off a porn star to hush up an alleged affair, among other bombshell allegations, in front of a congressional committee on Wednesday.

Cohen’s testimony will give House Democrats even more ammunition in their pursuit of oversight investigations that House Republicans hilariously abdicated over the last four years.

Meanwhile, something big was brewing in Ottawa.

Like ripping a bandaid off a scab, Canada’s former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tore a strip off officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and senior cabinet ministers, alleging political interference in the prosecution of a bribery case against a major Quebec-based construction company.

It was both shocking and compelling testimony.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony alleged that senior bureaucrats and the Prime Minister himself attempted to pressure the former Justice Minister into granting a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in the criminal case against SNC Lavalin, which was hit with bribery charges relating to projects in Libya.

A DPA essentially grants a company amnesty if it agrees to court-ordered remedies such as paying fines, corporate restructuring or co-operating with investigators.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony set up her timeline of the alleged political interference, starting last September, which continued into January and culminated with her removal from the Justice portfolio in a Cabinet shuffle.

Full credit to the Globe and Mail, which broke the story in early February.

The prosecutorial independence of the Attorney General is a fundamental pillar in our democratic institution. Politicians attempting to direct or influence Crown Counsel in criminal proceedings goes against everything the rule of law stands for.

Andrew Scheer has called for an RCMP investigation, but that’s not necessarily a good look, according to David Moscrop, a well-known political scientist. Moscrop noted on Twitter that while it may be good partisan politics to make those types of public statements, the police don’t need the perception that it conducts investigations on the whim of politicians.

If evidence is there to warrant a criminal investigation, the RCMP — as an independent policing body — will follow through.

And you can bet investigators were watching Wilson-Raybould’s testimony with an extremely keen eye.

Outside of RCMP involvement, Mario Dion, the federal Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner will be tasked with investigating Wilson-Raybould’s allegations of political interference.

Also, Jagmeet Singh and the New Democratic Party are calling for a national public inquiry, which will have the power to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony.

The scandal has already claimed one casualty, as Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary, resigned just over a week ago. In the fallout of Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Butts requested the chance to speak in front of the justice committee, which has yet to be approved or scheduled.

And, not to be outdone, British Columbia had their own blip in the political arena when B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson described his time as a young renter in his 20s as “wacky” and “kind of fun” during a speech in the Legislature.

Hat tip to CBC Vancouver reporter Justin McElroy, who caught wind of the remarks and pursued the story and a follow-up.

Given the rental and affordable housing crisis in communities across the province, that perhaps wasn’t the wisest choice of words, especially for a party leader — a doctor AND a lawyer, no less — who lives in an affluent Vancouver neighbourhood.

Wilkinson later walked back his comments on a CBC Vancouver radio show with journalist Stephen Quinn, noting his remarks about renting referred to his own personal experience and not as a reference to what current renters face in their housing situations.

During the B.C. Liberal leadership campaign, Wilkinson was advertised as a candidate who would be the ‘smartest person in the room’.

Having met and interviewed him a few times, I can say that’s very likely true.

However, Wilkinson’s candidacy also drew concerns from the wider leadership race of being labelled an ‘elitist’ due to his higher education as both a doctor and a lawyer.

Comments such as the ones he made in the Legislature don’t help change that perception.

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