By Scott Taylor
It is interesting to compare the very different circumstances surrounding the two individuals at the centre of the current political scandals in Ottawa. I’m referring, of course, to former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Vice Admiral Mark Norman.
In terms of similarities, both cases begin with information being leaked to the media. They also stem from allegations that major corporations were attempting to use their political clout with the Trudeau Liberals to influence key government decisions.
In the Norman case, it is alleged that the admiral breached trust by leaking news to the CBC that Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax was trying to scuttle a contract with Davie Shipbuilding of Quebec to build an interim supply ship for the navy.
The original $700 million deal had been agreed to by the Harper Conservatives, but following the Liberal election victory of October 2015, newly-minted Treasury Board President Scott Brison allegedly suggested to Cabinet that perhaps the Davie deal be revisited. When the news broke of this possible reversal, Davie reminded the Trudeau government that they had a stiff cancellation fee clause in the contract, and Navy planners reminded their political masters of the urgent necessity for a supply ship. Subsequently, there was no attempt to cancel the Davie deal.
For the Canadian public and the sailors of the RCN, the decision to proceed with the interim supply ship deal has proven itself to be a major success. The MV Asterix was delivered to the RCN on budget, and on time, and has just completed 14 months of operational service.
As for Vice Admiral Norman, things have not gone so swimmingly. Stung by the embarrassment of the alleged leak, Privy Council Office called upon the RCMP to investigate the source.
In January 2017, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance publicly announced that Norman was suspended from his post as Canada’s Vice Chief of Defence Staff.
The announcement was made without providing the media with any context, and thus Norman ended up being the unfair recipient of wild speculation by many pundits. The good admiral was accused of everything from being a sexual abuser to a treasonous spy. Mercifully, albeit ten days later, official word was disseminated that the alleged wrong-doing involved the leak of information regarding a civilian contract.
It would take a full year of RCMP probing before Norman was formally charged with a single count of Breach of Trust.
The kicker to all this came when Norman sought financial assistance from DND for his mounting legal bills. In 2017, that request was denied because, according to a Justice Department letter leaked to my colleague David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen, Norman was guilty of disclosing confidential information. Keep in mind, this denial of legal financial assistance due to the accused’s preconceived “guilt” came even before Norman had been formally charged with any crime.
To put this in even clearer perspective; in the past two years, there have been a total of 25 requests by military personnel for legal fee assistance. Of that number, only Norman and two others have been denied.
Now, getting back to the Wilson-Raybould saga, this too started with a leak to the media. According to Robert Fife’s breaking story in the Globe and Mail, two unnamed sources from inside Wilson-Raybould’s office alleged that the former Attorney General had been inappropriately pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office. The crux of the matter was the PMO’s desire to stave off a possible criminal prosecution for the engineering firm SNC Lavalin. The charges of bribery date back to 2008 when SNC Lavalin officials allegedly procured hookers and Spice Girls tickets for the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi. According to those unnamed sources, and subsequently through Wilson-Raybould’s own testimony before the Justice Committee, the PMO wanted her to suspend the pursuit of a criminal conviction in favour of a ‘deferred prosecution agreement’, (DPA). Such a deal would allow SNC Lavalin to plead guilty and pay a fine, but avoid a conviction record and thereby continue to qualify as a bidder on federal government contracts. Wilson-Raybould instead stood her ground and was subsequently shuffled out of the Attorney General’s office.
The final decision on SNC Lavalin’s legal fate has yet to be determined, but Wilson-Raybould’s revelations have already badly shaken the senior ranks of Trudeau’s government. Not surprisingly, two of her primary alleged protagonists, Trudeaus’ former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and Chief Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, are being singled out as key obstructionists in the Norman case.
In fact, the same morning that the recently resigned Butts was testifying at the Justice Committee in rebuttal to Wilson-Raybould’s allegations, Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein was issuing an ultimatum to both Butts and Wernick. She has demanded that they either produce the documents and phone records that were subpoenaed by her last month, or she will call upon the two men to testify in open court.
In the meantime, Norman remains suspended, pronounced guilty by his own department in advance of his trial and thereby denied assistance for his steadily mounting legal costs. Did I mention that the MV Asterix project is a complete success and is currently providing yeoman’s service to the RCN?
To date I have not heard any mention of an investigation into who breached Cabinet confidence in the Wilson-Raybould story. In terms of relative damage, I would think that the Wilson-Raybould revelation was far more destructive.
So, why continue to scapegoat Norman?