Iain Hunter: Civil servants dragged into questions about SNC-Lavalin scandal

"The rule of law is applied when it suits." What jaded sage said this? Well, this one. In this very newspaper. Last month.

I was quibbling, then, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s defiant declaration that our country and his government, in deciding whether to send a Chinese national to the U.S. to face U.S. music, are bound by the rule of law.

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And the unfolding, on Parliament Hill, of L’affaire SNC-Lavalin shows I was right so to quibble.

Our prime minister and his minions have been harassing the country’s guardian of the rule of law to break it.

Why? Because it would benefit, politically, our prime minister and the fortunes of his party if Canada’s engineering mega-sporange, caught in flagrante again, were let off lightly.

And after then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to interfere in the criminal prosecution, she was removed.

That won’t help Trudeau’s political fortunes at all, as all the commentators who regard politics as a horse-race are pointing out.

Wilson-Raybould was a catch for a prime minister wooing what used to be called the women’s vote. Puglaas (her Kwak’wala name) was a catch for a prime minister poised to right the historic, if not continuing, wrongs suffered by First Nations.

Her appointment was not merely symbolic: She was well and truly qualified as a practitioner in the white man’s law and as leader and advocate in B.C. First Nations’ rights and governance.

A matriarch and truth-teller, she is proud, and with good reason. She has her own agenda, and whatever happens in this disgraceful affair, will hold to it.

But what about the other players caught in it?

The Liberals, as would any other political party, will continue on the age-old agenda of seeking power and holding on to it by any means.

They will cultivate Quebec, where its distinctiveness masks the social and economic differences so exposed in other parts of the country, with zealous concern.

They will continue to nourish the fragile corporate elites in that province with money to keep them strong enough to compete in the world because that’s good for Canada, too.

And those corporations that break Canadian laws operating in countries where breaking the law is a business practice will continue to seek ways to avoid the tribulations of trial. They will gladly pay fines with the monies that the Canadian taxpayer has given them as subsidies and incentives.

But they will ask to continue to play the law and escape those who are merely practising it.

But what about the public service of Canada, the engine that keeps the country running smoothly, with fine impartiality, no matter who’s at the political wheel?

Well, the impartiality of those we used to call the mandarins has certainly improved since the 1950s. When the Conservatives under John Diefenbaker were elected, the clerk of the Privy Council and other senior public servants met in secret with Lester Pearson, the Liberal Opposition leader, and arranged to hold hands under the table.

By the time public servants were embroiled in political skulduggery in the sponsorship scandal in Quebec, which erupted when Paul Martin was PM, senior bureaucrats were deeply upset. It was a betrayal of a high calling.

Now we’ve learned that Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council and head of the public service, seems to have jeopardized it all by appearing to join in the pressuring of Wilson-Raybould to bend.

Whatever his motives, the then-AG took Wernick’s intervention as a “veiled threat” from Trudeau.

There’s a Victoria connection to all this. Wilson-Raybould is a graduate of the University of Victoria.

Her chief of staff as AG was Jessica Prince, whom I remember as a debater of distinction at Glenlyon Norfolk School. She has a law degree, was called to the bar in 2011, and has appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada.

She obviously got a taste for the legislative process, working on legislation for medically assisted dying, the legalization of cannabis and reform of sexual-assault law.

The way Wilson-Raybould told it during her House of Commons committee testimony, Prince was terribly upset by the pressure being put, through her, on her minister by people she knew.

It must have been a betrayal of her belief in a high calling.

It was certainly an evisceration of values in our national core.

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