The Unsolved Riddle of the SNC-Lavalin Affair, Part II

If you read recent posts on this blog you will notice that they all talk about Unsolved Riddles. Those are situations, commonly found in the social-economic-environmental-cultural-political domain, where the truth lies not at one pole or another, but at both poles. We have a humdinger on our hands right now, as was pointed out by Althia Raj of the CBC’s “At Issue” panel last night (Wednesday, February 27th). None of the others on the panel caught on, however, preferring to stress the contention of the matter. In fact, the CBC News web site this morning blazoned a headline announcing that the matter “forces Liberals to take sides.” Of course it does nothing of the kind, although it may present them with that opportunity. To take sides in an Unsolved Riddle is exactly the wrong way to treat it.

Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould did indeed an admirable job of telling “her truth”. She is a formidable advocate. The Prime Minister then told his, doing a less admirable job. He is a formidable advocate too, but in a different style. As we think about these competing truths, however, we should remember that she is advocating for a point of view, just as he is. Her point of view is a legal one, but also inescapably a political one. His is an economic point of view, also a social one because of the jobs involved, also inescapably a political one. So far they are equal.

I am not here to argue the merits of these poles, although I was interested to see an article last night discussing the Canadian practice of combining the jobs of Minister of Justice (political) and Attorney General (legal). ( Ms. Wilson-Raybould is of course perfectly within her rights to be more comfortable with the latter, but as long as they are combined, and she had the job, she had to do them both. She held the inherent Unsolved Riddle in her hands, as did the Prime Minister. We should perhaps be more sympathetic, because these people are both our agents, solemnly obliged to do the best they can to accommodate both points of view. I believe that to argue that legalism ought to out-weigh social and economic justice would be an idea that Canadians, in general, do not accept. It is certainly an idea vigorously contested when legalism in a criminal case reaches a conclusion contrary to our sense of justice.

The confusing aspect of this one, of course, is that in promoting social and economic justice for the employees and multipliers of SNC-Lavalin, we appear to be easing up on the corporation itself and their misdeeds. There may be no way around that. We rely on corporations to create and sustain jobs, which makes us dependent on them. A man who shoots his horse because it puts a foot wrong had better enjoy walking.

Once we take in all the complexities in this affair we come down simply, I believe, to a row between two well-intentioned politicians over what should be done with a difficult case. Both Ms. Wilson-Raybould and the Prime Minister believed they were doing the right thing. She did not like being pressured, and he did not like being defied. An Unsolved Riddle with poles rooted in conflicting ideas of justice, becomes an Unsolved Riddle involving personalities, which is too bad.

Here we have fine drama. Politicians, news media, and social media are all undeniably excited. But is exploiting drama good politics, good journalism, or good citizenry? It is tempting to do so, no doubt. But despite the drama, this episode raises difficult legal, economic, and political issues which require careful thought. The issue is not really whether to believe Ms. Wilson-Raybould or the Prime Minister, or neither, or both, the last being the Unsolved Riddle course. The issue is what should be done about SNC-Lavalin. That’s a tough one, replete with hard legal, economic, and political questions that have  become very public. So let’s talk about them.

Let’s talk also about whether the offices of the Minister of Justice (political) and Attorney General (legal) should be held by the same official, and whether the latter should be in Cabinet.




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