The Burning Lavalin Question

civil service

The most striking revelation of the recent House of Commons Justice Committee hearings, for me, was not that the Prime Minister’s Office might have applied pressure on the Attorney General in a prosecutorial matter, not even that the top civil servant might have gone beyond the call of duty in effecting the Prime Minister’s will; no both of these scenarios fall, in my estimation, into the grey zone of governance – the realpolitik that belies the purported exemplitude of Euro-American democracy. No, what amazed me the most was the statement by the sitting Privy Council Clerk (the most senior civil servant in the Canadian government) Michael Wernick that, in the run-up to the crisis, he took a phone call and  Chairman of the Board at SNC-Lavalin, Kevin Lynch. According to Marie-Danielle Smith’s report on his testimony Mr Wernick said the following, “Mr. Lynch as the chair of the board expressed his frustration that he did not understand why a DPA (Deferred Prosecution Agreement) was not being considered and he knew that the board in its trustee relationships for the shareholders in the company was going to have to take some tough decisions in October and November.”

Again, it is not the fact that the purportedly impartial Clerk of the Privy Council took the frustrated call from the Chairman of the SNC-Lavalin Board per se that raised my concern, but the familiarity suggested by the tone and content of what seems to have been said, as well as the fact that the said Chairman, Kevin Lynch, was a former Clerk of the very same Privy Council! What kind of impartiality can we expect from our top civil servants while they serve in government if such powerful corporate positions are theirs for the taking in the wake of their governmental roles? More precisely, the burning question arising from the Lavalin affair is this, ‘What kind of impartiality can we expect from civil servants when their ilk, their peers, these former servants now communicate and advocate on behalf of the most powerful sector of the national polity?’

It seems to me that the parliamentary opposition’s accusations of partiality towards the Liberals directed at Mr. Warnick might be misplaced. Political partisanship does not seem, to me, to the kind of impartiality that is in question. Instead, what we might have been afforded, thanks the clerks own unflinching, unembarrassed, incontrite testimony, is a rare vista on the workings of what might be called the Canadian ‘administrative-industrial complex’ – the imbrication of money (corporations) and power (the civil service) in Canadian governance. There has been a more delicate suggestion that the Clerk’s testimony risks the perception of party bias.  To the contrary, I believe that while while, Mr. Wernick may have shown excessive fealty to Justin Trudeau, there is no clear indication that this loyalty has been towards the leader of the Liberals and not to the Prime Minister of Canada. There is however, indication of a more fundamental complicity in the relationship between corporate Canada and, what I shall call the political machinery of Canada. This will only manifest as political bias if we ever elect a party to government that is not, in one way or another, beholden to these corporate interests.

 

 

A Key to the SNC Lavalin Affair?

new-chief cropIn a specifically Aboriginal perspective, Gord Hill (Zig Zag), a popular historian from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, addresses the corporate pressure on native governance in Canada. The caption to one of his powerful political cartoons addressing land tenure and band councils, in the context of the Indian Act reads “All Hail the New Chief – Chief Executive Officer that is!.” In this powerful expression of the complexities and complicities of contemporary native land tenure and economic development, it seems to me, that Zig Zag has given us a universally applicable image of the assertion of corporate will within neo-liberal regimes, where pressure is brought to bear on individual elected leaders, and whole polities even, through inducements and deterrents both legal and illegal. In the SNC Lavalin debacle we have a case-in-point. Here an elected indigenous leader, not just of her own people but of all Canadians, the Attorney General of Canada, was allegedly put under pressure in service of Lavalin’s corporate good.

At the end of her testimony to the House of Commons justice committee the former Attorney General states “…my understanding of the rule of law has also been shaped by my experiences as an Indigenous person and as an Indigenous leader. The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected. Indeed, one of the main reasons for the urgent need for justice and reconciliation today is that, in the history of our country, we have not always upheld foundational values such as the rule of law in relations to Indigenous Peoples. And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality and a just society this can have first-hand.” It is, clearly, this indigenous perspective she must have of the sustained and insidious mechanism of influence, the co-option and/or coercion by the few, of those who are elected to serve the many, that made it impossible for Jodi Wilson-Raybould not to put her foot down for the rule of law, on behalf of all Canadians!

Image: https://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/indian-act-chiefs-and-idle-no-more-snakes-in-the-grassroots/

https://globalnews.ca/news/5006450/jody-wilson-raybould-testimony-transcript/