I saw a humorous tweet this week in which the author bemoaned the difficulty of maintaining work/life/political-scandal balance with #Lavscam unfolding. To be sure, there is no such thing as work/life balance. It’s all life. When we give work equal weight in the scales, we’re already out of balance. Squeezing political-scandal on a third scale seems more in line with dramaturgy.
The political theatre of a partisan committee seeking truth is almost as charged as the testimony presented before it. An Ipsos poll conducted for Global News suggests two-thirds of Canadians are paying attention to the hearings unfolding in Ottawa. That’s roughly equivalent to the number of Canadians who voted in the last federal election. It’s a good thing that we’re tuning in.
Canadians watched in record numbers as the former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, presented her evidence before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. She was a very credible witness. In addition to taking copious notes contemporaneous with the phone conversations and meetings on the topic, she had instructed her staff to do the same following the first challenge to her decision on SNC in a meeting with the Prime Minister and Clerk of the Privy Council. Those kinds of records add to credibility.
A week later, the Prime Minister’s recently resigned Principal Secretary (and best friend), Gerald Butts, shared an even-tempered presentation before the same committee. Re-assessment by the general public was stirred by the assertion that “two people can experience the same event differently,” a line repeated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the next day in an early morning nationally broadcast press conference.
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate famously questioned when required to judge Jesus. (John 18:38)
What is truth, indeed? And how do we ascertain it, particularly in a politically charged environment that is designed to feed the court of public opinion? Additionally, what is our response to truth?
Some proclaim, “Judge not.” But that is neither the standard by which we make decisions nor the standard advocated by the quoted source of those two words, Jesus of Nazareth.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)
He then went on to illustrate the hypocrisy of judging others by a different standard than that by which one would judge oneself, or desire to be judged by in similar circumstance. It’s not a case of “Judge not” but “Judge even-handedly.”
So how do we judge? How do we seek truth in this situation?
Some skills aid our discernment. To judge even-handedly we must go beyond the “gut” test or the “smell” test, recognize our own biases, and listen to the witnesses.
To illustrate this, I will comment on who I think is telling the truth and why.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s credibility was noted earlier, so I’ll reflect on Mr. Butts’ comments in contradiction.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould offered detailed accounts of 20 meetings and telephone conversations over the course of four months in which she either directly participated or was briefed shortly after they took place, supported by her requirement that her staff take detailed notes of all interactions on the SNC file. Mr. Butts emphasized that they had a friendly relationship, the statements attributed to members of his staff seemed out of character to him, and that the breakdown of trust could have resulted in different perspectives on the same experiences. These are all plausible realities that the average person can understand, however they offer no tangible evidence.
Mr. Butts stated the first time he learned the former Attorney-General considered her final decision on the SNC file had been made was during her testimony on February 27. He also noted Dr. Philpott had informed him on January 7 that Ms. Wilson-Raybould would think the SNC file was the reason for being moved from her post, and Ms. Wilson-Raybould indeed asked if that was the case when contacted later the same day. This hints at contradiction. In reflecting on the role of the Principal Secretary, who also happened to already be best friend of the Prime Minister, I consider Mr. Butts would likely have been briefed on the September meeting between the A-G, Prime Minister and Clerk of the Privy Council at which time the A-G said her decision had been made (since confirmed in the Prime Minister’s press conference). Mr. Butts would have been in daily, or at minimum weekly, debriefing meetings with each of the senior PMO staff alleged to have pressured the A-G or her office. It’s difficult to imagine that over the course of four months (16 weeks) he would not have been aware that challenges to the A-G’s decision were made by the Prime Minister, the Clerk of the Privy Council, the Prime Minister’s legal adviser, the Prime Minister’s adviser on Quebec, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, the Finance Minister and the Finance Minister’s Chief of Staff. After all, they mutually agreed on the “no decision is final” strategy.
For me, this is a reminder of school days. If a teacher sent me to the principal’s office, I was pretty sure they both knew why. If I was called to the principal’s office over the intercom, the teacher might not know why, but I was pretty sure the vice-principal and the principal’s secretary did. Similarly, a meeting with the vice-principal raised my expectation that the principal knew what was going on. If I met with teacher, vice-principal or principal weekly, or alternatively they also phoned my mother, for sixteen to twenty weeks in an effort to get me to change my mind about something, for me that would be pressure! And, the school authorities would all know it was.
Mr. Butts did an admirable job of describing a “he said, she said” scenario. Except, he didn’t say much. He set a tone, but didn’t refute the A-G’s evidence, except to note he experienced one situation differently but could not recall exactly what was said.
Both the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, in his appearances before the Justice Committee, and the Prime Minister, in his media conference, confirmed aspects of the former A-G’s testimony. Yes, the Prime Minister mentioned he was the MP from Papineau in the September 17 meeting, but he says he didn’t intend it in the political sense. The Prime Minister also confirmed that on September 17 the A-G told him of “her intention not to proceed with” a deferred prosection agreement for SNC. Yes, Mr. Butts, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Wernick all mentioned 9,000 jobs and the danger of SNC moving from Montreal, but none could state where the threat of losing those jobs or moving from Montreal came from (challenged by Elizabeth May in questioning of Mr. Butts and Mr. Wernick, and debunked by media, including the CBC). It is also acknowledged that both concerns were not, in any event, relevant factors for consideration in the decision the A-G was required to make.
It’s not necessary to consider further inconsistencies in the statements of the Prime Minister, his former Principal Secretary, or the Clerk of the Privy Council. They are numerous.
The credibility of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony has not been met with evidence but rather with the kind of emotionally persuasive language that echoes any of our own personal experiences. Given such efforts at emotional persuasion is how we, the public, are being treated by politically powerful men, is it any wonder the A-G felt inappropriately pressured?
What do we do if we conclude Ms. Wilson-Raybould is telling the truth?
As a Christian, the advice given by the apostle Paul, to his protégé Timothy is relevant. From a prison cell, where he was detained as a Roman citizen for the crime of being a Christian, Paul wrote,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior… (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
During the #Lavscam media reports, press conferences and Justice Committee hearings I have been praying that the truth of the matter would be made apparent.
Long before #Lavscam arose, I was praying for the Prime Minister, his cabinet and our Parliament.
Now, I have taken the eleven names shared by Ms. Wilson-Raybould as people “who are in high positions” and pray that that they will experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will have opportunity to tell their stories, and will do so truthfully.
We might not have kings or an emperor, as Paul did in the first century Roman Empire. We do have an elected Prime Minister. His public presentations on this issue have been noticeably inconsistent. May our Prime Minister experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit and undertake to truthfully share his version of events. May he also lead the nation in a manner that supports Canadians in leading “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
I’m old enough to remember when the publicly stated focus of Canadian politics was the constitutional mandate for peace, order and good government. That mandate has not changed.
Also unchanged is the independence of the Canadian judiciary and the prosecutorial structure, i.e. the rule of law remains intact.
The security of our democratic rights in a free and democratic society remain intact. There is an election scheduled for this October and Canadians will have opportunity to vote.
However, the divisiveness of the nation’s current political situation requires resolution. So, we will pray.
May Christians participate in the process as citizens in a way that demonstrates “we are ambassadors for Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5:20) regardless of whether we take a partisan interest in the proceedings.