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‘A little baloney’ in PM’s claim about solicitor-client privilege on SNC-Lavalin

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OTTAWA — “In the matter of solicitor-client privilege, the member opposite must know that there are real dangers of unintended consequences, particularly on the two court cases currently wending their way through the courts.”

– Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Feb. 19, 2019

Federal opposition parties resumed their demands this week that Trudeau let former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speak to allegations that she felt pressured to avert a criminal trial for Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet last week, has said she cannot comment because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege, which still applies even though she’s no longer the justice minister and attorney general.

The Conservatives and NDP want Trudeau to waive that privilege so Wilson-Raybould can offer her side of the story.

But in response to such a demand from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer during question period on Tuesday, the prime minister said doing so could harm two court proceedings involving SNC-Lavalin.

Those involve the fraud and bribery case against SNC-Lavalin in connection with its work in Libya nearly a decade ago, and the company’s appeal of the decision by federal prosecutors not to negotiate an agreement that would let it avoid a criminal trial in that case.

So is it true that revealing the discussions between Wilson-Raybould and the prime minister or members of his staff and cabinet have “unintended consequences” on the two cases?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of “no baloney” to “full of baloney” (complete methodology below).

Trudeau’s remark earns a rating of “a little baloney.”

THE FACTS

SNC-Lavalin is facing fraud and bribery charges in relation to business ties between it and Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya and could be excluded from future government contracts here and elsewhere if convicted.

The federal justice minister is unique in that whoever holds the position is also the attorney general, the government’s top lawyer. In that vein, the government can consult the attorney general for legal advice and those discussions can be protected from disclosure.

But the Globe and Mail first reported this month, citing unnamed sources, that Wilson-Raybould felt pressured last fall to intervene and get federal prosecutors to offer the company a deal that would see it pay a fine rather than face a criminal trial. She refused.

Federal prosecutors in October rejected SNC-Lavalin’s request to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement and pay for the criminal case to be dropped. The company has since appealed that decision and is waiting to find out whether a court will hear its request for a review.

These are the two cases Trudeau mentioned in response to Scheer.

The Liberals have admitted to numerous private discussions about SNC-Lavalin, including a meeting that Wilson-Raybould had with Trudeau in September and another between her and Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, in December.

Trudeau and Butts have denied directing or otherwise pressuring Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled out as justice minister and attorney general to veterans affairs last month in a move widely seen as a demotion. She resigned from cabinet Feb. 12.

While Wilson-Raybould has refused to talk about those discussions publicly, citing solicitor-client privilege, she says she has hired former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she can say.

Trudeau has similarly said that he is consulting Wilson-Raybould’s replacement, Justice Minister David Lametti, on what parts of their conversation can be safely revealed.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Whether solicitor-client privilege applies to interactions between the attorney general and other officials depends on the circumstances — and when it is invoked, the circumstances that give rise to the claim of privilege should be spelled out, says Toronto lawyer Lee Akazaki of Gilbertson Davis LLP.

That hasn’t happened in this case, aside from Trudeau saying that he told Wilson-Raybould that the decision whether to stop SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution was up to her and that the potential economic ramifications of a guilty verdict for a major company were raised.

That makes it hard to asses the degree to which waiving solicitor-client privilege could affect the criminal case and judicial review.

Assuming the attorney general was asked for advice about the ongoing prosecution, Akazaki says that advice “should be kept confidential in order to prevent any appearance of interference by the executive branch of government in an ongoing judicial proceeding.”

That is particularly relevant in a criminal case or judicial review such as those facing SNC-Lavalin, said Andrew Martin, an expert on legal ethics at the University of British Columbia, who added that once privilege has been waived it can’t be restored.

“I imagine it would inform SNC-Lavalin’s arguments on the judicial review, depending on what was said,” Martin said, “and they could probably use what was said as part of their application for judicial review.”

University of Ottawa law expert Elizabeth Sanderson, who previously served for many years as a federal-government lawyer, echoed the view that SNC-Lavalin’s lawyers could turn around and use any disclosed conversations between Wilson-Raybould and others in their defence.

All of which assumes, she said, that the discussions did touch on the details of the case and were not simply an attempt by Trudeau or his staff to get the former attorney-general to use her powers to intervene.

“There’s a real distinction between talking about the evidence or the legal opinion they developed to say why they think they have to pursue this case, which may reveal some of their strategy in litigation, versus a flat-out: ‘Don’t pursue this case.’ Which has nothing to do with the case.”

THE VERDICT

Any analysis of the prime minister’s assertion about the impact of waiving solicitor-client privilege is muddied by the fact neither Wilson-Raybould nor Trudeau have elaborated on the nature and context of the discussions that took place around the SNC-Lavalin case.

Still, the fact the case was discussed at the highest levels of government does raise the very real prospect that the contents of those discussions could have an impact on the proceedings and thus any waiver should be carefully considered.

“I think what he said is quite fair,” said Martin. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s politically convenient. I don’t know that he’s unhappy with this answer. But it is the correct answer.”

Akazaki said it is imperative the government provide more information about the nature of the discussions between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, but that when it comes to the prime minister’s comment: “Based on what we know at the present time, it is accurate.”

The statement is correct based on what the prime minister has said, but he’s keeping crucial details to himself. For that reason, Trudeau’s comment ranks as “a little baloney.”

METHODOLOGY

The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

No baloney — the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Alberta

Prominent Alberta Conservative Voice Explains: Why I am voting Yes to End Equalization…

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From Danielle Smith

To me, equalization, the health transfer and the social transfer combined, are a measure of how much the federal government is overtaxing us. The Constitution has a very limited role for the federal government. The federal government likes to use its spending power to meddle in areas that aren’t its jurisdiction. My view is this – if you want to pass policy for health care, long term care, drug plans, day care, welfare – then RUN FOR PROVINCIAL OFFICE. Don’t take money from the provinces, launder it through the federal bureaucracy and then divvy it up unfairly to give back more money to the provinces that you think will vote for you. (Yep – that’s how I see it.)

So let’s analyze the numbers a bit shall we? I have three tables to show you that tell the whole story.

The level of overtaxation (on these three programs alone) is easily quantified. In the 2021-22 fiscal year it will be $83.890 billion. In just 10 years, the federal overtaxation has grown from $60.085 billion – that’s a 40 per cent increase.

Per person Ottawa transfers an average of $2,181. But of course we know, because of equalization, some provinces are more equal than others.

Take a look at Alberta. Our transfers have grown from $3.661 billion to $6.835 billion in the same period, or from $946 per person to $1,523 per person.

Now take a look at Quebec. Their transfers have grown from $17.329 to $26.306 in the same 10 year period, or $2,148 per person to $3,039 per person.

How would an equal per capital model impact the other provinces?…

In my column, I said we should eliminate equalization and instead do equal per person transfers to every province. If we did that, Alberta would receive $9.788 billion this year, a difference of $2.953 billion more. Alberta isn’t the only one getting hosed. Look at the final line in the table below. So are BC and Ontario. Saskatchewan is shortchanged $781 million, and poor Newfoundland and Labrador, which in on the brink of bankruptcy but still doesn’t qualify for equalization, would get $343 million more.  If we eliminated equalization and gave everyone the same per person amount, Quebec would receive $18.879 billion or $7.427 billion less than is expected this year. As it should be. Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador should not be subsidizing Quebec.

There are a couple of things I really like about a per person transfer model.

  1. It encourages provinces to compete to attract people, because the more people you attract the more dollars you attract.

I understand the Fairness Alberta argument about changing equalization. They suggest a markup to market on the electricity price that hydro rich provinces charge, they want to stop growing equalization with GDP growth, and they want to account for the different cost of services in each province. But in the end, if we create a program that rewards provinces only for attracting people then they have to implement policies that attract people. Like having low rates of taxation, making it easier to start a business, having affordable housing, and so on. There is a lot that is in the power of government. But if we keep giving provinces more money as they adopt policies that reduce their attractiveness it is counterproductive.

  1. A per person model is going to give a greater benefit to smaller provinces with lower costs of services than larger provinces with a larger cost of service.

Even if making Alberta pay more is the objective of Ottawa, an equal per capita transfer amount still has Alberta paying disproportionately into the pot. Alberta has higher wages, higher workforce participation rates, higher spending so we will stay pay more in personal and corporate income taxes, GST, fuel tax, EI, CPP and other federal taxes, than we receive back in per person federal transfers. This won’t eliminate the net payer status we have; but it will get us on our way to narrowing the gap.

  1. Once we have established  a single per person transfer that is the same across the country we can move to the next step, which is convert the cash transfer into tax points instead.

If Alberta was getting its proper share of transfers – $9.79 billion – we could then move to the next stage of negotiation with Ottawa. Which is to convert the cash to tax points instead. I’ll leave it to the accountants to figure out the precise numbers, but conceptually let’s say it would mean reducing the federal income tax by 5 percentage points across all categories and increasing provincial income tax by 5 percentage points across all categories. The reason to do that is this, as Alberta grows so would it’s share of own-source revenues. Rather than have Ottawa continue to capitalize on our growth, we would.

  1. Once we have fixed the problems with federal provincial transfers, we can move on to fix CPP and EI next.

Alberta pays disproportionately into CPP and EI too – we pay roughly 30 per cent of the premiums for CPP and only get back about 10 per cent of the spending. I haven’t done the calculation on EI but I suspect it’s even worse. If we can stop the overtaxation on income tax, these two programs should be next.

Enough is enough…

For too long we have just accepted that this is the way the country works. I think we’ve been bullied into thinking that paying disproportionately into Confederation was our penance for the federal government cancelling the National Energy Program. It’s almost as if we collectively felt that if only we paid off central Canada, they wouldn’t come after our resource wealth again. How wrong we were. Now Quebec is so bloody minded they don’t care if they hurt themselves by killing off our energy industry.

That’s fine. If they don’t want the revenues that come from our energy resources, we should be happy to keep it for ourselves. Let’s start to show them we are serious by strongly voting yes to end equalization on October 18.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

O Chi-Nada: The People’s Republic Of Dunder Mifflin

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Former PM Lester Pearson once fashioned Canada as “honest broker” to the world. With its long history of showing up for the toughest fights, Canada had the credibility to referee between America and the world’s other nations from its perch in the U.N., NATO, the Five Eyes Group and more. Pearson’s crowning moment was negotiating an end to the Suez Canal crisis in 1956-57.

Today’s PM, Justin Trudeau, has turned Canada into the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company with him as Michael Scott, the vain, ridiculous manager of the outfit. As the recent Two Michaels hostage drama demonstrates, no one takes Canada seriously anymore. They even create new security groups (the recent AUKUS) just so Trudeau’s Woke frat party can be left out.

But in the best comic tradition, Trudeau and his coterie of activists and climate freaks don’t get that they’re laughed at. Like Michael Scott they believe that they’re in charge, the situation is not hopeless. Like Scott, who claimed to be “two-fifteenths” Native American, Trudeau pretends to be simpatico with the indigenous people and a supporter of women whom he molests.

If you were looking to sum up just how hollowed-out the Canadian dream has become under Trudeau and previous Liberal governments, the China file might suffice. The brazen kidnapping of Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig– after Canada put Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou under house arrest pending extradition to the U.S.— is the most public sign of how Canada is now a non-entity globally.

Trudeau made cautious statements about repatriating the men, but it was always timid, don’t-get-them-mad word salads. No one was fooled. NBA players show more gumption faced with the Chinese politburo— and they have none. While the rest of the Western alliance was rejecting Huawei to build 5G networks, Canada was an easy mark. No wonder China rejected Trudeau and his ambitious Sino-Canadian dreams package in December of 2017.

The Huawei/ Two Michaels pantomime is a small speck of an iceberg that has resulted from the Chinese infatuation established by Liberal PM Jean Chretien and son-in-law André Desmarais who planted their flag in China following leaving the PMO. Seduced by China’s abundant markets and “easy” profits, they created a China cult in Canada of business and political leaders drawn in by Communist Party “efficiency”.

The signpost that Liberals had it bad for the Chinese came in Trudeau’s infamous 2013 fanboy quote: “You know, there’s a level of admiration I actually have for China …. Because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say ‘we need to go green  fastest…we need to start investing in solar.’” (How about that one-child policy, eh Justin?)

He wasn’t alone. In the 2019 federal election, John McCallum, the former Liberal cabinet minister and Canadian ambassador to China who took $73,000 in free trips to China, was free with advice on how the Chinese might manipulate that election. “Anything that is more negative against Canada will help the Conservatives, (who) are much less friendly to China than the Liberals,” McCallum told the South China News. “.. it would be nice if things will get better between now and (Canada’s federal) election (in October).”

Over the past generation (the majority of it under Liberal governments) Canada has become a dumping ground for Chinese Communists looking to launder money, steal copyrights and control Canada’s economy. With little pushback from Trudeau’s government. Anthony Campbell, the former head of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, noted Beijing was spreading around so much money— and the federal government was so inattentive to the implications— “that nobody at the centre of power in Canada was capable of articulating what the words “national security” even meant anymore.”

The current panic over foreign ownership of Canada’s residential housing stock is symptomatic of the passive takeover of its economy.

It’s why Trudeau was happy to have foreign affairs left out of the Leaders Debates in 2021 in favour of the climate politics of 2050. Otherwise he might have had to reveal how People’s Liberation Army scientists managed to obtain high-level security clearances to undertake research at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. And why they were spirited out of the country.

Such is Canada’s supine relationship with China that it is no longer trusted by its former allies. In one of his coherent moments, U.S. president Joe Biden said his country has no better ally than Australia, which has been insubordinate to the Chinese while Canada’s elite rolled over. Trudeau, dazzled by climate fantasies, doesn’t seem to notice when G7 leaders mocked him for claiming he was the “dean” of the group with Angela Merkel’s departure.

Or when a secret vaccine-development agreement with China’s CanSino Biologics ended when Beijing reneged on the deal and blocked shipments to Canada.

If he were paying attention Trudeau might have been alert to the growing influence China exerts in Canada’s politics. The CPP think nothing of reaching across the Pacific to smack Chinese Canadians who veer from the party line on the economy, trade, Taiwan, Hong Kong and more. When the Tories’ platform said they would “stand up” to China on a list of issues by banning Huawei Technologies Co. from 5G networks and withdrawing Canada from the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank you knew there’d be pushback.

Sure enough, Conservative candidates In the just-concluded election saw votes hold steady in almost all constituencies across the country. But in ridings with a heavily Chinese-Canadian vote CPC candidates were bombarded by third-party claims they were disloyal Chinese for attacking the CPP. China’s ambassador, Cong Peiwu, said Beijing opposed politicians who were “smearing” China. Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times described CPC policy as “toxic” and “hostile” to China.

On election night, Liberal preference in Ontario dropped 2.7 percentage points and the Conservative vote went  up 2 percentage points. But not in ridings with heavy Chinese concentrations.  In 2019, Conservative Joe Chiu won his seat over Liberal Joe Peschisolido, 41.7 per cent to 35.1 per cent. On Monday, he lost to Liberal Parm Bains, 42.8 per cent to 33.4 per cent.

In BC Richmond Centre, Alice Wong won in 2019 with a 20.5 point margin. In 2021 he was defeated by Liberal Wilson Miao, who led her by 39.4 per cent to 37.1 per cent. The drops were consistent in other heavily Chinese ridings across the country. The CPP had apparently won Trudeau re-election.

Not that Canadians are crying out for greater ties to China.  Terry Galvin points out in The National Post: “ A poll carried out in August showed that two-thirds of Canadians want Ottawa to take a harder line with China. An Angus Reid poll released in March showed that only one in 10 Canadians agrees that Canada should pursue closer trade ties with China.”

For all intents and purposes the modern Liberal Party’s image of China remains lost in the gauzy Norman Bethune days of plucky Mao and the People’s Party. The damage to its sovereignty is incalculable— and getting worse. Not that the PM knows. As Michael Scott said, “I love inside jokes. I hope to be a part of one someday.”

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author of Cap In Hand is also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, his new book with his son Evan is called InExact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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