‘It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any politician open up honestly, show integrity, tell the truth, without any fear.’
Jody Wilson-Raybould is being hailed for her courage by some B.C. voters and politicians who followed her stunning testimony on Wednesday.
At a hearing of the Commons justice committee, Wilson-Raybould described a “consistent and sustained effort” to prevent construction giant SNC-Lavalin from being prosecuted in a bribery case. The former justice minister accused senior ranks of the federal government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of targeting her with “veiled threats” as they tried to interfere.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called for Trudeau’s resignation, while Green party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said they want a public inquiry into the allegations. Trudeau said Wednesday evening that he “completely” disagreed with Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of the events.
While Wilson-Raybould’s fellow Liberal members of parliament deferred to Trudeau, others said they believed her and offered her praise.
“I think she’s a hero,” said Peter Julian, NDP MP for New Westminster–Burnaby.
Julian said he was dismayed by Trudeau and his government’s alleged conduct, and said he believes Wilson-Raybould lost her job as justice minister as a direct result of her standing up for the integrity of Canada’s court system.
“I think she’s very courageous,” Julian said. “Pressure was put on her. She talked about veiled threats and consequences being repeatedly expressed to her.”
The testimony itself was unlike anything he has seen in his decades in Canadian politics, he added.
“I think it should raise flags for all Canadians about how this prime minister and how this government deals with fundamental issues of principals and our court system, and all the principals that, I think, for so many Canadians they hold dear,” he said.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Central Okanagan–Similkameen–Nicola, said he found Wilson-Raybould’s testimony detailed, specific and explosive. He was stunned when she described the pressure she had been put under.
“The prime minister, by the very act of the allegations and subsequent coverup, has lost the moral authority to lead this country,” Albas said.
“It’s the right of every Canadian to have equality under the law and Mr. Trudeau, by trying to grant a favour to friends in his company, jeopardized that by intervening in what is supposed to be an independent prosecution.”
Albas said Raybould-Wilson was in a cabinet position for good reason, and took the role seriously under intense pressure.
“The litany of people that put pressure on her is breathtaking, based on her testimony,” said Jenny Kwan, NDP MP for Vancouver East. “The prime minister maintained and continues to maintain that there was no inappropriate pressure put on Ms. Wilson-Raybould but clearly, based on her account, the pressure was there to see.”
Kwan, whose riding borders Wilson-Raybould’s in Vancouver Granville, said she often sees the former justice minister at public events. She admires the courage it has taken her to testify, she said.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Ms. Wilson-Raybould, even though we are on different sides of the political spectrum,” Kwan said. “This situation really has just reinforced that for me.”
Green Leader May, who is MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands, said that while Raybould-Wilson was constrained in what she could say by solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentially requirements, “she was entirely credible, she was so impressive and displayed such integrity.”
Raybould-Wilson made it clear that she had been subjected to a pattern of inappropriate pressure from politicians and, what May found most shocking, from the civil service, she said.
“What Jody Wilson-Raybould revealed today, Canadians would be forgiven for having this shake their confidence in our institutions,” May said. “To serve the interests of SNC-Lavalin over the interests of Canadians institutions and our constitution is deeply, deeply troubling.”
Mira Oreck, director of stakeholder relations for B.C. Premier John Horgan, ran against Wilson-Raybould in the Vancouver Granville riding in 2015. She declined to be interviewed but said she stood by a message she posted Wednesday on Twitter.
“The calm, strength and clarity of @Puglaas in this testimony is stunning and inspiring,” Oreck wrote, referring to Wilson-Raybould’s Twitter handle, Puglaas, which means “woman born to noble people” in the Kwak’wala language.
Wednesday morning at Wilson-Raybould’s Vancouver constituency office, staff didn’t want to comment ahead of her testimony but said they planned to watch it live in the office’s small lobby.
Dozens of passersby, asked whether they were following the testimony, said they were not keeping a close eye on federal politics. Some said they were preoccupied by events in the U.S., particularly the bombshell testimony of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.
But a few said they either looked forward to reviewing Wilson-Raybould’s testimony later in the day, or had been tuning into broadcasts as often as possible.
“I was so impressed,” said Alan Rees, 77, of Richmond. “If anybody wants to know why there is such a disdain for politicians, I think this illustrated it. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any politician open up honestly, show integrity, tell the truth, without any fear. A lifelong conservative may just change his mind.”
Rees lamented that any action on her testimony might be delayed by the federal election on Oct. 21, 2019. But how it is handled will show to the world what democracy means in Canada, he added.
“What should happen is a few people should be smacked on the knuckles and maybe fined, and perhaps even go to jail,” he said.
Scott Girling, 57, from South Surrey, said he was disappointed with the federal government, its “silence” and Trudeau’s attitude toward the situation.
“I just wanted her to be able to tell her story, tell the truth, whatever that is,” he said. “I’m sure people will be scrambling to try to save their name or the jobs, or save face for the particular party that they’re with.”
Barbara Onneken, 62, from Maple Ridge, said she wasn’t surprised by what Wilson-Raybould said in her testimony.
“We expected that and we’re really happy that she did get to speak, because it is her right to speak,” she said.
“He (Trudeau) needs to come clean.”
The Vancouver Granville Liberal riding association could not be reached for comment.
University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford told Postmedia News that he watched Wilson-Raybould’s testimony in class with students.
“My students thought that this would be damaging to the prime minister. That it’s hard to deny that there was a far amount of pressure being applied.”
Telford said Wilson-Raybould had indicated she would run again in her riding of Vancouver Granville in the October election.
“We think as a Liberal, but we aren’t entirely sure about that,” he said.
He said that the one important thing that Wilson-Raybould did not reveal was why it was decided in September that that the bribery charges against SNC Lavalin should go to criminal prosecution and not be dealt with through a remediation process as the prime minister apparently wanted.
With files from David Carrigg