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The latest tactic to suppress Wilson-Raybould

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Wait, I thought it was all Scott Brison’s fault.

The usual anonymous sources are now whispering to reporters that the reason Jody Wilson-Raybould was fired as minister of justice and attorney general in January had nothing to do with her refusal to kill the prosecution of a Liberal-friendly firm in a province critical to the party’s election chances, as the prime minister and a phalanx of top officials had pressured her to do. No, according to reports by Canadian Press and CTV, it was because of her pick for a judicial appointment.

It seems Wilson-Raybould, in 2017, recommended Glenn Joyal, chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, to replace the retiring Beverley McLachlin as chief justice of the Supreme Court — a recommendation Justin Trudeau ultimately rejected. Bilingual, Oxford-trained, a former Crown attorney with 20 years’ experience on the bench, Joyal was on a short-list prepared by the prime minister’s own “independent, non-partisan” advisory board for the occasion.

Alas, it seems he failed some other tests. According to CP’s sources, the pick “puzzled” Trudeau, who became “disturbed” after “doing some research into Joyal’s views on the charter.” It turned out he had given a speech to a conservative legal foundation earlier that year in which he had made some mildly critical comments about judicial activism (“With the ’constitutionalizing’ of more and more political and social issues into fundamental rights, the Canadian judiciary has all but removed those issues … from the realm of future civic engagement and future political debate” gives you the flavour).

This is a bog-standard statement of the conservative position on the relationship between courts and legislatures. It is utterly mainstream. But apparently this so “disturbed” Trudeau that, as CTV reports, it “caused (him) to question his justice minister’s judgment.”

Several points are worth noting about this obviously deliberate leak. One is the casual violation of the very confidentiality provisions that are supposedly so sacred to Trudeau that he cannot fully release Wilson-Raybould, even today, from their clutches.

The second is the willingness, in the service of undermining the credibility of the former attorney general, to smear not only her — apparently in addition to being “difficult” and “in it for Jody,” she’s a crazed social conservative — but a sitting judge. (In reponses, Joyal issued a statement noting that he had in fact withdrawn his name from the process, owing to “my wife’s metastatic cancer,” and protesting that “someone is using my previous candidacy to the Supreme Court of Canada to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process.”)

The third is the extraordinarily narrow litmus test Trudeau applies, if the stories are accurate, to judicial appointments. It would appear to be enough to make one speech calling for “a true dialogue” between the judicial and legislative branches to mark a judge as beyond the pale.


Glenn Joyal, chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, in June 2014.

Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia

And fourth is its implausibility. If a prime minister were compelled, every time he disagreed with a ministerial recommendation, to replace that minister, there would be no one left in cabinet. In any case, notwithstanding Wilson-Raybould’s disturbing judgment, she remained minister of Justice for more than a year afterward, though the cabinet was extensively shuffled in the summer of 2018. Indeed, she would “still be there today,” according to the prime minister’s previous statements, but for Brison’s abrupt departure from Treasury Board.

Still, it’s of a piece with a determined push by Liberal partisans to shift the focus from the prime minister’s efforts to interfere with a criminal prosecution to the character and motives of his accusers — not only Wilson-Raybould but Jane Philpott, the former president of Treasury Board. Even respectable surrogates, never mind the seething mobs online, have been brazen enough to suggest the two women are besotted with their own celebrity, or are conspiring in some strange and baseless vendetta against the prime minister.

Journalists — journalists! — compete to be the loudest in their calls for the prime minister to kick them out of caucus. They are tarnishing the party brand! They are tearing the government down! What’s their real agenda? Somehow it does not occur to anyone to ask: Is what they are saying true?

They are challenged to “put up or shut up,” as if the prime minister were not still refusing to waive privilege over important parts of the timeline, or as if the Liberal majority on the Commons justice committee had not voted to refuse to call Wilson-Raybould back to tell the rest of her story.

Wilson-Raybould

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gets ready to leave a post-budget housing announcement in Maple Ridge, B.C., on March 25, 2019.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

But they can speak elsewhere! Liberal partisans insist. They can ignore their confidentiality oaths, or say their piece in the Commons under cover of Parliamentary privilege. About that: Can they? As political science professor James Kelly of Concordia University has pointed out, their options for speaking in Parliament are in fact severely limited. They could make a one-minute member’s statement under Standing Order 31. Or they could speak for 10 minutes in debate on a bill — provided the Liberal whip lets them. Or the House could vote to let them speak in a special debate — if enough Liberals voted with the opposition to allow it. Catch 22!

In any case, this entirely misses the point. The issue is not, why don’t they speak outside the committee, but: why can’t they speak in committee? What possible argument can there be against it? Somehow the issue has become, not the prime minister’s obstructionist tactics, but their own alleged failure to find a way around his obstructions.

This has things back to front. It is up to public office-holders to allay all suspicion about their conduct, especially on such a serious matter. It is not up to the opposition, the press or the public to cut them some slack.

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Lieutenant governor urged to withhold assent on bill 22

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NDP leader Rachel Notley has asked Alberta’s lieutenant-governor to deny assent of Bill 22, controversial legislation introduced Monday that would fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson in the middle of his investigation into the UCP leadership race.

The race was won by Premier Jason Kenney in October 2017.

Gibson has been focusing on the so-called “kamikaze” leadership bid of Jeff Callaway since he took office last year and has laid more than $200,000 in fines against 15 people involved.

The Callaway and Kenney campaigns are alleged to have conspired to bring down Kenney’s main opponent Brian Jean. Both men deny the collaboration.

Notley sent a letter on Tuesday to Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell urging her to take action on a bill Notley calls a “misuse of the authority of the legislature” and “a threat to our democratic institutions” — particularly since the government has moved to limit time for debate.

Position would be terminated

“While I recognize that it is unusual for the lieutenant-governor to exercise this authority, I am convinced that the exceptional nature of this proposed legislation calls for such extraordinary measures,” Notley writes.

The move to fire Gibson is part of Bill 22, an omnibus-style bill introduced Monday.

The proposed legislation would dissolve the independent office of the election commissioner and change the scope of the position so it reports to Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler.

Gibson’s contract, which was in place until 2023, would be terminated upon passage and royal assent of the bill.

The government claims the move achieves greater efficiency and saves $1 million over five years.

Critics say that by removing Gibson, Premier Jason Kenney is thwarting additional investigations into the race.

Finance Minister Travis Toews, the minister responsible for Bill 22, said Resler is free to rehire Gibson if he chooses. Toews said the change will have no effect on ongoing investigations.

The NDP will also seek an emergency debate on the bill Tuesday afternoon. Since the UCP has a majority in the Alberta legislature, the request likely will not be granted.

Notley said on Monday the NDP caucus will also be seeking advice on what legal steps can be taken to stop the government from firing Gibson.

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Snowfall hits Calgary, surrounding area

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Calgary drivers are in for a slow and slippery morning commute as the city gets a little blast of winter weather.

Calgary is expected to see 10 to 15 centimetres of snowfall on Tuesday, according to a warning from Environment Canada.

The agency says a low pressure system swept into southwestern Alberta late Monday and tracked east early Tuesday morning.

The snow is expected to taper off by Wednesday morning.

“Prepare for quickly changing and deteriorating travel conditions. Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots may become difficult to navigate due to accumulating snow,” the warning read.

Traffic was slow on Parkdale Boulevard N.W. as snow continued to fall Tuesday morning. (Scott Crowson/CBC)

The Calgary International Airport is reminding travellers to arrive early and check for any flight-schedule changes due to the snowfall.

Calgary Transit says two bus routes — No. 6 and No. 20 — have been detoured because of the snowfall.

Police said there were six collisions on city streets between midnight and 6:30 a.m.

The snowfall warning also covers:

  • Airdrie, Cochrane, Olds and Sundre.
  • Okotoks, High River and Claresholm.
  • Brooks, Strathmore and Vulcan.
  • Medicine Hat, Bow Island and Suffield.

A complete list of weather warnings can be viewed on Environment Canada’s website.

Rachelle McNiel shovels snow on the sidewalk outside her home on 27th Street N.W. on Tuesday. (Scott Crowson/CBC)

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François-Philippe Champagne to be Canada’s next foreign affairs minister

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François-Philippe Champagne will be Canada’s new foreign affairs minister, CBC-Radio-Canada has learned.

Champagne, who served as the minister of infrastructure and communities in the last Parliament, will replace Chrystia Freeland as Canada’s top diplomat, tasked with stickhandling the sensitive U.S. and China files.

It’s not yet known where Freeland will be moved, but she is expected to preside over a crucial domestic role as regional tensions rise across the country.

Champagne, a former trade lawyer, has served as minister of international trade in the past.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will formally unveil his new cabinet at a ceremony at Rideau Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Radio-Canada is also reporting that Jonathan Wilkinson will be the new environment minister.

Pablo Rodriguez will be the government house leader, in charge of working with opposition parties and keeping the parliamentary agenda on track. It’s a position that takes on heightened importance in a minority government.

Steven Guilbeault, a high-profile Quebec environmental activist, will be the new heritage minister, according to sources with knowledge of the appointments who spoke to CBC-Radio Canada. The sources spoke on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to comment.

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