Don Martin: SNC-Lavalin proves it's still who you know in the PMO
The entire SNC-Lavalin mess, according to former Trudeau top aide Gerry Butts, was just the normal operations of government.
If so, one image sticks in the mind from this week’s testimony to the justice committee.
Last October, Justin Trudeau’s powerful deputy minister took a phone call from SNC-Lavalin chair Kevin Lynch.
Lynch, who served as top bureaucrat until 2009, was asking Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick about the status of his company’s demand for a deferred prosecution deal.
The way Wernick remembers it, nothing improper was said, although he admitted to being fuzzy on another conversation later in his testimony because he wasn’t “wearing a wire,” so perhaps there are memory gaps.
But this encounter cries out, nay, SCREAMS special access to the most powerful forces inside government by a private sector interest aiming to arm-twist the attorney general for the first-ever deal of its kind.
That deal, incidentally, sprung from legislation created precisely for this company’s legal troubles. It ensured corruption charges would disappear with a fine, but without a trial, without a conviction and without an interruption in the flow of government contracts.
It all adds up to a sense of corporate entitlement wrapped in the favour-currying reality of cozy, donation-driven political connections.
It wasn’t nearly as jarring, but there’s also the curious example of long-time Gerry Butts friend and Queen’s Park political partner Steven Dyck.
He now serves as government relations boss for SNC-Lavalin in Ontario and discussed company business with Butts in early 2017, just as legislative lifejackets were being planned to keep the company afloat.
Both the PMO and SNC confirm the friendship and the dinner, but point out it was a lobbyist-registered encounter and thus all above board.
Still… optics matter.
Now, because I clearly wasn’t born yesterday, I also know these sorts of relationships matter.
The lucrative Ottawa lobbying industry wouldn’t exist if connections didn’t count in procuring government favours for clients.
Yet watching this week’s revelations unfold takes you back 17 years to a young aspiring Liberal leadership candidate attacking the mutual back-scratching society we call government.
No longer, Paul Martin declared, would everything pivot on who you know in the PMO.
Sadly, if the SNC-Lavalin caper proves anything, knowing the PMO is precisely how you still get things done.
And for added protection, get to know the PCO as well.
After all, to these Liberals, it’s all just normal government operations.
That’s the Last Word.
Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick took a call from SNC-Lavalin chair Kevin Lynch on his unlisted number while attending a gala.