Gaming the Law


Convivium, 14 February 2019

Former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s miscue, Father Raymond de Souza notes, was to insist on the rule of law in a game where the rules are rigged.

About SNC-Lavalin, let us first stipulate that this is not about a particular lack of ethics or character in Justin Trudeau. It’s more general than that. Had Paul Martin, or Jean Chretien, or Brian Mulroney been in power, they would have likely done exactly what he did. I don’t mean breaking the law by instructing the attorney general to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin. I mean writing the law that the made a deal with SNC-Lavalin possible in the first place.

They spent their entire adult lives marinating in the back-scratching, insider-dealing, influence-trading world of Quebec’s political-industrial complex, learning how to grease the pole the advancement and the palms of those who could do the advancing. That’s how they spent their young adult years, even as Justin spent his as a snowboard instructor.

Is it enough to recall that Brian Mulroney – with his friend Lucien Bouchard – got his start in public life at the Cliche Commission, established by the government of Quebec in 1974 to investigate the involvement of organized crime in the world of construction and government contracts. It is not to be confused with the Charbonneau Commission, established by the government of Quebec in 2011 to investigate the involvement of organized crime in the world of construction and government contracts. I believe le mot juste is plus ça change…

Certainly the weight of Quebec’s editorial opinion and media consensus regarding SNC-Lavalin is that Ottawa does not understand how things are done in Quebec. If a major employer is in danger, solidarity requires that it be given all possible aid – direct subsidies, preferential contracts and, if necessary, an opportune change in the law to dispense with nettlesome criminal charges.

That is the real SNC-Lavalin scandal. Not that a prime minister’s henchmen henchpeople may have illegally sought to influence the attorney general, but that the law was changed to benefit SNC-Lavalin itself. The scandal, as is often remarked, is not what is illegal, but what is legal.

A little history. SNC-Lavalin is part of the Building of the Modern Quebec™, Canada’s largest engineering firm with thousands of Quebec employees and projects all over the world. In 2006, Stephen Harper – our only prime minister of consequence since 1968 who did not emerge from the Quebec political-industrial complex – passed his post-sponsorship scandal reform measures, which included a ten-year prohibition on federal government contracts for firms convicted of corruption.

SNC-Lavalin is the kind of gargantuan firm that has teams of lawyers who would have advised senior management that bribing officials in say, Libya, could now have serious consequences at home, with access denied to the public trough. SNC-Lavalin went ahead with its bribery program in Libya anyway on the grounds that everyone does it and calculating that any adverse consequences back home could be, well, taken care of.

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