Now the OECD is bullying Michael Wernick, too
National Post, 13 March 2019
The clerk bewailed the things said about him on the web 'vomitorium.' Now a respected international organization has added to them
Political scandals bring to light figures who are largely unknown to the wider public. The SNC-Lavalin affair has done such for the clerk of the Privy Council, Canada’s most senior bureaucrat, Michael Wernick.
Wernick is hardly obscure; at a conference of public administration scholars he would be a star keynote speaker. But he remains largely hidden, as is fitting for his role. The SNC business brought him into the light, where he demonstrated quickly that he is better kept in the shadows.
It turns out that he is something of a delicate flower with a paranoid touch, which must be a very stressful way to live. He began his first appearance at the Commons justice committee denouncing the “vomitorium” of social media, and musing that Canada is in danger of political figures being assassinated. The sesquicentennial of the last such assassination, D’Arcy McGee, fell just 11 months ago, so perhaps Wernick just meant that Canada was overdue for another.
In preparation for his second appearance, Canada’s most senior public servant had assigned one his legions of subordinates to compile a list of nasty things said about him on social media. With an evidently wounded amour-propre, Wernick suggested that the committee would want to investigate this shocking phenomenon of people saying mean things on the internet. The women on the committee, in particular, seemed less than impressed that the clerk had stumbled upon a phenomenon heretofore known only to newspaper columnists, sports figures and high school students.
Wernick thought all the foul things said about him constituted an “attempt to intimidate a witness.” One hopes for the steadiness of our government that the chief adviser to the prime minister is not so easily intimidated.
Yet the main charge against Wernick, namely that he engaged in inappropriate pressure on the attorney general for partisan political reasons — the electoral welfare of the governing parties in Ottawa and Quebec — seems ancillary to the main question. Is the clerk competently doing his job?
When the Trudeau Liberals decided to change the law to provide SNC-Lavalin a way out after breaking it, they amended the Criminal Code last summer. And there it reads, in Part XXII Remediation Agreements, in section 715.32 (3), that in deciding whether to negotiate a deal “the prosecutor must not consider the national economic interest, the potential effect on relations with a state other than Canada or the identity of the organization or individual involved.”
Mere mortals like thee and me likely nodded off around section 715.31 and didn’t get around to the prohibition on considering the national economic interest or the status of the company involved. It is imaginable that the prime minister might not have read it either, and not realized that asking the attorney general to consider the impact on jobs — the national economic interest — was contrary to the plain meaning of the law. But surely the clerk, before his deputies started collating filth on social media, had someone whose job it was to tell him that the law prohibited the attorney general from doing what the prime minister wanted her to do?
In fact, it was the clerk’s job to know that, to advise the prime minister in no uncertain terms, and to call off the dogs barking after the attorney general throughout the cabinet. Not doing so seems a failure of competence rather than partisanship.
Wernick belatedly recognized this grievous failure, and attempted to explain it away at the justice committee, arguing last week that the prohibition on considering the national economic interest did not, well, prohibit considering the economic interests of the nation. To the contrary, the prime minister has loudly trumpeted that he “will never apologize” for standing up for the national economic interest, even when the attorney general is prohibited by (his own) law from doing so. Wernick has apparently not advised the prime minister that that line of defence is not consistent with the law.
Continue reading at the National Post: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/father-raymond-j-de-souza-now-the-oecd-is-bullying-michael-wernick-too?video_autoplay=true