What will be the bigger political scandal involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government? SNC-Lavalin is well out in front, but the Norman affair is slowly starting to catch up.
It all begins with a $668-million deal signed by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper with the Quebec-based shipbuilding company Chantier Davie Canada Inc. just before the 2015 federal election.
This arrangement to convert an existing civilian cargo ship into an interim supply ship was ultimately approved by the incoming Trudeau government.
But James Cudmore of CBC News revealed that a Liberal cabinet committee had apparently “delayed deciding on the deal for at least two months, provoking anger inside some corners of the shipbuilding industry and fears inside the navy.” This delay would have cost Canadian taxpayers in excess of $89 million.
It was also revealed that Irving Shipbuilding Inc., a major rival to Chantier Davie, was displeased about this deal. The company sent letters to four Liberal ministers, Harjit Sajjan (Defence), Judy Foote (Public Services), Scott Brison (Treasury Board) and Bill Morneau (Finance), in hopes of persuading them to change course.
How did these private, closed-door cabinet discussions become public knowledge?
The RCMP investigated and charged Vice-Admiral Mark Norman with breach of trust, alleging he leaked top-secret documents to Cudmore and a Chantier Davie executive.
The 30-year Royal Canadian Navy officer was appointed vice chief of the defence staff, the third-highest position in the Canadian Forces, in August 2016. He was temporarily relieved of his duties in January 2017 due to the investigation and permanently removed last June after the charges were filed.
The Liberals were determined to take the legal route with Norman. The PM noted on two occasions that it would “inevitably” lead to “court processes.” The case was set to be heard in August. The maximum penalty was five years in prison.
But everything started to unravel this year.
In March, some media caught wind of a request from Norman’s lawyer, Marie Henein, for a copy of a secret 60-page memo written about her client by Michael Wernick, then-clerk of the Privy Council. (Yes, that’s the same individual involved in controversial discussions with now-former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin.)
Henein had tried to get hold of this memo and other documents for months, but the federal government blocked the request, claiming solicitor-client privilege. (Gee, where have we heard this before? Oh, that’s right – the SNC-Lavalin controversy.)
Political observers started to wonder what the Liberals were so concerned about. Or what they may be trying to hide. Or whether this affair was much ado about nothing.
Chief government whip Andrew Leslie, a retired Canadian Forces lieutenant general and star Liberal candidate in 2015, then unexpectedly announced on May 1 that he wasn’t going to run for re-election. Two days later, he confirmed he was willing to be a witness on Norman’s behalf and against his own government.
Even if Leslie and Norman were understood to be friends, this was still a pretty stunning step.
The Liberals were clearly spooked. On May 8, Crown prosecutors stayed the charges against Norman. The federal government, through Sajjan, announced they would pay his entire legal bill – although he apparently won’t get his old job back.
Is there more to come?
That’s almost a given.
It’s an astonishing moment in this troubled government’s life. The Liberals attempted to destroy the reputation and career of a respected naval officer because he apparently had the audacity to oppose a decision.
They railroaded Norman for more than two years, finally called it a day when it became clear there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him, threw some money at the problem and apparently figured it would go away.
Every controversy, like SNC-Lavalin and now the Norman affair, shines more light on a Liberal government arrogantly abusing the power and trust some voters gave them in 2015.
As Trudeau’s sunny ways turn into dark days, many Canadians are getting ready to abandon him in the fall. Is it any wonder?
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.