Canada, Resignations and Challenges

By Chris MacLean

It’s been a busy year trying to keep up with all of the resignations related to political interference.

Were repeated Liberal suggestions that former Minister Wilson-Raybould should have resigned rather than stick to her convictions a factor in yesterday’s resignation of Treasury Board Minister Jane Philpott?

Ms Wilson-Raybould had stood her ground, asserting that the rule of law should not be subjected to political whim – right up until she was removed from the position of Minister of Justice / Attorney General.

She tried to make peace with the demotion, still hoping to be able to work with Justin Trudeau, until the PM goaded her by pointing out that she had not yet resigned from her new position as Minister of Veterans Affairs, alluding that the allegations of impropriety uncovered by the Globe and Mail were untrue. She resigned hours later.

A huge public outcry resulted in her being asked to testify to the allegations before a House of Commons Justice Committee which, rather than sweeping it all under the rug, as many had suspected, was more like a bomb going off.

One important take-away from her testimony was her suggestion that the role of the Attorney General (which must be non-partisan) should be separate from the Cabinet role of the Justice Minister (which is partisan by definition).

The most surprising take-away from the three-plus hours of questioning in that Committee, was the repeated insistence that Wilson-Raybould should have resigned if she was not going to follow the Prime Minister’s wishes.

If you don’t like what your boss is doing, you should resign in protest, not try to change the system from within.

“Why didn’t you resign?” was the question being relentlessly hammered home by Liberal representatives who were grilling former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould during the second half of her testimony before the House of Commons Judicial Committee.

Well, it seems that message has been clearly heard, and Canada has lost another strong female leader in the process.

Justin Trudeau must reflect on the impact of sustained efforts taken (allegedly on his behalf as a Quebec MP) to protect a company because there are jobs and votes at stake.

Did those applying pressure consider that the jobs would no doubt quickly emerge at other companies that have not been caught operating outside the law?

The SNC-Lavalin affair is spotlighting the rule of law and bringing ethics into question. Surely that is not what the PM intended when this all began to percolate.

As Brian Lilley wrote in the Edmonton Sun, “the optics of interfering politically in a corruption trial about bribing government officials are awful.”

In Minister Philpott’s resignation letter, she referenced “the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin,” saying it has “raised serious concerns” for her.

The letter speaks for itself:

March 4, 2019

Dear Prime Minister,

It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville and to have served as Minister of Health, then Minister of Indigenous Services, then President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government. It has been an honour to play a leading role in progress that has shaped our country: bringing Syrian refugees to Canada; legislating a balanced approach to Medical Assistance in Dying; negotiating a health accord with new resources for mental health and home care; improving infrastructure for First Nations to provide clean water on reserve; and reforming child welfare to reduce the over-apprehension of Indigenous children.

However, I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of Cabinet.

In Canada, the constitutional convention of Cabinet solidarity means, among other things, that ministers are expected to defend all Cabinet decisions. A minister must always be prepared to defend other ministers publicly, and must speak in support of the government and its policies. Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister.

Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me. Those concerns have been augmented by the views expressed by my constituents and other Canadians.

The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system. It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our Attorney General should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases. Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.

It grieves me to leave a portfolio where I was at work to deliver on an important mandate. But I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.

Although I must regretfully resign from Cabinet, I will continue to serve Canadians in every other way that I can. I was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville and I intend to continue in that role. I am firmly committed to our crucial platform priorities, especially: justice for Indigenous peoples; and implementing a plan to tackle the existential threat of climate change. Canadians need the assurance that, in all matters, Members of Parliament will act in the best interests of the public. My decision has been made with that spirit and intent.


The Honourable Jane Philpott MD PC MP
Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville

First published by our partner Front Line Defence on March 5, 2019.