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Column: on SNC-Lavalin and our government

MP Richard Cannings

Last Wednesday we heard riveting testimony from former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould on her account of events in the SNC-Lavalin story.  This is a long and sordid tale of corruption both abroad and here in Canada.

As the SNC-Lavalin scandal rolls out, I’m reminded of Tommy Douglas’ political fable “Mouseland”. In it, Mr. Douglas tells the tale of a land of mice who keep electing a government of cats, saying “Now I'm not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws--that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice.”

We mice should understand what is at stake here. The real issue is the preferential treatment received by the wealthy and well-connected from those in government, and what the government politicians get in return.

Part of the corruption here in Canada involved an illegal political campaign donation scheme.  Since it is illegal for corporations and unions to donate to federal political parties, SNC-Lavalin gave money to both the Liberal and Conservative parties—more than $100,000 in all—by encouraging employees to donate, then reimbursed those employees through false refunds for personal expenses or payment of fictitious bonuses.  Quebec's Charbonneau Commission, investigating corruption in the awarding of pubic construction contracts, was told SNC-Lavalin operated a similar scheme at the provincial and municipal levels.

It is also illegal for Canadian companies to be involved in corruption and bribery schemes abroad. In February 2015, the RCMP charged SNC-Lavalin with corruption and fraud in connection with nearly $48 million in payments made to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011. SNC-Lavalin has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case is at the preliminary hearing stage.

In 2018, in a change to the criminal code slipped into the omnibus budget implementation bill, the Liberal government created legislation that allowed remediation agreements, which let companies escape criminal prosecution while allowing penalties and a number of other mechanisms to remediate the situation. SNC-Lavalin had lobbied for such a provision in Canadian law and asked both Liberal and Conservative politicians to have such an agreement negotiated in the Libyan case. By using such an agreement, SNC-Lavalin would avoid a ten-year ban on bidding on federal contracts.

But federal prosecutors turned down SNC-Lavalin’s request for a remediation agreement late in 2018 because it did not meet some key provisions of the legislation. Following this, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to order prosecutors to accept SNC-Lavalin’s request for a remediation agreement.

The NDP is calling for a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of the SNC-Lavalin scandal and let all the participants have an opportunity to give their side of the story.  We need to know what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

When big corporations and wealthy individuals get preferential treatment from politicians, it undermines the legitimacy of political parties, politicians and the democratic process. Rather than working for all Canadians, these politicians work for those who can provide the most money.

As we have seen with the SNC-Lavalin scandal, both the Liberals and the Conservatives parties benefitted from illegal donations.  It doesn’t matter whether we have a Conservative or Liberal government, both parties only look out for the big guys.

As Tommy Douglas said, “...the trouble wasn't with the colour of the cats. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.”

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