As the fallout continues in the wake of Wednesday’s damning ethics report on the SNC-Lavalin affair, there are still a number of twists and turns in the road ahead for what has turned out to be an enduring political saga.
Here are five:
Will the RCMP lay charges, and if so, when?
A spokesperson for the Mounties said Wednesday they are “examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required.” Hardly compelling stuff, but it raised eyebrows among those more accustomed to the standard “no comment” when it comes to matters not yet under investigation — and leaves open the possibility of criminal charges on the eve of a federal election campaign (although the standards for an ethical breach are far different from those for criminal conduct). Timing will be everything. The RCMP faced criticism in the wake of the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, who was acquitted on all 31 charges after a courtroom spectacle that did nothing to help the doomed re-election bid of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Will that scar tissue — or the lingering memory of the botched prosecution of Vice-Adm. Mark Norman — give the authorities pause?
How will the ethics commissioner’s report play with voters?
The Liberals took a hit in public opinion polls when the SNC-Lavalin controversy first rocked the national capital earlier this year. Recent polls suggested they were recouping some of those losses. Will Wednesday’s fresh wound hurt the Liberals come election day? It’s too early to say. Reaction on social media and in comment sections would suggest those already upset with the Trudeau Liberals and deeply partisan Conservatives, NDP and Green supporters have made up their minds already. Liberal partisans, meanwhile, say they are pleased with the prime minister’s recent show of defiance, refusing to apologize for what he characterizes as trying to protect Canadian jobs. That leaves the undecideds — and among those who believe this election is about trust, the Liberals are likely to take a hit. But local races do matter, and strong local MPs could help ease the sting.
What’s the long game for Jody Wilson-Raybould?
The former attorney general-turned-independent MP at the heart of the saga has expressed vindication from Dion’s report, and dismay at the evidence therein that Trudeau’s lawyer tried to “discredit” her through submissions made to the ethics commissioner. But the savvy political operative within her is not going to leave it at that. As an independent in a race against well-funded, established candidates, she will need to leverage as much political capital as possible to regain her seat in the House of Commons. Just how she might use this report to do that remains a mystery — for now. One thing is certain: she’s not going away. Her forthcoming book is to be released just in time for the election.
What will opposition parties do to capitalize?
Both the Conservatives and NDP have already launched their first move, calling for the Commons ethics committee to be “urgently convened” in order to call Dion to testify. They point to the fact former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson testified after finding in 2017 that Trudeau broke ethics rules when he took his family on vacation in 2016 to the private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan. The meeting will likely happen, but the Liberal majority on the committee will determine the outcome — even successfully blocking testimony will be fodder for their opposition rivals.
Do voters care about SNC-Lavalin anymore?
As the Bard once said: that is the question. In the wake of the marathon hearings and relentless media coverage earlier this year, there was a palpable sense of fatigue when it finally started to die down. Many voters have likely already formed an opinion about how they feel Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould and others behaved on the file and the ethics commissioner’s ruling may not change those views. However, given the uncertainty about how many of the issues raised above could play out on the campaign trail, political watchers and voters alike would be wise not to close the book on SNC-Lavalin yet.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press