A MOST CU­RI­OUS DE­CI­SION

PressReader - BRUCE_CAROL_ROWE Channel - A MOST CU­RI­OUS DE­CI­SION
Aday or so af­ter my ar­rival at Queen’s Park to cover the On­tario leg­is­la­ture for the Na­tional Post, a bearded, rangy, 30-some­thing bean­pole of a man un­folded him­self on the ratty old of­fice couch.That was my in­tro­duc­tion to Ger­ald Butts. It was 2003, he was the prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary to the leader of the Op­po­si­tion, Dal­ton McGuinty, and his of­fice was kitty cor­ner to mine.He spent most of his day spin­ning the re­porters of the Queen’s Park press gallery like tops. The ar­chi­tect of McGuinty’s vic­to­ri­ous plat­form, he made sure the leader of the Op­po­si­tion’s of­fice was moved to the point far­thest away from the press gallery, af­ter tak­ing power.Butts still spins the small band of jour­nal­ists on Par­lia­ment Hill he talks to reg­u­larly.He and I don’t of­ten agree and I like to think I have de­vel­oped a jour­nal­is­tic white blood cell count that makes me im­mune to his pro­gres­sive bacil­lus.But he is very per­sua­sive — one of the three smartest peo­ple I have dealt with in Cana­dian pol­i­tics (the oth­ers be­ing Stephen Harper and for­mer Bank of Canada gov­er­nor David Dodge).In 16 years, I have never had oc­ca­sion to think he lied to me, so I am obliged to take at face value his state­ment that he has done noth­ing wrong, and that he quit as Justin Trudeau’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary on Mon­day be­cause he doesn’t want to be a dis­trac­tion for a gov­ern­ment fight­ing to re­tain its cred­i­bil­ity against the back­ground of the SNCLavalin af­fair.Yet it is a cu­ri­ous de­ci­sion. In the vac­uum of in­for­ma­tion around the SNC case, there was noth­ing that made Butts’s po­si­tion un­ten­able. There prob­a­bly didn’t need to be, given his ex­treme sen­si­tiv­ity to crit­i­cism.The sug­ges­tion that he has done any­thing un­to­ward will have stung him. The idea that he would cling to his job would seem grubby.I asked him re­cently about ru­mours that he might run for the Lib­er­als in his na­tive Cape Bre­ton. “Not now, not there, not any­where, not ever,” he said. “I have been around enough suc­cess­ful politi­cians to know what it takes and I ain’t got it.”He’s right. The proud son of a Cape Bre­ton coal miner, he’s too thin-skinned. And prob­a­bly too hon­est.I CAT­E­GOR­I­CALLY DENY THE AC­CU­SA­TION THAT I OR ANY­ONE ELSE IN (THE PMO) PRES­SURED MS. WIL­SON-RAY­BOULD … IT IS IN THE BEST IN­TER­ESTS OF THE OF­FICE AND ITS IM­POR­TANT WORK FOR ME TO STEP AWAY. — GER­ALD BUTTSIn his res­ig­na­tion state­ment, he said he cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nies the ac­cu­sa­tion that he or any­one else in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice pres­sured for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter and at­tor­ney gen­eral Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould to as­sist SNC-Lavalin in be­ing con­sid­ered for a de­ferred pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment.Is it pos­si­ble Trudeau asked for his res­ig­na­tion? This is the man the prime min­is­ter called his “best friend and clos­est ad­viser” in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.One cabi­net min­is­ter said he’s never seen a re­la­tion­ship like theirs. “No­body talks to the prime min­is­ter, every­body has to go through Gerry. When Jean Chré­tien calls for Justin, he gets a call back from Gerry. Even Justin thinks it was Gerry who got him elected,” he said.It is pos­si­ble that Trudeau asked Butts to go be­cause there is ev­i­dence he pushed too hard on the at­tor­ney gen­eral. It would cer­tainly al­low him to say he’d al­ready cleaned house, were the ev­i­dence to emerge.It is fea­si­ble that Trudeau was feel­ing the heat from cau­cus over his ca­bal of pow­er­ful, un­elected ad­vis­ers and de­cided to throw a man over­board. There will have been many voices whis­per­ing in his ear that Butts had be­come a li­a­bil­ity.All these things are pos­si­ble — just hard to imag­ine.The prime min­is­ter talked about their “con­tin­ued friend­ship,” as he thanked Butts for his ad­vice and “de­vo­tion.”Trudeau can be as ruth­less as a rat­tlesnake, if it fits his elec­toral cal­cu­lus — just ask the Se­nate Lib­eral cau­cus. But un­less Butts is com­pletely com­pro­mised, fir­ing him seems a bad ca­reer move. Trudeau has leaned on him for ad­vice since they met at McGill Univer­sity.On the avail­able ev­i­dence, it seems likely that some­one sug­gested to Wil­son-Ray­bould that the gov­ern­ment would like her to con­sider a plea agree­ment with SNC. Butts de­nies it was him or any­one else in the PMO.Yet it also seems highly likely that Wil­son-Ray­bould was shuf­fled to be min­is­ter of vet­er­ans af­fairs last month be­cause she had not taken a de­ci­sion that would have played par­tic­u­larly well for the Lib­er­als in Que­bec — that is, tak­ing the SNC case away from the di­rec­tor of pub­lic prose­cu­tions and strik­ing a re­me­di­a­tion deal that would help pro­tect the cor­po­rate in­tegrity of a ma­jor em­ployer in the province.Butts said his re­la­tion­ship with Wil­son-Ray­bould has “al­ways been de­fined by mu­tual re­spect, can­dour and an hon­est de­sire to work to­gether.” But he also prides him­self on the big pic­ture — and to re­al­ize the goals he has set on cli­mate change and else­where, the Lib­er­als need to be re-elected. That would be greatly aided by an SNC deal in Que­bec, which prob­a­bly ex­plains Wil­son-Ray­bould’s de­mo­tion and her re­place­ment with a Que­bec MP, David Lametti.Tak­ing a step back, Butts’s res­ig­na­tion is a mile­stone in the life of this gov­ern­ment.He has be­come a fig­ure al­most as con­tentious as Trudeau him­self.Butts Derange­ment Syn­drome imag­ines a Sven­gali, a Cyrano de Berg­erac, a Rasputin-type fig­ure, who holds mes­meric sway over Trudeau and uses his in­flu­ence for sin­is­ter pur­pose.In re­al­ity, the re­la­tion­ship is more in­ter-de­pen­dent than that — Butts has the deeper pol­icy roots but Trudeau has his own con­vic­tions on gen­der, the en­vi­ron­ment and the role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. His role is to be the front man. “I’ll fig­ure out a way to get it across to peo­ple,” Trudeau once told the Globe and Mail. But it is usu­ally the pol­icy arc that Butts has de­vel­oped that the prime min­is­ter is sell­ing.He has had re­mark­able lever­age over Lib­eral pol­icy since he helped or­ga­nize a three-day re­treat at Mont Trem­blant, Que., in 2012 to dis­cuss the prospect of Trudeau run­ning for leader. Butts felt the party had lost touch with reg­u­lar peo­ple, and even at that early stage was work­ing on the nar­ra­tive of “the mid­dle class and those work­ing hard to join it.”As his res­ig­na­tion note made clear, his other driv­ing motivation was cli­mate change pol­icy, as be­fits a for­mer head of the World Wildlife Fund Canada. “Our kids and grand­kids will judge us on one is­sue above all oth­ers,” he said in his state­ment.Both he and Trudeau are in­tensely ide­o­log­i­cal, which re­flects as a chau­vin­ism bor­der­ing on smug­ness for their cho­sen causes, and a dis­re­gard com­pa­ra­ble to dis­dain for those who dis­agree. That dis­missal of all op­po­si­tion as un­wor­thy has cre­ated di­vi­sions in the coun­try that have acted as a bar­rier to get­ting things done. One se­nior Lib­eral MP said the gov­ern­ment has done good things but the con­stant push on “val­ues” shifted the gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus from the as­pi­ra­tional voter to the iden­tity voter.Butts, fairly or un­fairly, has been a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism in­side the Lib­eral move­ment.The se­nior Lib­eral sug­gested there might have been a “riot” at cau­cus this Wed­nes­day, had Butts not quit.As one per­son who has known him for 20 years put it, Butts “wears his pas­sion on his sleeves” and that comes with con­se­quences in terms of pop­u­lar­ity. “It’s a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion — it’s hard to have that job and not up­set peo­ple,” he said.Bet­ter than any­one, Butts likely re­al­ized there needed to be a scape­goat, even if his de­par­ture is un­likely to kill the SNC story.A num­ber of Lib­er­als will qui­etly cheer Butts’s de­par­ture, view­ing him as an ob­struc­tion to them tak­ing their right­ful seat around the cabi­net ta­ble.Yet his de­par­ture is likely to mean many more of them will be seek­ing al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment this fall than might oth­er­wise have been the case.

Ger­ald Butts, who re­signed Mon­day as prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, was im­me­di­ately thanked by Trudeau for his ad­vice and “de­vo­tion” and “con­tin­ued friend­ship.” Butts and Trudeau have been friends since their univer­sity days at McGill.

Ger­ald Butts and Justin Trudeau be­came fast friends as stu­dents at McGill Univer­sity.

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