Globe appears to be on campaign to keep SNC-Lavalin story alive

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To avoid undue election influence, the RCMP has announced it will not be investigating anything during the writ period. That fact was buried in The Globe story.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on September 16, 2019.

OTTAWA—The Justin Trudeau campaign plane being hit by the media bus could be a metaphor for his campaign. Or not.

It depends on the success of what appears to be a campaign by The Globe and Mail to keep the SNC-Lavalin story on the front page.

The first two official days of the race have been dominated by stories of fresh, anonymous claims in the ongoing story involving allegations of undue pressure on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Globe’s Ottawa bureau chief Bob Fife tweeted that RCMP interviews earlier last week with Jody Wilson-Raybould were “to discuss political interference in SNC criminal prosecution.”

The only person who publicly claimed she participated in a recent RCMP interview is Wilson-Raybould. The Liberal leader’s office issued a statement saying no one on their team has been contacted or interviewed.

Wilson-Raybould had initially testified before the House Justice Committee that there was nothing illegal in the interventions of the prime minister and his officials on the issue of SNC-Lavalin.

But, according to The Globe, she appears to have revised that opinion, now claiming that the ethics commissioner’s report opened new questions. “I believe the public deserves to know and to have full knowledge of this matter.”

She will no doubt have more to say on the matter when she launches her book this week.

The unschooled observer might be forgiven for thinking that an RCMP interview of Wilson-Raybould constitutes an investigation.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer jumped on The Globe story, falsely claiming on television and in tweets that the RCMP has opened an investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Globe was careful not use the word “investigation.” Instead, it focused on the fact that police went to Vancouver to interview the former attorney general.

But travelling to a former minister’s riding to take a statement is a well-established police protocol.

The RCMP has interviewed me several times during my life in politics. Sometimes, it was at my request. Sometimes the police initiated the interview.

When they come to your office to take a statement, that action does not constitute an investigation.

The RCMP does not take statements by phone. So if the former minister called them to provide further information, after telephone contact, she would always be interviewed in person.

The Globe story did not clarify who initiated the “several telephone conversations” that precipitated the in-person interview.

Some believe, present company included, that The Globe is ginning up the story in tandem with Wilson-Raybould and her advisers, in an effort to do maximum damage to the electioneering Liberals.

It remains to be seen what impact these confusing RCMP claims will have on the election trajectory.

Some polls say Canadians have already made up their minds on the actions of all parties in the SNC-Lavalin deferred prosecution agreement question. Whether they support Trudeau or Wilson-Raybould, the issue has already been factored into their voting intentions.

But the explosive headlines on the first two days of the campaign could change that.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the spectre of an RCMP investigation was used to sow uncertainty during an election campaign.

Back in 2006, RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli faxed a letter to an NDP MP, confirming that the force had commenced a criminal investigation into budget leaks from the Finance Department headed by Ralph Goodale, named in the communication.

Stephen Harper won that election. In the end, Goodale was completely exonerated but a departmental official was charged.

Some say the letter from Zaccardelli literally changed the outcome of the election. Up until that point the Liberals had been leading in voter intentions.

One only has to look at the last election in the United States, where a judicial intervention in the last 11 days of the debate changed the outcome of the election.

FBI director James Comey’s letter in the dying days of the American election had a lasting impact on democracy.

His announced reopening of a stale-dated investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails was the likely tipping point in securing Donald Trump’s election victory.

At the time, Comey claimed he acted because polls showed Clinton would win and he did not want to be accused of concealing relevant information.

To avoid undue election influence, the RCMP has announced it will not be investigating anything during the writ period. That fact was buried in The Globe story.

Front-paging a self-generated police interview makes great headlines.

Time will tell whether the story influences the election result.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.