Gary Goodwin looks at the ethic commissioner’s take on the SNC Lavalin scandal

SNC Lavalin, Trudeau, conflict of interest and the Shawcross redemption

“The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”

Brooks Hatlen The Shawshank Redemption.

The SNC affair gathered a fair bit of attention as of late. Just in case you actually took a real vacation this summer and did not check social media, the ethics commissioner Mario Dion concluded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest Act. He did this by unduly pressuring, or having his staff pressure, the Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to enter into a remediation agreement with SNC. This type of remediation agreement avoids a criminal prosecution on fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.

Dion looked to s. 9 of the Act which states: “No public office holder shall use his or her position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”

Dion concluded, “Simply seeking to influence the decision of another person is insufficient for there to be a contravention of s. 9.” This sounds logical since the essence of political debate involves influencing others to do what they do not want to do.

He later stated, “The second step of the analysis was to determine whether Mr. Trudeau, through his actions and those of his staff, sought to improperly further the interests of SNC-Lavalin.” Dion did state that a private benefit is also required and that SNC would benefit from a deferred prosecution. This sidesteps Trudeau’s protestations that the intent was to save Canadian jobs. No doubt, a public benefit.

The Act does not contain any sanctions, but it does provide the opportunity for the commission to issue a number of reports per year on various issues.

The conflict arises from the understanding that the AG acts in the public interest and not in the interest of the government. The Shawcross doctrine outlines the five-fold path of standards for AG independence. First, the AG must take into account all relevant facts, including the effect of a successful or unsuccessful prosecution on public morale and order — we would probably now call this the public interest. Second, the AG need not consult with cabinet colleagues but may do so. Third, the doctrine confines any assistance from cabinet colleagues to giving advice and not directions. Fourth, the AG assumes responsibility for the decision alone and the government should not apply any pressure. Fifth, the AG cannot shift decision-responsibility to the cabinet.

However, did Dion misinterpret the act? If lawyers were always right the first time, we would never have any trials. This might occur when AI lawyers appear on the scene. But, getting back to reality, Errol Mendes in his August 19 article for IPolitics neatly explains this point as to whether s. 9 only catches conflicts of interest where the government cannot claim it was acting in the public interest. The government often moves private commercial interests through taxes, subsidies or other regulatory changes. This suggests a non-violation of the act and sort of a Shawcross redemption.

Mendes also points out that apparently, the AG should resign when pressured. However, Wilson-Raybould resigned after being shifted over to Veteran Affairs. I recall in law school, or some continuing professional development session, that an in-house lawyer should resign as noisily as possible if asked to do something unethical.

Remember the situation of the taped phone calls? The media invited us to listen in so we could determine the innumerable shades of grey and decide when polite discourse, becomes wondering, suggesting and then urging. Having a lawyer tape a phone without telling the client enters a new realm of ethical discussion.

The media reported how the opposition parties accordingly leapt onto this breach-of-the-act bombshell. A lot of mixed metaphors here since one should never leap onto an explosive ordnance, which is perhaps too literal. However, the opposition parties want additional information from Dion. This fall, look to the Conservatives serving up subpoenas and schadenfreude.

Trudeau sees no need to apologize since he claims to act in the best interests of the public. Which pretty much sounds like a public benefit. However, he does assume responsibility for his actions. Which is a damn sight better than what is constantly happening the US right now.

In any event, I examined where the SNC matter fits into the entire parliamentary history of misdeeds.

Wikipedia came up first in the somewhat laid-back research I conducted for political scandals. They list the SNC matter as an affair. This sounds rather low key and something your history prof might assign. However, if the issue upgrades to a scandal later, then people talking about this over drinks becomes far more likely. Scandals with spirits sound much more scandalous.

The next historical event we come across would be the entire F35 affair – sorry – scandal. Here parliament held Harper’s government in contempt. The first government to reach this honour. The additional lesson suggests that politicians living in glasshouses should not throw subpoenas around. The F35 scandal does not appear to be finished yet.

We can take pride that our rule of law in Canada remains intact compared to the situation in the U.S. Like all good ethical dilemmas, things appear a bit murky. In Canada there appears to be a lot of moral high ground available since no one appears to be currently occupying it.


#legal #legalinnovation #ethics #business

Speeding up Serendipity

animal-animal-photography-biology-2629027.jpgSome of the best things come to us serendipitously. I wonder how can I speed up the process?

Butterflies provide an example. By planting milkweed in the garden, I can encourage monarchs to come to me. Perhaps we just need to plant the right things around us to allow the best things to find us.


#personaldevelopment #motivation #personalbranding





The ten-fold path to retirement bliss: First path

blank-conifers-crossroad-1578750I used to fight getting older. Now it’s more like an intellectual debate with someone you disagree with but you still get together for a beer.


Growing older, I encounter new signs that things have slightly changed. I shaved for over 45 years following the same process. Remove glasses, wet the lower part of face, apply shaving cream, scrape razor over lathered parts, rinse face, repeat daily. The other day I did all of those things except for removing my glasses part. Rinsing my face did not work as well as it normally did. But at least my eyes did not get wet.


Just the day after that, I learned about the penguin shuffle. This happens when you shower and shuffle 10 feet on the floor on the bath mat since you forgot to lay out a towel within easy reach.


I enjoy using the outside BBQ. One day I turned one burner to low and forgot to turn it off. I used to rely on running out the propane tank as a built in backstop. Now I use natural gas, so this becomes more of perpetual problem. I no longer have to leave the door open to warm the outside like my mom used to admonish me.


Recently, my workplace took new photos to post on the staff website. I decided to keep the older photo with my slightly younger self. I seem to be acquiring that Jeff Goldblum look. And not from the Jurassic Park version, I am thinking more of the more recent Ragnarok version. My request for a George Clooney Photoshop upgrade did not make it into the budget.

Back in our 20’s, our group of friends talked about ski trips. In our 30s, jobs. In our 40s, kids. In our 50s investments. Now in our 60s, we talk about the greatest of all existential questions. When do you plan to retire? We keep pushing that one off since we are enjoying what we are doing.


Of course, we develop coping skills. For the past decade, I laid the necessary groundwork. Whenever I do something forgetful, I convince my ever-suffering spouse that this omission seems adorable instead. I keep pushing up the ambient adorable level so it will not appear as bad when I keep getting older. Or more adorable.


I stopped making grocery lists since it looks a bit worse when you forget to buy something written down right in front of you. I prefer the relative free association purchasing one experiences going through Costco. Such as the gargantuan package of paper towels that I will likely never get through.


When I head off to the basement and forget why, I keep on moving. Generally, I encounter the freezer or the workshop, which reminds me of my purpose. I get a little spark of joy when a memory leaps back into my mind.


I have been taking multivitamins for years. Now, the manufacturers segment the market by promoting for over 55, and then adding for men over 55. The pills are huge and used to be a bright orange. The manufacturers in their wisdom changed the color to a light blue. Similar to those other little blue pills. Or at least so I have seen in advertisements.

I have also taken those fish oil capsules for years for mental health. I am not sure if this helps that fluid or crystalized intelligence I just read about. I hope crystalized is just another word for wisdom since this suggests a priceless diamond type quality. Mind you, rust can develop a crystalline like form too.


Growing older brings new challenges. I used to think I would either resign to the situation or rage against the inevitable as Thomas eloquently worded it. I lean now towards the middle ground and respond to those challenges.


When car backup cameras came on the scene, I thought they were a needless expense. But now, when I rent a car, I make sure to use them since the camera automatically engages when you put the vehicle in reverse. The sound activated collision avoidance sensors also come in handy. Hearing the metal sound after you hit something is not as helpful.


I went skiing for the first time since forever. Those new sculptured skis suddenly make turning a breeze. I could barely believe how easy it became. I did not push my luck too far since even though I would be falling the same distance as I would have in the past when younger, any recovery would be far into the future when I was older.


I modified my weight training with a special emphasis on dumbbell presses. This helps emulate getting those oversized carry-on bags into the overhead compartment. We seem to need to carry more stuff just in case we encounter any unexpected weather.


Recently, we took an Alaskan cruise. Normally Canadians stay somewhere warm during the summer since winter can be long enough. As it happened, Anchorage suffered one of the hottest days on record. All of our cold weather gear barely came into play.


As one of the tours, we took a helicopter ride to a glacier and saw the mountains and valleys from a new perspective. Landing on the glacier, the guides gave us helmets and crampons with good two-inch spikes. With a bit of instruction we walked up, down and traversed sideways on the glacier. They gave us some photo enhancers as they call them. Ice picks. We really looked like we knew what we were doing.


Falling was not an option, but a real possibility. We walked up the glacier using our newly found techniques and equipment. We felt really pumped. Our guide took a photo of us in front of a waterfall. Our hero shot.


Here we saw glacier blue ice. The glacier compresses the ice and drives out the air to create a light blue colour. Reminded me of my vitamins.


So, somewhere between resigning and raging, we found responding to the situation around us and our capabilities. Aging presents new choices, which we intend to explore and continue to find new experiences, as we grow together evermore adorable.


Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels