Right in the centre - A complicated deal


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

To fully understand the controversy over SNC-Lavalin and the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau would take a lot of digging.

A CBC article says this, “In Quebec,where it has operated for more than 100 years, SNC-Lavalin has a chorus of defenders that include the premier, the Opposition and pundits.” And this, “There are both economic and emotional reasons for the partiality that SNC-Lavalin enjoys in Quebec.” And this, “Only 3,400 of its 50,000 employees worldwide work in the province. But Quebec’s pension fund manager — the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec — has a sizable stake in the company. It owns around 20 per cent of SNC’s shares, which have been trading at six-year lows since federal prosecutors announced in October they weren’t interested in deferring prosecution.”

The company has been around for 100 years. A global engineering and construction firm. SNC-Lavalin projects include the Montreal Olympic Stadium and the James Bay Hydro project, both of which had their share of troubles and cost over-runs. There is no shortage of controversy about this company.

They have been involved in scandals in Libya, Bangladesh and Quebec. They are currently under a 10 year ban on World Bank projects due to alleged corruption. The company’s reputation has taken a beating, yet understandably, in Quebec, there is a push to save their bacon, as they employ a  lot of people. By the way, the majority of the 3,400 employees in Quebec are likely very good people, so the push back deserves some sympathy.

Interestingly enough, Canada might not have had a trans-continental railway if it were not for a scandal centred on our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. He was embroiled in a bribery charge and run out of office for a while over it.

Just as an aside, back in those days, the Macdonald Conservatives were protectionists, somewhat opposed to free trade, and the Liberals were the free trade proponents.

SNC-Lavalin wants to wiggle out of some wrong-doings by paying a fine instead of facing charges in court. If it goes to trial and they lose, the company would not be able to bid on federal contracts for 10 years. That would be crippling for the company, the employees and the investors.

The controversy boils down to whether the Prime Minister tried to push his then attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to give SNC-Lavalin an easier ride in court. It “looks” like he did. Over the weekend, his top advisor and friend Gerald Butts resigned. That is a huge admission of wrong doing and is typical of damage control in political circles. Butts may not have done anything wrong, but he took the fall.

SNC-Lavalin has gotten so big, and maybe arrogant, that they see themselves as above the law. One has to wonder why businesses have to wallow in corruption at all to get ahead. Court records show they have done so in the past and it may well prove they have done so again.

At any rate, this controversy isn’t going to die with the resignation of Mr. Butts. So far, Jody Wilson-Raybould has stayed silent. Given her family history of speaking out, it’s doubtful that she will remain so. Her dad, Bill Wilson stood up to the older version of Trudeau in the 1980s and the country awaits to see if she will speak about the younger Trudeau.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.