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Like most Canadians, I was having a pleasant and relaxing Family Day. I spent time with my wife, took my son sledding and enjoyed a few rays of sunshine.
Then all hell broke loose at the prime minister’s office in the most unexpected of ways: Gerald Butts announced his resignation.
Butts was the principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He’s also been a close friend of the PM since university and was regarded as the most important member of his brain trust.
Some have suggested Butts’ power and influence in the PMO actually made him the country’s de facto prime minister. While that’s a bit of a stretch, he certainly had the ear of the nation’s leader – and held the pulse of the federal government in his hands.
Few principal secretaries, or chiefs of staff, have ever come close to attaining this status in Canada. When someone this powerful steps down, it means the political dam is about to burst.
In his official statement, Butts tackled the allegations that he pressured then-Justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to get directly involved in the criminal proceedings related to SNC-Lavalin. (She was later shuffled to Veterans Affairs and resigned from cabinet last week, to the chagrin of Trudeau and his senior advisers.)
Butts wrote in part, “I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in his office pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould. We honoured the unique role of the Attorney General. At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians.”
He went to say, “Any accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the Attorney General is simply not true. Canadians are rightly proud of their public institutions. They should be, because they work. But the fact is that this accusation exists. It cannot and should not take one moment away from the vital work the Prime Minister and his office is doing for all Canadians. My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away.”
Let’s parse through this a bit.
A forceful public denial used to mean something. Unfortunately, many people have been forced to recant their stories when either new evidence unexpectedly shows up or their web of deceit becomes apparent to us all. Hence, it’s impossible to say with any confidence whether Butts’ denial is fact or fiction.
His resignation could be linked to what fellow political pundit Rachel Curran (“Protecting the King”) and radio show talk host Alex Pierson (“… takes a grenade for the team”) suggested on Twitter.
I suggested on Twitter it could also be “an acknowledgement of direct/indirect guilt,” irrespective of what he wrote in his statement.
Or it could be both.
Nevertheless, a sudden resignation is always an odd political strategy. If Butts believes he’s innocent and wants to protect his good name, he should have stayed in the PMO and fought to the bitter end.
Instead, political observers and the media will always remember he quit on the 10th day of the Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin controversy – and did it on Family Day to, one assumes, mask some of the blow.
While a stake through the heart may seem noble to some political romantics, it tarnishes your reputation forever.
So it’s pretty clear Butts resigned because he knows something is brewing with respect to SNC-Lavalin. It could be anything from new allegations and/or plot twists to an impending public/legal statement from Wilson-Raybould. One has to also assume his name has been tied to these impending revelations and he’ll need to defend himself in short order.
SNC-Lavalin has claimed another victim in the Liberal government. No ifs, ands or Butts about it.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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