Jody Wilson-Raybould pulls back the political curtains. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Johanne Brownrigg: Who has the courage to follow Jody Wilson-Raybould's path?

By  JOHANNE BROWNRIGG, Guest Columnist
  • March 5, 2019

Catholics have been reminded repeatedly they must separate Church and State. In government, medicine, law, public policy or discourse, we are expected to leave Him who shapes our life and our conscience at home. 

That isn’t a viable option for committed Catholics so we persevere as best we can because we know God is watching. But what happens in government when leaders behave as if no one is watching?  

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has let us peer behind a Parliament Hill curtain that is being held open by former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Commentators have been musing about how her unwavering ethics could affect the prime minister, his government and the October election. But rather than its influence on politicians, I wonder about the possible JWR effect on people.

In her Feb. 27 testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee and during the questioning that followed, Wilson-Raybould conceded that, in her view, no laws had been broken. But she documented numerous conversations about SNC-Lavalin involving her department and her superiors or their staffers. In her view, these amounted to high-pressure tactics to get her to intercede to have criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin dropped, but she held firm and did not waiver. 

Along with detailed accounts of these conversations, Wilson-Raybould said she has known the prime minister, his top aide Gerald Butts and other principals in this affair for many years. She even mentioned friendship. The pressure to change her mind when she knew it was wrong to do so was being applied by close colleagues and friends. Sit with that for a minute.

Behind her composed, professional demeanour at the committee hearing, she was dealing with betrayal. She had lost the trust and affection of friends and allies. More of the same lies ahead for her, no doubt, yet she refuses to betray her principles, just as she refused to betray her sworn duties as attorney general.

Will Members of Parliament now be emboldened by her example to live by ethical principles? Liberal or Conservative, NDP or Green, while politics is a team sport, it can be a deadly one. Deadly to the soul, that is. 

Being a team player regardless of the cost can lead to terrific rewards. The trophy is often career advancement. 

Wilson-Raybould walked away from that and a short time later was followed by Liberal colleague Jane Philpott, who resigned her cabinet position as Treasury Board president. In the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair, she said it was “untenable” to remain in cabinet. “There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” Philpott said.

A common dream on Parliament Hill is to climb the career ladder until achieving a position of power that lets you accomplish the good you set out to achieve. But the dream is seldom realized. Politicians pay bit by bit along the way and many end up losing their way. Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are exceptions to that rule.

Following Wilson-Raybould’s brave testimony, will caucus collegiality and party unity remain intact, but no longer at that cost, the cost to one’s soul? Might Wilson-Raybould inspire courage?

In her closing comments, the former justice minister was transparent about her family, her tradition, her culture and her people. She affirmed the truths she had been taught. 

Would that our Christian MPs do likewise, stand boldly to assert their own faith tradition and culture, affirming the principles which inform their lives.

At a time when distrust of politicians is so high, this cold, dark, cynical town warmed to a human force of nature. Can we hope that those in industry, banking, journalism, politics and more find inspiration in the example of one person living by a code of ethics? The JWR effect?

For Catholics there can be no separation of church and state in that love compels us to bring Christ into the public square through our work and our witness. After the Fall, when God asked Adam and Eve where they were, He wasn’t asking for their coordinates. It was a rhetorical question which applies to us today.  This “Where are you?” is a challenge to look within, to see where our choices are taking us. 

Just as Wilson-Raybould pulled back the curtain on Parliament Hill, eventually the curtain is pulled back on all of our lives. Her strength and example reminds us that sometimes there is a cost to be paid for sticking to our principles. 

People are watching, and so is God. 

(Brownrigg is an Ottawa writer and former lobbyist with Campaign Life Coalition.)