Sunday, March 10
Is SNC-Lavalin secretly looking to land a big deal ?
Two lobbyists are having a late lunch at their downtown office. It's Sunday and Nate's is closed, but they've both been hard at work for several hours, they know it's gonna be a busy week and they're trying to get a jump on things, given a big client is in town and is expecting the usual TLC. Too bad Hy's is no more, that place was always good for pleasantly killing a few hours. And with Parliament not in session, there is no 'there' up on the Hill to dog'n pony their client because most of the MPs are back in their ridings.
Anyway, once the clock struck noon, they cracked open a couple beers, moved to the company kitchen, picked through Friday's 'lunch & learn' leftovers from the fridge, grabbed a 6-pack, and repaired to the boardroom to eat, shoot the breeze, and watch CBC's bobsleigh coverage from Whistler on the big screen.
The first beers go down fast, so they pull the tabs on a couple more. It won't be their last ones. Both are Ubering today. Back and forth. So the ale is free-flowing. Besides, nobody else is around, given the snow falling outside and the fact the office is closed.
The lads lay out their food across the big table. Everything is deconstructed and either in their original containers or in plastic bags or wrapped in tin foil. The rye bread, the smoked meat, the pulled pork, the rotisserie chicken, the slaw, the pickles, the mustard. Nothing fancy, but plenty of it.
These two cowboys are known within the bubble. Their fees are steep, but they earn their keep. If you're a political junkie or you have skin in the game, or you watch the meat puppet shows, you'll know them. They bring their clients years of experience and brilliant insight into whatever files they happen to be working on. Deep thinkers both. For our purposes, we'll label them 'Think 1' & 'Think 2'.
'Think 1' starts the chat as he stacks his sandwich. They forgot to bring plates from the kitchen, so he's simply using the table top as his plate.
"What do you know about SNC-Lavalin wanting to buy all of Canada's airports from the Trudeau Government ?"
'Think 2', busy pulling the chicken legs off a carcass, glances over at his colleague.
"Absolutely nothing. Why, what do you know ?"
'Think 1' shrugs.
"Me ? Absolutely nothing". Maybe he knows something and is playing coy, maybe he's just about to spin a snowy beer-fueled Sunday yarn.
"Then why do you ask ?", asks 'Think 2' ?
'Think 1' shrugs. Again.
"Think about it", offers 'Think 1'.
"Think about what?", asks 'Think 2'.
"The airports", says 'Think 1' as he sips his Stella from the can, "vast untapped cash for a government desperate for cash. Those same airports which give SNC-Lavalin a lock on all of our air travel and an unfettered stream of steady guaranteed cash flow."
'Think 2' thinks about it. And thinks about it some more.
"How would they do that ?" 'Think 2' asks a good question.
"Do what ?", asks 'Think 1', now playing coy. Or is he. Maybe.
"Buy the airports", says 'Think 2', "are they even for sale ?"
"Not at present", admits 'Think 1', "but hearing maybe something will be buried in Morneau's budget that unlocks the possibility or hints at what's to come. He's sneaky that way. He likes to hide things. French villas. Deferred Prosecution Agreement legislation, who know what else. He just comes off as a sleazy guy you wouldn't want to buy a used car from. Anyway, remember it was thought he'd try to do this back in the 2017 budget ?"
"Ok, so what ?", asks 'Think 2'.
"Well," says 'Think 1', "SNC-Lavalin has a very advanced airport division and I wonder if it is secretly maneuvering to do just what I described. Think about it."
"No I mean, really think about it", insists 'Think 1', "think about it in the context of the current PMO-SNC scandal and the company's long-game squeeze on Trudeau to give it a DPA."
'Think 2' thinks about that as he tears the meat from a drumstick like a caveman who hasn't eaten in weeks.
"Uh-huh, thinking about it", the words come out with spittles of chicken, so he reaches for his beer and takes a swig to wash stuff down.
'Think 1' swigs his beer too, then resumes.
"Now, if you are SNC-Lavalin you have a lot of government contracts that will naturally be grandfathered into any situation where a criminal conviction might otherwise threaten the company. No deal will be cancelled and no jobs will be lost. None..
"That mythical '9,000 jobs lost' slogan, you mean ?". 'Think 2' is zoning in. "And by the way, I hear the Tory Youth Squad is looking at getting t-shirts made with a pic of Trudeau blurting out something about saving SNC's 9,000 ghost jobs."
"Whatever". 'Think 1' shrugs, dismissing the notion out of hand. "Anyway, back to my main point. Think about it."
"I am", says 'Think 2' as he waves the gnawed drumstick for emphasis, "in fact I'm reminded our pal John Duffy was on one of Paikin's panels with Simpson, Shachi, and Ginny the other day. They were adding their insight into the whole SNC scandal but not once did Paikin mention that Duffy is a lobbyist for SNC-Lavalin's Crosslinx Transit Solutions. Go figure.
'Think 1' shakes his head, then adds his own emphasis.
"No, no, not that, I don't care about Duffy. Give it a second thought",
'Think 2' nods. He's thinking about it.
"Ok, ok, so here's the point", resumes 'Think 1', "If SNC-Lavalin can't get the political solution it wants with the DPA and ends up in court being prosecuted for its criminal activities and ends up being convicted of criminal activities, it can kiss goodbye to a once-in-a-lifetime mega billion dollar opportunity to snatch up all of Canada's airports."
'Think 1' nods, thinks, smiles. Now he knows where this conversation is going. He nods to his pal to finish his thought.
"Hell," says 'Think 1', "even a long drawn out criminal trial and the subsequent appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court would likely prevent the Government from signing any sweetheart deal with such an ethically-challenged company, regardless if it happens to be headquartered a mere kilometer or three from both Trudeau & Lametti's ridings. The PM's to the East, the Attorney-General's to the west".
'Think 2' nods. He now knows what this little lunch chat is all about. It's a fishing exercise. Brainstorming. Strategizing. Spitballing. Business development. If they were lawyers, it would be billable time to the client. But as lobbyists, they simply want to show initiative for their monthly retainers.
But wait, 'Think 1' throws a curve ball.
"Oh, and by the way, who's the Minister of Transport these days ? The poohbah in charge of Canada's main airports ?"
'Think 2' nods, thinks. "The astronaut ?"
"Yup Garneau", says 'Think 1', "and which riding is his ? Westmount. Where is that ? Montreal. And yes, a mere kilometer or two from SNC-Lavalin HQ. Just to the north. Too cute by half ?".
'Think 2' nods. He's finished thinking, he knows what he's being asked to do "Worth a thought or two for sure", he admits, "I remember that out of the blue the Trudeau Gov't spent 2 years examining airport privatization almost immediately after being elected and this with absolutely no forewarning during the election".
'Think 1' nods in agreement, and adds "In fact nowhere during the election did Justin and his candidates ever mention the urgent need to sell off Canada's airports. And there wasn't a single airport authority anywhere in Canada asking for privatization. Nobody, nowhere. And yet, Trudeau gets voted in and suddenly his government is seized with an in-depth study of airport privatization. Right out of the blue."
"That's right, that's right", 'Think 2' throws in, "and after all that work, just as suddenly they shelved the whole idea. As if they had hit a wall. Not at this time, they concluded, leaving the door open for a revisit whenever the timing will be right."
"Exactly", replied 'Think 1' after draining his second beer and reaching for his third, "and look at the timing of everything. Dovetails neatly with the brick wall SNC hit with the DPP and the deferred prosecution agreement, doesn't it ? "
'Think 2' nodded his head excitedly as he too reached for a 3rd brewskie.
"But Garneau's a straight-shooter, isn't he ?"
"That's my take on him", 'Think 1' admitted, "one of the good guys. Heck, he won't even drink Tang unless he's in orbit".
We'll omit the rest of this lazy but increasingly focused conversation, but suffice to explain our two deep thinkers agree to brief their client on their hypothesis, given the client, who is in town this week, would be a serious competitor to SNC-Lavalin in any deal to buy up Canada's airports and wouldn't want to be blindsided. No way at all.
And given how these types of machinations leading to a massive government procurement opportunity are often Machiavellian, the sooner a game plan to rain on SNC's parade can be orchestrated, the better chance to drown out their chances.
On the other hand, if these two geniuses are way off the mark, it wouldn't be the first time a couple of lobbyists went off on a pricey tangent for their client purely based on an idea cobbled together by too little fact and too much beer.
Thursday, March 7
About those 9,000 SNC-Lavalin jobs at risk
Fly on the Wall sat down at a table right next to the well-known lobbyist and a familiar media personality. Fly expected an interesting conversation from the two. Lobbyist was likely trying to plant a story and Media was likely looking for one.
As he motioned to a passing waiter, Fly glanced at the menu and was ready to order matzo ball soup and a Coke as soon as he arrived. Once that was done, Fly began to listen in to the two at the next table. In the interest of privacy, we'll omit any names, but both were eating smoked meat sandwiches and sipping Sprites.
As Fly listened in, Lobbyist was proudly telling Media about his find.
"I went thru the MD &A and AIF for SNC for 2018 and scanned their web site", Lobbyist said matter-of-factly, "Revenue 2018 $10 billion of which 29% in Canada .. 2018 loss had a $1.24 Billion loss re impairment .. Global employees 2018 52,435 .. 8,762 employees in Canada from their web site .. About 1500 employees in USA".
Media nodded, but Fly noticed Lobbyist looking at Media curiously, as if he saw a glaze in Media's eyes. A blizzard of numbers, yes, but much of it mumbo-jumbo at this point in the conversation as far as Fly could tell.
Lobbyist pressed on.
"Apart from World Bank problem with corruption also African Development Bank for 2 African countries."
Media nodded as he ate his sandwich, feigning indifference. Not much to say at this point.
Lobbyist pressed on. Again.
"Current Projects in Canada as per web site:
Canada Line BC
Tucker Lake Prairies
Stoney Trail Alberta
West Alta Transmission Alberta
Highway 407 Ontario
Darlington Bruce Power Ontario
Canaport LNG New Brunswick
John Hart Genrating Station BC
James Bay Quebec"
Lobbyist took a breath and tried to gauge if Media was following the thread or was merely enjoying the free sandwich. He leaned back.
"You following all this ?"
Media nodded, looking bored.
Lobbyist pressed on. One final time. The grand finale, actually. The main point of the numbers, the list of projects, in fact of the lunch itself.
"So of 8,762 employees in Canada, just one project out the 10 top projects is in Quebec."
Media looked up from his sandwich. Lobbyist finally had his attention.
"And .. ?" Media asked as he took out a small notepad and began scribbling feverishly.
Lobbyist offered up his coup de grace.
"Most employees have nothing to do with Quebec, The 9,000 jobs Trudeau & Butts have been waving around without any semblance of proof. The ones supposedly put at risk by Jody Wilson-Raybould. They don't exist. Of that I am sure."
Media stopped scribbling and took a gulp of his Sprite. He shook his head, looked at his notes. Then, after a moment, he said:
"This is explosive. Can we go over all of that again please ?"
Lobbyist, finally satisfied he had hit a bullseye, nodded, and began to repeat himself.
At the next table, Fly on the Wall was busily emailing 'Natterings' a compte-rendu of what he had just overheard. In doing so, he became an 'Official Natterer', which comes with a resulting boost in self-esteem, but not much else.
You see, sometimes some of the most intriguing nuggets of private info come from those closest to the action. Those within the sphere of confluence and those who just happen to be 'accidentally' at its edge.
Postcript: After Natterings went to press the afternoon of March 7 with facts & figures from SNC-Lavalin's own public documents, other media finally began to question the mythical '9,000 SNC jobs lost' argument for dispensing with a public prosecution of the ethics-challenged Quebec engineering behemoth (ex: see CBC March 8), a figure that Natterings discovered has a tenuous attachment to reality at best. Yet that argument and those figures have been used by PMO'ers and sidekicks in a multitude of forums, most of which can be dismissed as earnest, yet misguided, rah-rah'ing for the home team by kool-aid drinkers and the officially led-blind. Even the yapping of such jibberish on the floor of the House of Commons is protected by Parliamentary immunity. But false statements by a witness at a committee of Parliament are a totally different matter, which begs the question: did any recent witnesses lie to Parliament during their Justice Committee testimony in the escalating PMO/SNC/JWR affair ? If yes, is it 'contempt of Parliament' ? If so, what are the penalties for such transgressions ?
Wednesday, March 6
Is Trudeau mulling resignation ?
A well-known Trudeau insider pops into Nate's to grab some takeout. With Butts this morning, then Wernick this aft, it's been a long, long, long day.
While he's waiting for his smoked meat platter with extra fat, bucket of slaw, quiver of pickle spears, and meddley of verenekas & latkes, a pal who's been there in the trenches with the team walks up. Let's call him Mike, it doesn't matter. The other guy, the insider, shall remain nameless. It is best that way.
Mike asks the obvious, "so, how's it going ?"
Nameless furrows his brow. He really doesn't want to get into it. But he knows he can't brush Mike off with a platitude. So he scans the room for danger. Sensing none, he relaxes a bit, exhales, and answers.
"Not good", says Nameless.
"That bad, eh", offers Mike.
"Worse", says Nameless.
Mike gets a bit closer, lowers his voice.
"How bad ?", he asks.
"Resignation is not out of the question", Nameless admits.
Mike is stunned. It's the last thing he expected to hear. But he holds out hope.
"Who's ?", he wonders, "Telford ? Wernick ? The Bimbo Boys ?"
Nameless shrugs, waves an arm limply, then shakes his head.
"No, the boss", he admits.
Mike noisily lets out all the air in his lungs.He skips a beat, deflated.
"Wow". That's all he can offer up, stunned.
The takeout arrives at the counter, Nameless pays for it, waves at someone from Bluesky walking by, opens up his bag of food, pulls out the pickles, grabs one for himself, and offers one to Mike, who takes one to munch along with his pal. They both munch and crunch for a moment, and then Mike asks a question.
"So, is it a done deal ?"
"Can't say, I can't because I can't. And because there are a couple other options", says Nameless.
"Like what, for instance ?"
Nameless sucks on his pickle for a couple seconds.
"Well, for instance, like scorched earth."
"Scorched earth ?", Mike asks, "you mean more heads rolling ?"
"Maybe. Telford, Wernick, the Bimbo Boys. Maybe. A clean slate .. followed by a public repudiation of SNC-Lavalin by the PM and an apology to the nation for having let the nation down."
Mike is stunned to the point that he grabs for another pickle wedge without even being offered.
"Will that work .. or will that only fuel the scandal ?" It's a valid question and a valid concern. Mike knows that people come and go in politics and sometimes you need to dump those closest to you before the masses have your own head. It's the old adage that the people who got you to the PMO are not necessarily the people who keep you in the PMO.
Nameless looks unconvinced.
"That's the problem", he admits, "there is no insight into what impact that will have".
"So then what ?", asks Mike.
Nameless furrows his brow.
"Justin may take the blame and resign, it's the honourable out."
Mike is stunned, shocked, disillusioned.
"That's insane !"
Nameless shakes his head slowly. He fishes into his bag of food, pulls out the latkes, offers one to Mike, who takes one.
"We feel we are losing the public's trust", admits Nameless, as he takes a big bite out of his latke.
The two ponder the ramifications for a moment while they eat.
"If not Justin, then who will lead us into the election ?", Mike asks.
"We'd need an interim leader, a Herb Gray", says Nameless
Mike gives that some thought, then offers up some names.
"Garneau ? Goodale ? McGuinty ? Freeland ? Morneau ? Mckenna ?" Mike is right on some, but grasping at straws with others.
Nameless bobs his head left and right.
"Morneau is a non-starter, he's tainted by that secret French villa nonsense. And we think Freeland & McKenna would want to run for the leadership, so they're out. Goodale & McGuinty would be great placeholders, but the inside line would go to Garneau. Bilingual, self-deprecating, earnest, hard-working, a Quebecer, not to mention a hero astronaut. A perfect interim leader. We'd want you on board to help make that happen, Mike. We wouldn't be able to make it happen without you"
Mike is flattered, but surprised at the foresight. He loves Garneau the way he loved Dryden back in the day. He's interested.
"I'm in", he blurts.
Nameless nods, then leans in. Mike can smell the garlic on his breath
"We don't know which way things will go. We may get Calgary Grit to do a focus group. There's also the idea we'll simply dig in, hunker down, fight back, and drag this scandal out as long as we can, keeping the status quo until the election in the fall. Rag the puck, so to speak."
Mike nods, does the zipper signal across his lips. Mum's the word.
"Wow", concludes Mike.
"I know", Nameless nods. It is what it is. At this point, there's not much else that can be added.
The two finish their latkes, then head for the exit.
Saturday, February 16
Duck 'n Dive
The guy with the mustard moustache and smoked meat juice'd Duck Dynasty chin camo is stabbing the air with his pickle to make a point. He's commanding the table, the other 4 are simply listening and nodding their heads. Duck, let's call him that, Duck explains his theory.
"Better late than never, I suppose .. but now Coyne is in on the action about that murky clause that essentially excludes SNC-Lavalin from the remediation agreement it lobbied so hard to covertly insert into the Criminal Code via the Finance Omnibus bill .. the one nobody noticed at the House Finance Committee or the Senate Justice Committee. Bourque went all over that on Monday, but now here's what I think."
Duck, somewhat of an amateur jurisprudence nut, takes another bite of his mile-high sammy. More of a stuffing exercise than a manly munch. It's not a pretty sight. After a moment of difficult mastication, he continues with his theory.
"So, we must assume the Justice Department was aware of the OECD convention and knew that the SNC lobbying effort for the changes to the criminal code was legally doomed from the start. Ya gotta hope SNC-Lavalin didn't pay through the nose for their lobbying consultants."
The bobbing heads do what they do best. They bob their heads as Duck continues with his TV law-educated theory.
"With this understanding I might now wonder if the reason why the changes to the criminal code were made by a bill through the finance department, rather than through the Justice Department, is because from the beginning the Justice Department and Wilson-Raybould declined to have anything to do with what was obviously a political effort to save SNC-Lavalin. This makes more sense and may explain why she was said to be difficult.
The heads keep bobbing as Duck beavers through his pickle. He spies the slaw and forks a mouthful. Some of it drops off along the way.
"So, I'm wondering if Jody's reaction to whatever it was the PMO may or may not have wanted her to do to help SNC-Lavalin out of its corruption quagmire was to create an elegant two-sided clause within the Remedial Agreement section by inserting that poison-pill clause about factors not to be considered".
The heads continue to bob, of course, as Duck brushes slaw from his shirt. He stifles a belch and continues his hypothesis.
"Now let me dummy this down, and keep in mind this is pure speculation, but Crazy Bill Morneau gets legal mumbo-jumbo dropped into his omnibus bill, then he stupidly sails it through the House Finance Committee and the Senate Justice Committee without anyone with half a brain noticing that the 'Failure clause', Section 715.32(3), by the way, essentially kills SNC-Lavalin's participation in any Remedial agreement."
Duck, with some degree of self-satisfaction, feels he's on a roll with his captive audience. There's more.
"Of course, whether the 'political' faction 'noticed' wouldn't have mattered because the earlier ratification of the OECD convention would be 'binding' on the government whether it was in the act or not. I say 'political' because we may begin to see in the murk that the Justice Department was the 'legal faction' (speak truth to power) while the whole of the rest of the government (PMO etc.) should be seen as the 'political faction' (we have to get elected in Quebec). Or to be more blunt, the adults at Justice vs the kids in short pants at PMO.
One of the bobbers lifts a finger, as if to interject, but Duck ignores him and continues his soliloquy.
"And we should understand that just because something is legally doomed it isn't necessarily dead. We shouldn't be surprised if the 'political' faction's new AG orders his Director of Prosecutions to agree to an SNC proposal (saying quietly that there were other reasons and the national economic interest was not considered). Alternately, SNC does a friendly bankruptcy before trial. One of the big accountancy firms sells the SNC pieces to be reassembled into a new corporation with the Quebec pension fund's investment loss papered over with funny government finance."
The heads keep bobbing as they digest what they think is deep insight into the machinations of high office. Yes, they are a mere two blocks west of the PMO itself and on weekdays fellow diners at nearby tables would usually include a number of known MPs, Senators, lobbyists, pundits, scribblers, advisors, dime-a-dozen 'strategists', and even an ex-Prime Minister or two. But this is the weekend and let's keep in mind that uninformed speculation, however couched in erudition and veritas-like basso profundo, is commonplace and happenstance at best in political Ottawa.
This ain't Hy's, of course, but Nate's is a terrific place to grab a sandwich or bowl of matzoh ball soup. Just keep your ears open, because you never know what nattering you'll hear from your fellow diners. As they say, all of this is 'developing' .. meanwhile, Duck dives into the last of his slaw.
Send tips 'n sightings in confidence ..
Monday, February 11
Of booby-traps & housefeathers
As snow swirls around Parliament Hill after an overnight blizzard, so too are rumours after the resignation of top indigenous female cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a marquee personality that evoked all the promise bundled into Justin Trudeau's 2015 election win ..
This morning, overheard at Nate's Deli one block south of the West Block in downtown Ottawa, is a savory suggestion that at least 3 and as many as 7 Liberal MPs are ready to bolt from the Liberal caucus if Jody exits the team, including one high profile cabinet minister ..
And perhaps equally troubling is news out of the PMO from a person extremely close to the action that heads are about to roll inside the bunker, including the abrupt exit of one of the PM's top adjuncts (a power struggle is underway), possibly couched as a diplomatic posting to some exotic location half way around the world. Apparently the natives are restless and the leadership is in full panic mode ..
Meanwhile, all eyes on affable Lib MP Anthony Housefather, his moment in the sun, so to speak, but also a sticky wicket he now finds himself in. Among other things, he's got a big SNC-Lavalin office nestled in his Montreal riding on Decarie Blvd ..
Lastly on this file, and perhaps most importantly, is news that a "Factors not to consider" clause (715.32(3)) in the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, the very same 'Remediation Agreements' section SNC-LAVALIN & the PMO fought Wilson-Raybould over, was booby-trapped in the fine-print in a way that specifically excludes SNC-LAVALIN from any remediation agreement ..
But in other news, is there any veracity to the suggestion that junior cabmin & Trudeau acolyte Dominic LeBlanc may be leaving elected office, possibly to take a diplomatic posting far away from the developing Mark Norman narrative ? ..
Back to Bourque ..