Review or Inquiry: Why Did the Liberals Get it Wrong the First Time?
Posted July 31, 2020
The decision to investigate the Portapique tragedy via a joint independent review had a very short life.
The affected families and communities had been calling for months for a public inquiry, which would have greater independence and the ability to compel witnesses to provide written or oral evidence, and to supply relevant documentation when asked.
Nevertheless, the provincial and federal governments announced the weaker review process. It would be less independent of government which would have both the interim and final reports to consider before they would be shared with the public. The documents and other evidence they received were to be kept confidential.
To make matters worse, they attributed the choice to exclude the full participation of the families on the theory that it would protect them from further trauma. They had no reason to believe that was what the families wanted, and would have learned that if they bothered to ask.
When announcing the review, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mark Furey confidently asserted that: “The Government of Nova Scotia is committed to ensuring that they, and all Nova Scotians, get the answers they deserve. We have heard the calls for an independent and impartial review into why and how this happened, and for timely recommendations that will make our communities safer. This joint review will achieve these outcomes.”
This confidence was misplaced as he must have known. There were demonstrations by the affected families and their supporters, and widespread media criticism. Over the weekend, five Liberal members of parliament from Nova Scotia broke ranks and joined the criticism of their own government.
When that happened, Furey decided to abandon ship:
“I have heard from family members and many Nova Scotians who are opposed to a joint review of the tragic events of April 18 and 19 and would prefer a joint public inquiry…
If the federal government agrees to a joint public inquiry where federal agencies including the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Criminal Intelligence Services Canada, Canadian Firearms Registry and the Public Alert Ready System will participate and offer testimony, I will support that and so will our government.”
A few hours later Bill Blair, his federal counterpart, fell in line. There will be a full inquiry after all. In response, Furey provided the following statement:
“We heard overwhelmingly from families, survivors and Nova Scotians on the importance of a public inquiry regarding the tragic events of April 18 and 19. Our government wanted an inquiry from day one, but we also needed the federal government at the table. I am pleased that the federal government now supports a joint inquiry.”
That is different than the deferential tone of Premier McNeil in May: “There will be a review, I’m sure. It’s our belief that the national government will lead that as they see fit (and) we as a provincial government will provide the support where we can.”
If they were unhappy with the review format why didn’t Furey and McNeil say so a week ago?
More to the point, what were the federal Liberals thinking? They should have known that the review announcement was going to be unpopular. Why would they make it worse by providing a rationale that was transparently false?
Being forced unwillingly into an inquiry will reinforce suspicions that they have something to hide. Families will be watching like hawks to see if either government fails to provide any evidence requested by the inquiry.
Other collateral damage is the loss of caucus discipline. That wall having been breached, there will likely be other occasions.
This continues a pattern that so far has mostly revolved around Trudeau. His initial responses on awkward questions on free vacations from the Ahga Khan (“He is a close family friend…”), SNC Lavalin (“The Globe and Mail story that there was pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould is false..”), and the failure to recuse himself on the WE contract (“I needed to be there because I know so much about the topic…”) all fell apart under scrutiny, but not before making a bad situation worse.
It is hard to know whether the miscue around investigating the Portapique tragedy was just a bad day at the office, or reflects a persistent Liberal belief that they can bamboozle Canadians.
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