Politics

Four female former premiers weigh in on SNC Lavalin and being a woman in politics

On International Women's Day, CBC News Network’s Power & Politics invited four female former premiers to discuss the SNC-Lavalin controversy, leading a cabinet through tough times, and the realities of being a woman in Canadian politics.

'I'm sure there are other female premiers, former premiers, who have done exactly the same thing'

Former premiers Christy Clark, Alison Redford, Kathy Dunderdale and Kathleen Wynne discuss the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy. 22:16

On International Women's Day, CBC News Network's Power & Politics invited four female former premiers to discuss the SNC-Lavalin controversy, leading a cabinet through tough times, and the realities of being a woman in Canadian politics.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark, former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Kathy Dunderdale, former Alberta premier Alison Redford and former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne offered their own perspectives on managing power relationships at the highest levels of government.

Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned as Veterans Affairs minister on Feb. 12, not long after a Globe and Mail report said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled her out of the justice and attorney general portfolios because she'd refused to clear the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). She later told the Commons justice committee she was placed under heavy pressure by people at the highest levels of Trudeau's government to allow the company to avoid a criminal trial on bribery charges.

Clark defended the Trudeau government's actions on the SNC Lavalin file, saying the need to preserve a major employer isn't something any government can ignore.

"Everybody will argue they should not have gone about it the way that they did," said Clark. "At the end of the day if you're talking about 9,000 jobs and the attorney general is refusing to save them ... I think that's a pretty good argument to move the attorney general and find somebody who wants to support a growing economy."

Dunderdale, meanwhile, said jobs can't be the only consideration. "At the same time you want ethical companies operating in your jurisdictions and so, you know, where's the balance in all of this?"

Redford, who also served as the province's attorney general, shed light on the unique role attorneys general play in a cabinet.

"We also serve as not only legal adviser to the government but also as a cabinet minister. And so that professional and legal obligation to put the justice system and the legal system paramount is a different lens than other people sitting around the political decision-making table have," Redford said.

Wynne, a political ally of Trudeau's, said the prime minister has more work to do to put the SNC-Lavalin controversy behind him. "I think the prime minister started yesterday to address the concerns. I think that there's more that has to be addressed," she said.

"I want to see a bridge built and I want to see a better understanding among Canadians of exactly what happened and and then how how they're going to move forward."

Former premiers Christy Clark, Alison Redford, Kathy Dunderdale and Kathleen Wynne discuss why more Canadian women aren't getting into politics. 11:06

They also discussed the role feminist principles are playing in the SNC-Lavalin controversy, with critics like Conservative MP Michelle Rempel calling Trudeau a "fake feminist" for his treatment of Wilson-Raybould.

"So if you're a feminist, which I am, you can't fire or demote a member of your cabinet because they're a woman? I don't know. I'm a feminist and I did that," said Clark. "I'm sure there are other female premiers, former premiers, who have done exactly the same thing."

Dunderdale said she doesn't think anyone can argue that Trudeau isn't a feminist, or that he doesn't care about Indigenous people, but she said thinks the prime minister was a bit "tone deaf" when the media reports emerged alleging Jody Wilson-Raybould was a difficult personality to work with.

"The prime minister should have shut that down right away because that's what happens to women, all the time, when they're being critiqued," she said.

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