A Feminist weighs in on SNC-Lavalin ~ Nancy Osborne



For me, the easy path in the SNC-Lavalin issue would be to blindly support Ministers Wilson-Raybould and Philpott. After all they stood their ground for what they think is the right path. It would certainly be much easier to be seen as supporting two strong women in the era of #timesup than to support the mechanism of government. After all, along with discussing the weather, one of our great Canadian pastimes is to criticize whatever our government is doing.

I am a feminist and believe strongly in supporting other women. Thus my dilemma. These are two strong women who are to be admired for their respective accomplishments and their courage to take a stand.

But what if I don’t agree 100 per cent with their actions and the stand they have taken?  It feels very uncomfortable to speak out against the stand they have taken because it will be perceived as speaking out against them.

But it is not as simple as blindly supporting them because they are strong women. These are some of the growing pains of my own feminism. I also greatly admire other women working in government: Katie Telford, Maryam Monsef, and Chrystia Freeland, to name just a few. So it is important that I find a way to separate my strong admiration for and desire to support Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott as women and my perception of the SNC-Lavalin issue.

I listened with great interest to Minister Wilson-Raybould’s testimony and applauded her ability to testify calmly and succinctly. Clear and concise. Definitely to be admired. But when I take my focus off her and move it to what she was saying, I am left with some questions.

I believe that our leaders at the highest levels of our government, must be capable of looking at the significant issues facing our country from a broad perspective; with an eye on the future and the ramifications of any and all of their decisions. This is why our highest level of government also amends and sets the laws of our country.  And I expect them to uphold our laws without exception. I do not expect them to make laws for the convenience of a single decision they wish to take. But I do expect them to look at both the laws in place and what is best for the country and its people. I expect them to look beyond our borders for good examples that could improve the management of our country.

In other words, I expect them to have a broader viewpoint than I, or most of the people I know, have.

To be clear, I am not talking about anything illegal. However, if our leaders never looked with a view to the future and bettering our country, we would still be operating under the laws established some 150-odd years ago. And sometimes the catalyst for reviewing our system is a situation that cannot be best managed on behalf of the country within the current parameters.

So, back to the issues surrounding SNC-Lavalin and Minister Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. When I examine what I heard in her own testimony, I am left wondering why she did not appear willing to discuss the situation and any potential options with someone else who had expertise in this area? Could Minister Wilson-Raybould have discussed the situation and possible options with another expert and still maintained her stance? I believe yes. She was, without question, on solid legal grounds in the stand she took. But anyone familiar with the law will know that there are, at times, legal options that can have differing results. We all know that there are discretionary powers within our system otherwise every judge’s sentence for a specific crime would be identical, and they are not. Was there another way to manage this without crossing into something that was not legal? I don’t know. I only know what most of us know and that is what has been reported by the media and I know enough to never take that as the entire story.

Was there room for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA)? Was that option fully explored? Do most of us understand a DPA? I have read comments  describing it as “letting them off” and I have read articles explaining it as something that carries much greater long-term impact and forced improvements than a criminal conviction would likely achieve. And by its very name, it is only “Deferring “ prosecution to a later date should they not comply with, or meet, every expectation of the agreement.

So here I am left with questions regarding Minister Wilson-Raybould’s approach.

When the minister felt the pressure she was receiving was extreme and inappropriate, could she have raised the issue while she had the power of speaking as the Attorney General or resigned from her appointment then in protest of what she was experiencing? To clarify, I believe her when she testified that she felt pressure but she also took the action she did after her perceived demotion.  That too may be fully justified but I find the media focusing on the issue of pressure as the only reason she stepped down.

I also think that people who step up to any senior government role, whether bureaucratic or political, knowingly put themselves in a pressure cooker and I admire them for doing so. I also believe missteps in that environment are inevitable but there must be accountability and every effort to keep those missteps to a bare minimum and ensure they do not cross legal or ethical lines.

Do I believe that the PMO did not handle this situation the best way possible? Absolutely.

And of course, my opinions on the actions Minister Wilson-Raybould and the PMO fall into the category of “hind sight is 20/20”. Which leaves us all as ‘armchair quarterbacks’ looking at what has been reported, in the particular media that we each choose to read, with all the ‘time in the world’ to dissect what we think we know and declare that things should have been different.

What would I like to see? Reconciliation efforts between those at the centre of this controversy. A way forward for our country.

So, I continue to admire both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott as strong women but I do not see that as reason to blindly support the way they have managed this particular situation.

I can remain true to my feminist principles and take the stand I am taking on the SNC-Lavalin issue. I can also continue to support this government and their accomplishments, not the least of which includes moving the gender bar further forward than any government before and repairing Canada’s international reputation to a level where this country is seen as a world leader with a strong and influential voice while still believing that they did not manage this situation as well as they should have. Relationships between the PMO and Cabinet Ministers must be nurtured through dialogue and respect on both sides.  When that begins to degrade, the time and effort needed to put it right must be an immediate priority. We depend on that for a government to be able to maximize its positive impact on our society.

In closing, I can’t help but recall a saying from a childhood book, “Quarrels never could last long, if in one side lay all the wrong”.

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Nancy Osborne has seen some terrible things throughout her military career and during her time with the United Nations as a security specialist. Serving in the Security Branch of the Canadian military, Osborne enlisted as a Private and retired as a Major 21 years later. She was honoured with a CD (the post-nominal letters for the Canadian Forces Decoration) and is recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation in recognition of a significant contribution to Canada as well as a Commander’s Commendation. Following retirement, Nancy was recruited in 2002 by the United Nations as one of the first women ever deployed as a security risk adviser in the support of UN humanitarian operations in high threat environments. In 2010, Nancy was appointed as a security manager at UNICEF Headquarters in New York. From there she managed global emergencies affecting UNICEF staff and provided extended surge support in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti and South Sudan. When Nancy retired she thought that it would be a shame not to use all of that training so she launched a not-for-profit called I Got This as a platform for workshops called Unlocking Your Instincts for women.


  1. Knowing you as I do, Nancy, I’m quite surprised that you didn’t include the aboriginal ancestry of both women. In my mind, this truly increases the effect of their loss. As I am woefully bereft of knowledge in the aboriginal sphere, by “reconciliation”, do you mean something akin to a “healing circle”? Or is that something entirely different (perhaps when only one side is perceived/known to be in the wrong? In this case, there is so much blame and ineptitude to go around (not least the PM’s refusal to apologize); that the situation is totally untenable.

    • I agree with you, Rob, that Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s Indigenous ancestry makes her loss that much greater. In a letter to her constituents she described her cultural teachings that she tried to bring to Ottawa. Indigenous people do politics differently, she wrote. Less partisan and more open. They strive to work through consensus, and often frown on personal ambition. The polar opposite of what is going on in Ottawa right now.

  2. Thank you for this perspective, Nancy.

    I just want to address a couple of points you made:

    ” I do not expect [our government] to make laws for the convenience of a single decision they wish to take.”

    And yet that is exactly what our government did. When SNC-Lavalin was charged in 2015, they immediately began lobbying hard for Deferred Prosecution Agreement legislation, and sure enough, just in time for the company’s scheduled trial date, our government snuck that legislation through, one short paragraph hidden deep within an omnibus budget bill.

    ” … but she also took the action she did after her perceived demotion.”

    The reason Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned was that she was not legally permitted to speak about the cabinet shuffle, but our Prime Minister put words into her mouth, telling the media, “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.” The only way she could express herself at that point was to leave.

    As you have pointed out, Nancy, we do not know the details of this case, nor, I believe, do we need to. A decision was made regarding SNC-Lavalin by our Director of Public Prosecutions. That decision was reviewed and accepted by our Attorney General. SNC-Lavalin went to court to appeal the decision and a federal judge denied them a judicial review of the decision. That’s enough for me.

    I have taken a stand on this issue not on feminist principles or in blind support of Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott, but because there was an attempt at political interference in our judicial system at the highest level of our government, and because the subsequent “spin” when it came to light is planting doubt in voters’ minds. This needs to be an election issue.

  3. WOW! Exactly how I view the situation, but with more confusion! Each time I receive another bit of information or read another opinion, I have to readjust my thinking, That’s very onerous!
    Now to the “crime” of the alleged offender. People and governments in other opinions countries,have laws, and way of doing things their way! So, is it,” When in Rome do as the Romans do”? or do we strictly adhere to our laws and moral outlook?
    I have been guilty of paying bribes, be-it in minuscule proportions. When I lived in Thailand visitors had to apply for permission to stay beyond three months. So off to the immigration bureau, apply and pay a fee. Implicit in this procedure was the payment of ‘TEA MONEY”. This was done quite overtly, and no “TEA MONEY”, no permit. I and all the other visitors, if we wished to stay, complied with the customs of our hosts. Compromising our own moral standards? Yes, but pragmatic
    Our dear beloved (?) PM doesn’t come off too well in this debacle. Maybe this whole mess doesn’t pass the smell test! Too bad! Justin is such a nice guy and he wears such lovely socks!

    • Nadya Tarasoff on

      Well said, Nancy. I appreciate your balanced and thoughtful analysis of a complex situation, all the more knowing your background.

  4. Great comments here…. All presented very well. For me Ruby I feel very similar to you on this matter. I am with Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott here. Like everyone else we were not there. But I believe Ms. Wilson-Raybould completely. I feel she was getting lots of pressure to play ball with the PMO. But she made her decision based in law and the facts put forward to her and decided the courts were the best place to see all the events that took place in this matter and let the court decide what has happened here. Thusly she stood by her position, did her job for the country and this was her reward it was no veiled threat it happened. That shuffle was a definite demotion.
    Canada need more politicians like these women that truly care about Canada. If our country was truly managed properly over the last fifty years the country would not be carrying the debt load we are now etc..

    These ladies are the first glimmer of honest, thoughtful politicians I have seen in the for-front in decades… As an ordinary canadian, a proud canadian I take my hat off and thank these wonderful women for their service to Canada and the efforts to bring integrity , honesty and mind fullness back to politics.
    I am sorry my humble words and thoughts donot do these Ladies justice.

    All the Best
    Michael A. Stickland

  5. Jim Logagianes on

    Two Woman of Distinction: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Nancy Philpott have raised the bar in Ottawa. By not caving in to pressure from within their own cabinet. Breaking ranks with their own majority government is Unprecented in Canadian Politics.
    A silver lining in a cesspool of incompetence. When Mediocrity Prevails, Populism Increases.

  6. Peggy Peterson on

    This is such an important conversation and I hope everyone is aware including Nancy that the destruction of the North Bala Falls and the imminent danger to this watershed by the new size and scale of the North Bala Falls Small Power project is directly connected to the corruption surrounding SNC Lavelin and First Nations rights and the Liberal Party federally and Provincially The fact that there are eight parcels of Indigenous waterfront lands now under the control of a private corporation and seriously compromised with NO CONSENT from Treaty Authority or Wahta Mohawks. Of course no one would think this could happen in Muskoka but it did and the people have been blissfully unaware and the politicians who claim to want to protect watersheds do not really give a dam. The people of Muskoka need to start to connect the dots between what we say and what we do . I do not know Nancy very well but I did have an opportunity to meet her at the Womens March . I was carrying a sign that acknowledged the dismissal of the issue of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada by our at the time MP Clement and the silencing of Sisters in Spirit locally . I did approach Ms. Osborne as the representative of the march when I asked to go to their next meeting of the March to discuss their petition for Clement resignation and the MMIW and I was just not allowed an invitation. Apparently these issues are not welcome by the march organizers so any comment I see now from Nancy is jaded by that exchange…
    We have an epidemic of talkers and very few walkers and far to much buffeting of the reality of this country and the power of politics that does not serve this country or the people .

    • Nancy Osborne on

      Just to clarify, I was not the organizer of Women’s March Muskoka 2019 but a speaker and volunteer member assisting with the march.
      Women’s March contact details are available at https://womensmarchmuskoka.org

      Meetings are not held on a regular basis and there has not been a meeting since the January March this year.

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