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Liberal-SNC scandal raises conflicting government policy issues

Ron Walter looks at the SNC-Lavalin scandal
Bizworld by Ron Walter

The scandal in Ottawa over how much pressure someone in the Prime Minister’s office put on former Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould to allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid prosecution in the courts will continue unfolding for months.

Things sure look fishy.

In 2015, federal prosecutors charged SNC-Lavalin for breaching federal laws that don’t allow Canadians to pay bribes in return for contracts. SNC and executives who are no longer employed there were accused of massive payoffs to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s son to secure contracts.

The records show SNC lobbyists met with federal government officials about the matter, especially after 2018 when the Liberal Government passed a new deferred prosecution law allowing companies to avoid court trials.

SNC had already been nailed for $200,000 illegal donations to the Liberal Party. 

Now came accusations that pressure was placed on Wilson-Raybould to use this law instead of a court trial, that she refused, which is why she was demoted in cabinet.

Things sure do look fishy.

This deferred prosecution law, similar to an American law that repeatedly allows law-breaking corporations to pay fines and avoid trials, could have let SNC off the hook with a huge fine.

A court conviction of SNC would bankrupt the company. Under the law, companies convicted of making bribes are not allowed to bid on government contracts for 10 years.

Not only would SNC have been shut out of government contracts in Canada, imagine the loss of credibility and contract opportunities in the rest of the world.

A global leader in the engineering and consulting business, SNC has revenues of $9.3 billion, up from $500 million 10 years ago with 50,000 employees, 15,000 in North America. Most of that would be lost after a court conviction.

Three company divisions — oil and gas, infrastructure, power — account for 71 per cent of revenues.

A court conviction and subsequent loss of SNC would cost Canada thousands of jobs, loss of a global giant in business, and worse, leave most of the world with a bad impression of this country.

A large fine under the new law, and soon all would be forgotten on the global scene.

The SNC case raises another international affairs issue — an elephant in the room, if you will.

Laws forbidding payment of corporate bribes in other countries were approved under pressure from voters who desired squeaky clean corporate dealings by Canadians doing business elsewhere.

Reality flies in the face of this no-bribe law. More than half of the world’s population lives in places where bribery, while terribly wrong, is common. Is it hypocritical to ask our businesses to create wealth and jobs but deny them use of the tools to compete with other countries?

The Liberal law exempting court trials allows voters to feel good about catching bribery and corruption and penalizing it yet allows business to remain competitive. It was supposed to be a compromise between international practice and Canadian values until the fan was hit.

This case raises another issue. Should corporations and their employees be bankrupted by legal convictions when the leaders allowing the wrongdoing are really responsible?

People are outraged when bombing injures and kills civilian casualties. What about innocent casualties of the court room?

If only the feds leaned harder on someone to build a pipeline, Westerners might be more understanding.

Hopefully this column provides readers some food for thought.
Ron Walter can be reached at


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Moose Jaw Today, the Moose Jaw Express, its management, or its subsidiaries.

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