Ben Chin and Gerry Butts: we’ve seen this show before

After watching and reading the former Attorney General’s testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee, Yogi Berra’s famous quote “it’s deja vu all over again” immediately came to mind. The former AG, Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) in the 30 minutes of her opening remarks mentioned two names: Ben Chin (seven times) and Gerry Butts (five times).

For the benefit of those who didn’t follow Ontario politics during the McGuinty/Wynne era, it’s worth pointing out both Gerry Butts and Ben Chin played significant roles in Ontario, especially the ill-fated electricity file.

Butts is credited as the mastermind behind Dalton McGuinty’s election as Ontario’s Premier: Butts was, according to the Toronto Star, “the man they call ‘the brains behind the operation’ and policy architect of the Liberal government since 2003.”

Butts left the McGuinty government in mid-2008, after he and the Ontario Liberal team set the stage for the Green Energy Act, by pushing for renewable wind and solar projects and to close coal plants. Butts went off to lead the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) for four years before joining Justin Trudeau as his political advisor. As we now know, Butts was the director leading the “drama teacher” Justin Trudeau, to a win as Canada’s Prime Minister.

Ben Chin, engaged as a “political advisor” to Dalton McGuinty, was the McGuinty candidate chosen to run against the NDP’s Peter Tabuns in a byelection in 2006. Chin lost, but returned as a “senior advisor” to Premier McGuinty’s office where he again worked with Gerry Butts. Chin left for the private sector and a short while later was hired back as Vice President Communications for the OPA (Ontario Power Authority). The OPA was the creation of Dwight Duncan when he was McGuinty’s Minister of Energy and became the Crown corporation to enact the myriad of things mired in the Green Energy & Green Economy Act (GEA).

Chin later became embroiled in the “gas plant” scandal as the Premier’s principal contact with the negotiating team dealing with TransCanada et al on compensation issues related to the cancellation. Ontario’s ratepayers know how that turned out! While Chin occupied his position with the OPA, Tom Adams and I were investigating the gas plant scandal by reviewing thousands of documents. Tom and I uncovered interesting details in exchanges between him and a political staffer in the Energy Ministry headed up, at that time, by Brad Duguid.

The following reveals some of our findings in an article I wrote about the “smart grid” and a Brad Duguid directive.

Co-incidentally (noted by Tom Adams), the Duguid directive is dated the same day as the e-mail exchange between Alicia Johnston (formerly a senior political staffer for Energy Minister Brad Duguid, later promoted to the Premier’s Office) and Ben Chin (a senior Ontario Power Authority executive).  That e-mail exchange contained Ms Johnston’s suggestion to engage Tyler Hamilton, a contributor to Toronto Star, as an “expert” to counter the Adams and Gallant duo who “are killing me”; Chin agreed. Shortly after, Hamilton received a contract from the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) for a report on the smart grid.

The spin emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Prime Minister himself is not all that different than what we were hearing several years ago during the gas plant scandals days. The following is one such quote from the mouth of the former Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty when queried as to the costs of the gas plants move: “I am waiting for the day when somebody says, ‘Actually it’s $400 trillion,’ because, as I say, ‘If Elvis says it, I’ve got to print it.’ What was the latest number? $1.3 billion? Do I hear 1.7? When are we going to get to 2.8? It’s kind of an interesting game . . . In total we are talking a $230-­million cost.”

Those two unelected individuals (Butts and Chin) originally involved in the Ontario electricity muddle now find themselves named as two (out of eleven) of the bullies pressuring JWR to grant SNC-Lavalin a DPA (deferred prosecution agreement). In the case of the GEA and the gas plant scandal it took much longer to surface in the public eye than the current SNC/JWR scandal so it would appear the Chin/Butts team has lost some of the spin abilities they displayed in the past. Not to usurp of malign the mainstream media, the following are a few excerpts from the JWR testimony related to Ben Chin and Gerald (Gerry) Butts.

The Chin former AG dialogue:

“Two days later, on September the sixth, one of the first communications about the DPA was received from outside of my department. Ben Chin, Minister Morneau’s chief of staff, emailed my chief of staff and they arranged to talk. He wanted to talk about SNC and what we could do, if anything, to address this. He said to her, my chief, that if they don’t get a DPA, they will leave Montreal and it’s the Quebec election right now so we can’t have that happen. He said that they have a big meeting coming up on Tuesday and that this bad news may go public.

And:

“A follow-up conversation between Ben Chin and a member of my staff, Francois Giroux, occurred on Sept. 11.Mr. Chin said that SNC had been informed that the PPS — or by the PPSC — that it cannot enter into a DPA, and Ben again detailed the reasons why they were told that they were not getting a DPA. Mr. Chin also noted that SNC legal counsel, Frank Iacobucci, and further detailed what the terms were that SNC was prepared to agree to, stating that they viewed this as part of a negotiation.” And:

To be clear, up to this point, I had not been directly contacted by the prime minister, officials in the prime minister’s office or the Privy Council Office about this matter. With the exception of Mr. Chin’s discussions, the focus of communications had been internal to the Department of Justice.”

And:

On Sept. 20, my chief of staff had phone calls with Mr. Chin and Justin To, both members of the minister of finance’s office, about DPAs and SNC.”

The Butts former AG dialogue:

“On Dec. 5, 2018, I met with Gerry Butts. We had both sought out this meeting. I wanted just to speak about a number of things, including bringing up SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff. Towards the end of our meeting, which was in the Chateau Laurier, I raised how I needed everybody to stop talking to me about SNC, as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff. He said I needed to find a solution. I said no and I referenced the preliminary inquiry and the judicial review. I said further that I gave the clerk the only appropriate solution that could have happened and that was the letter idea that was not taken up. Gerry talked to me about how the statute was a statute passed by Harper and that he does not like the law. I said something like that is the law that we have.”

And:

“On Dec. 18, 2018, my chief of staff was urgently summoned to a meeting with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford to discuss SNC. They wanted to know where I — me — am at in terms of finding a solution. They told her that they felt like the issue is getting worse and that I was not doing anything. They referenced a possible call with the prime minister and the clerk the next day.”

And the foregoing led to this:

“I will now read to you a transcript of the most relevant sections of a text conversation between my chief of staff and I almost immediately after that meeting.

Jessica: Basically, they want a solution, nothing new. They want external counsel retained to give you an opinion on whether you can review the DPP’s decision here and whether you should, in this case. I told them that would be interference. Gerry said: “Jess, there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.” At least they are finally being honest about what they’re asking you to do. Don’t care about the PPSC’s independence. Katie was like, “We don’t want to debate legalities anymore.” They keep being like, we aren’t lawyers, but there has to be some solution here. MOJAG — I text — so where were things left, Jessica? Jessica: So unclear. I said, what? Of course, let you know about the conversation, and they said that they were going to kick the tires with a few people on this tonight. The clerk was waiting outside when I left, but they said that they want to set up a call between you and the prime minister and the clerk tomorrow. I said that of course, you’d be happy to speak to your boss. They seem quite keen on the idea of you retaining an ex-Supreme Court of Canada judge to get advice on this. Katie Telford thinks it gives us cover in the business community and the legal community and that it would allow the prime minister to say we were doing something. She was like, “If Jody is nervous, we would, of course, line up all kinds of people to write op-eds saying that what she is doing is proper.”

The foregoing highlights the unmitigated gall of two unelected individuals who, for whatever reason, see themselves as “king makers” much as they did for the McGuinty government in Ontario. Presumably they reasoned, it worked once so we will try it again.

The voters and believers of democracy in Canada should be grateful for the intestinal fortitude displayed by Jody Wilson-Raybould!

PARKER GALLANT

P.S. If the reader would like to see the damage done to Ontario in respect to the electricity sector my 2012 writings over 10 Chapters referenced as “Electricity and the Liberals Hansard History” Chapter 1 through 10 can be found on the WCO website: http://www.windconcernsontario.ca/?s=ELECTRICITY+AND+THE+LIBERALS+HANSARD+HISTORY%2C+CHAPTER

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