Topics

Father Raymond de Souza

Friendship in the midst of scandal

Voices March 20, 2019

Jody Wilson-Raybould. Father de Souza wonders if the friendship between Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott influenced Philpott to resign over the SNC-Lavalin affair. (CCN photo)

What’s love got to do with it? Or at least stalwart friendship?

Upon the resignation of Jane Philpott from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin machinations of the prime minister’s office and the privy council office – and their apparent subsequent dissembling – Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted the following:

To the incomparable @janephilpott, truly the #MOC...For almost 4 years our country has witnessed your constant & unassailable commitment to always doing what is right & best for Cdns. You are a leader of vision & strength & I look forward to continuing to work alongside you. ❤️U. — Jody Wilson-Raybould (@Puglaas)

I don’t recall the last time an MP tweeted out “❤︎ U” to another, though in the emotive age of Justin Trudeau, one expects it might well have been done before. If not in English, perhaps in Hindi during the India visit last year.

There is not much brotherly love in the Trudeau caucus these days, but things are solid between best of friends Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

To which the question was raised – or actually, whispered sotto voce: Did the friendship between the two influence the decision of Philpott to resign from cabinet because she had lost confidence that the prime minister was respecting the independence of criminal prosecutions?

I certainly hope so.

Our friendships should encourage us – precisely, give us the courage – to do the right thing in the face of difficulties. For years I have told my students at Queen’s University that the most important decision that they will make during their years on campus is the friends they choose. 

If they want to be studious, but have friends who waste evenings on video games, it will be near impossible to be studious.

If they wish to speak gently and charitably, but all their friends use profanity and engage in vicious gossip, it will be near impossible to be gentle of speech.

If they wish to be sober, but all their friends make drunkenness a regular part of their recreation, it will be near impossible to be sober. 

If they wish to be chaste, but their friends are promiscuous, all the harder it will be to keep that virtue.

If they wish to go to church on Sunday, but none of their friends do, it is likely that their devotion will wither.

The Book of Proverbs makes the point: He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20). In choosing our friends we choose in large part who we will become.

So I would hope that Jane Philpott was motivated not only by the principle of the thing. And not only by her objection to the scurrilous officials around the prime minister who, at the outset, passed on to friendly journalists that Wilson-Raybould was difficult, or stubborn, or otherwise unsound.

I hope that the friendship between the two women gave both of them courage to act as they did. They certainly lent each other support in advancing policies that are deeply regrettable – euthanasia and getting government into the pot-pushing business, to name two. So I would hope that they also drew strength from each other in standing against the tactics of the prime minister, once known for “sunny ways” but now a little more of the schoolyard bully.

It is not easy to do the right thing. It is not easy to defend principle when powerful people are taking offence. It is not easy to follow conscience when others argue against it. Good friends are essential in such times, save for only the most heroic of souls – which most of us are not.

One such hero is St. Thomas More. You will recall the exchange with his friend, the Duke of Norfolk, from A Man for All Seasons. Norfolk is trying to persuade More to go along with the others who have accommodated themselves to the tyrannical demands of the Henry VIII:

Norfolk: Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

It's doubtful that More genuinely believes that Norfolk is acting in accord with his conscience, but he gives his friend the benefit of the doubt. But he will not give the friendship itself a veto over his own conscience. Friendship is not the highest good; it is meant to help us toward the highest goods.

Norfolk is not a good friend, for he comes to weaken More’s resolve, even as the friends of Job – and even Job’s wife – do in the Book of Job. It is an ancient tale.

More needed good friends, stalwart friends, who would encourage, not discourage, him. They were lacking. Norfolk was not such a friend, and the playwright lets us feel the pain of such failed friendship.

It seems here that Philpott was strengthened by her friendship, in this case, to conscientiously object to the what was being done around her and, as a member of the cabinet, with her implicit consent.

People in power have no shortage of apparent friends. What they need is genuine ones.