Saturday, 23 March, 2019

More woe for Trudeau as top minister quits

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina Justin Trudeau has cancelled his planned trip to Regina for Tuesday afternoon
Lloyd Bates | 07 March, 2019, 05:36

Here's some of what MPs heard Wednesday from Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council; and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy justice minister, at the House of Commons justice committee hearing into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

In a bombshell testimony last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was subjected to a "consistent and sustained effort" and "veiled threats" to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement for the Montreal-based construction giant which would have protected it against a criminal conviction.

Saying he knew Wilson-Raybauld well, and that she and he husband had dined with his family on occasion, Butts told the committee he takes his fair share of responsibility for the erosion of that trust.

Butts said all officials working on the file knew that the decision to direct Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel to enter into negotiations on a DPA or remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin was exclusively at the discretion of the attorney general.

His cancellation comes one day after Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet amidst accusations of political interference in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Since then, however, Trudeau has waived privilege and cabinet confidentiality for Wilson-Raybould and all those who dealt with her on SNC-Lavalin during her time as attorney general.

Butts also said the December 18 meeting was not urgent and that all Prince was told was that he couldn't see how seeking advice from someone like former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin constituted political interference.

Prime Minister Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing in connection to Wilson-Raybould's investigation, and her demotion.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government", Butts said.

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Drouin, who is the top bureaucrat at the Justice Department, said that the Privy Council Office had asked for a copy but it wasn't provided at the request of Wilson-Raybould's office. "The Attorney General could have spoken or written to the Prime Minister at any time during this process to say attempts to contact her office on the meeting were improper and they should cease immediately".

Despite all of his huggy-bear, kissy-face posturing in front of the committee, including the claim that he didn't want to "cast aspersions" on his former colleague, Butts tossed former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into the wood chipper. Her office immediately began preparing a document to advise Wilson-Raybould - who was in Fiji until September 12 - of her options and obligations. "Those things aren't generally out in the public", Rusnak said. Gerald Butts, his closest adviser and best friend, also resigned last month and is scheduled to testify Wednesday before a Parliament justice committee in Trudeau's defense.

On Wilson-Raybould: "We didn't recommend any specific options".

Butts effectively argued that Wilson-Raybould could not possibly have considered the issue fully, because she simply didn't have time.

Butts' testimony is expected to contradict Wilson-Raybould's version of events, in some detail.

"I did not threaten the attorney general", an often combative Wernick told the committee later on Wednesday. "They have a very secure financial situation, with gross revenues of $10 billion", she said.

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months.

But there's just one problem: Trudeau's Liberal MPs wield a majority on the committee, and they banded together to vote down an Opposition motion to recall Wilson-Raybould as a witness. "That is not a fair commentary because it has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with her (Philpott's) set of values and how she felt about standing there and toeing the cabinet line when she didn't believe a word that the prime minister was saying".

"I will tell the truth", Butts told the committee as he started his opening statement.

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