Atlantic Canadian cabinet ministers stand by their PM

Roman Schwartz
March 9, 2019

Until Michael Wernick, the combative Clerk of the Privy Council, revealed what it's probably more like in the backrooms of power in his testimony in the afternoon, under sharp questioning by opposition MPs, led by the Conservatives' Lisa Raitt, a lawyer.

Butts resigned from his role as principal secretary in the Prime Minister's Office on February 18.

Gerald Butts, one of Trudeau's closest friends, was Trudeau's chief aide until last month, when he resigned over the SNC-Lavalin allegations. Trudeau didn't want another shuffle and wanted to keep it as small as possible.

Wilkinson said the drastically different testimony offered by Butts and Wilson-Raybould about what happened are "different sets of perspectives on the same facts".

The House Justice Committee has put its study into the SNC-Lavalin affair and the related legal principles on pause until March 19, federal budget day, where potentially behind closed doors the Liberal-dominated committee will decide next steps.

As a result, Butts said Trudeau and the PMO determined that only Jane Philpott had the capacity and institutional knowledge to take over the complicated role, but anxious what signal it would send by shuffling one of its most capable ministers from the Indigenous Services portfolio.

The problem is if Trudeau is looking for a way to get past this self-inflicted mess and reconcile with Wilson-Raybould (and Jane Philpott) - which he needs to do because what's happening is corrosive to his political brand - Wernick's combative testimony, once again, blew that bridge out of the water. Instead, she was moved to the Veterans Affairs post.

They also voted down a motion to have Wilson-Raybould return to the committee to respond to evidence from Butts that contradicted her own.

It's now also clear, though, that it's time for Justin Trudeau to speak up and explain himself in detail.

Even after making her decision, Wilson-Raybould testified she was repeatedly pressured over the course of four months to drop criminal prosecution against SNC Lavalin in favour of a remedial agreement. He maintained all involved recognized that the final decision was the attorney general's alone and no one crossed the line into applying inappropriate pressure. He added that Wilson-Raybould "did not come to me and I wish she had".

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But if Wilson-Raybould and the Director of Public Prosecutions had arrived at their final conclusion, the only goal outside advice could serve would be to have their decision reversed. If she deemed an agreement appropriate, the attorney general would then appoint another agent to negotiate it.

Wilson-Raybould told the committee that on September 16, 2018, she made her final decision that she would not overrule the director of public prosecutions on SNC and "was not going to change her mind".

Compare how Gerald Butts and Jody Wilson-Raybould describe the events surrounding the SNC-Lavalin affair during testimony at the Commons committee.

He said clearly that was not the case and he wishes she had come to him to tell him she did not like the contacts she was receiving.

Since leaving office, she has told politicians she experienced "consistent and sustained" pressure from Trudeau's inner circle to interfere in the case, including "veiled threats". If convicted, the engineering giant could be blocked from competing for federal government contracts for a decade, which many Liberals warn could potentially affect thousands of jobs.

"I am fully aware that two people can experience the same event differently", he said.

"I did not and I do not see how our brief discussion on that file constituted pressure of any kind", Butts said. "Those things aren't generally out in the public", Rusnak said. "But I have to say, it's been a long time", Butts said, trailing off and pausing awkwardly for a second or two. The SNC-Lavalin situation was one of another list of issues, which Drouin said was proper.

While carefully avoiding any verbal attacks on Wilson-Raybould, he denied the tone and substance of numerous conversations she had related.

Butts said he regrets that Wilson-Raybould's trust and faith in her colleagues have eroded, but all the officials named in Wilson-Raybould's testimony have done nothing wrong.

Singh also said Trudeau was not taking responsibility or offering an apology.

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