Wilson-Raybould vs. Butts: Two versions of the SNC-Lavalin affair

Image Credit Mel Rothenburger  CTV News Channel

Image Credit Mel Rothenburger CTV News Channel

The Globe and Mail reported on February 7 that Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former minister of justice and attorney general, had been pressured to help a Quebec-based construction company settle a criminal case and avoid a prosecution over allegations that it bribed officials in Libya for government contracts.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet last month after being demoted to veteran affairs minister the month before.

If Trudeau should lose another Cabinet minister before the election his leadership could be called into question and already shaken Liberals could rebel.

Minutes after the prime minister's former principal secretary left the justice committee hearing, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh denounced his "baseless" testimony and renewed his call for a public inquiry. "But I have to say, it's been a long time", Butts said, trailing off and pausing awkwardly for a second or two. He walked the committee through the chronology she presented last week: that she learned of the DPP decision on Sept. 4, while she was out of the country, then she returned on Sept. 12 and her mind was made up by Sept. 16. She also said her chief of staff, Prince, was "urgently summoned" to a meeting with Butts and Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, on December 18, where Prince was told by Butts that there was no solution on SNC-Lavalin "that does not involve some interference".

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months. Wilson-Raybould alleged that Butts was one of multiple senior staffers within the Prime Minister's Office that applied what she believed was inappropriate pressure.

Jane Philpott arrives at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario on August 28, 2017, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce changes to his cabinet.

It is a perilous moment for Trudeau, in part because many of those leveling accusations against him are friends, former allies and members of his own Cabinet.

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"I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations".

Philpott, former minister of health and Indigenous services, took on the treasury board president role to replace longtime Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison. Wilson-Raybould said she believes she was moved to the veterans-affairs portfolio in January as punishment for refusing to give in. Trudeau said earlier Monday he was still deciding whether Wilson-Raybould could remain a member of his party in Parliament.

He said: "Justin Trudeau simply can not continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done and that is why I am calling on Mr Trudeau to do the right thing and to resign". There's always many sides to a story and we have Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony last Wednesday.

Justin Trudeau has the power to do all that and, yes, even the ability to have his new attorney general, David Lametti, let SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal charge of bribery and corruption by negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement.

Butts stressed that she "needed to find a solution" on the SNC-Lavalin file, she said.

A second member of Trudeau's Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with allegations that officials inappropriately pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould a year ago to try to help construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials. "It has become rare that ministers resign on principle in Canada".

"I was having thoughts of the Saturday Night Massacre", Wilson-Raybould told a parliamentary committee, referring to the ousting of multiple Nixon administration officials in one day during the Watergate scandal. That's because instead of showing contrition for a job well-botched, as some had predicted, Butts doubled down on the dubious proposition that neither the Prime Minister's Office nor any other high-ranking officials had done anything wrong. "I think it's shocking to a lot of Canadians to see inside how cabinet and the (Prime Minister's Office) works", Rusnak told CKPR Radio.

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